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Influence Of Parents' Level Of Education

Traditionally, family status variables such as parents' level of education have been regarded as predictors of children's academic achievement. Increasingly, research has suggested that, rather than having a direct association with children's academic achievement, parents' level of education is part of a larger constellation of psychological and sociological variables influencing children's school outcomes.

Attendant on higher levels of education may be access to resources, such as income, time, energy, and community contacts, that allow for greater parental involvement in a child's education. Thus, the influence of parents' level of education on student outcomes might best be represented as a relationship mediated by interactions among status and process variables.

The literature also suggests that level of education influences parents' knowledge, beliefs, values, and goals about childrearing, so that a variety of parental behaviors are indirectly related to children's school performance. For example, higher levels of education may enhance parents' facility at becoming involved in their children's education, and also enable parents to acquire and model social skills and problem-solving strategies conducive to children's school success. Thus, students whose parents have higher levels of education may have an enhanced regard for learning, more positive ability beliefs, a stronger work orientation, and they may use more effective learning strategies than children of parents with lower levels of education.

While many theorists and researchers argue that student attributes conducive to achievement are deeply rooted in processes of socialization, such as learning through observation of parental modeling, others contend that through their personal qualities, children actively shape the parenting they receive: Parents socialize their children, but children also influence their parents. Supporting both theoretical perspectives is research indicating that the combination of learning behavior and intelligence exceeds the contributions of any single source in predicting children's scholastic achievement.

Parents with higher levels of education are also more likely to believe strongly in their abilities to help their children learn. A recent study exploring the relationships between level of parent education, parent self-efficacy, children's academic abilities, and participation in a Head Start program found that level of parent education and program participation was significantly related to parental self-efficacy. In turn, parental self-efficacy beliefs significantly predicted children's academic abilities.

However, examinations across varied cultural and ethnic groups within the United States suggest that level of education does not appear to determine the value parents place on education, their interest in their children's schooling or their aspirations for their children's academic success. For example, in a 1997 study comparing the relative value of varied predictors of parental involvement, Thomas Watkins found that parents' efficacy for involvement and educational goals for their children were stronger predictors of school success than parental level of education and ethnicity. Additionally, this study found that teacher communications to parents predicted parental involvement, suggesting that, regardless of education level, parents need encouragement from educators to become involved in their children's education.

In sum, it appears that process variables, or factors susceptible to the influence of parents, their children, and school personnel (e.g., educational expectations, level of involvement, child attributes conducive to achievement, and teacher invitations for parental involvement) are more predictive of children's school success than status variables such as parental level of education. This is an important conclusion, for while educators and researchers cannot influence the status of students' families, they may improve students' educational outcomes by influencing selected mediating process variables.


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