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Research on the Factors for School Success

father helping children with homework

Structure

Sandra L. Christenson, Ph.D, Professor — College of Education and Human Development; and Cathryn Peterson, Teacher — Armstrong High School, Robbinsdale, MN

Revised June 2013 by Kathleen A. Olson, Program Director — Partnering for School Success.

Structure refers to the overall routine and monitoring provided by key adults for youth. Students' success in school is facilitated when families and schools provide a consistent pattern of events and age appropriate monitoring and supervision. Students perform better in school when they understand their schedule of daily activities, directions for schoolwork, rules for behavior, etc.

What Do We Know?

Selected Research Findings

In their review of over 300 studies investigating the relationship between home environments and educational and developmental outcomes for children, Kellaghan, Sloane, Alvarez, and Bloom (1993) reported that there is a positive relationship between children's academic learning and these work habits of the family: (a) the degree of structure, sharing, and punctuality in home activities, including work and play, chores, and an established routine in managing the home; (b) an emphasis on regularity in the use of time and space, including a balance for sleep, meals, study, reading, and play; and (c) a priority given to schoolwork, reading, and other educative activities (e.g., regular homework schedule) over television and other recreation. High achieving students lived in homes where there was a regular family routine and priority was given to schoolwork, that is, there was adequate time for reading, studying, and completion of schoolwork.

Monitoring the use of children's out-of-school time and daily activities is a positive correlate of higher student achievement (Clark, 1983) and has been demonstrated to be critical for reducing adolescents involvement in substance abuse (Baumrind, 1991). Establishing clear and consistent limits about student behavior and monitoring the type and amount of out-of-school activities differentiated the home experiences for high and low-achieving poor, African American secondary level students (Clark, 1983).

Walberg (1984) has demonstrated better academic outcomes for students whose parents engage in monitoring and joint analysis of television viewing. It is important to note that the results of the research on the effects of television viewing on student achievement are contradictory. In their meta-analysis, Williams, Haertl, Haertl, & Walberg (1982) found a significant, negative association between achievement and the amount of television viewing that became negligible if social strata and IQ were controlled. Other researchers have found a strong negative relationship between watching large amounts of television and achievement (Comstock & Paik, 1987; Fetler, 1984). Effects of television differ across social strata, where increased television viewing in upper-class families has been associated with a relative decrease in academic performance. In general, students who view a great deal of television (more than six hours a day) have significantly lower achievement scores in reading, math, and writing, and small amounts of viewing (two to three hours per day) have been shown to increase achievement for disadvantaged students (Fetler, 1984). Effects of television have been shown to depend on the child's age, where up to four hours per day may have a positive effect on the achievement of younger children; one to two hours is reported as optimal viewing for 13 year olds; and the effects of television viewing becomes more negative around age 17. As homework demands increase, television viewing needs to decrease to ensure an adequate amount of time for reading and studying (Keith, Reimers, Fehrman, Pottebaum, & Aubrey,1986). The key factor appears to be the degree to which there is parental monitoring related to providing a structure for learning.

Student grades are significantly and positively related to parental monitoring of homework completion and keeping close track of students' performance in school (Clark, 1983; Cooper, 1989; Fehrmann, Keith, & Reimers, 1987). The structure provided by the home, especially a quiet place to study, discussion of schoolwork, and parental recognition of child progress, has been identified as a reason for the achievement gains demonstrated. Monitoring of school behaviors by parents has been found to be positively related to school success (Campbell & Mandel, 1990; Ramsey, Walker, Shinn, O'Neill, & Stieher, 1989).

Middle schoolers’ test scores and grades in writing improved when their families participated in TIPS learning activities, an interactive homework program (Epstein, Simon, & Salinas, 1997). In TIPS, parents monitor, interact, and support their children; however, they do not teach the content or direct the assignment. The more TIPS homework completed by students, the better their grades in language arts. Henderson and Mapp (2001) report two other relevant findings: 1) Controlling for the amount of homework completed, TIPS students grades in science were significantly higher than the control group, and 2) Although no significant differences were found in posttest math achievement, students assigned interactive homework in math were significantly more involved in math homework than students who were not assigned this type of homework.

Authoritative parenting, which is characterized by establishing clear standards, enforcing rules, and encouraging discussion and joint decision making, is positively associated with student achievement for elementary and secondary students (Dornbusch, Ritter, Leiderman, Roberts, & Fraleigh, 1987). Parental discipline characterized by setting clear standards, enforcing rules, and encouraging discussion, negotiation, and independence is associated with positive academic outcomes (Patterson, Capaldi, & Bank, 1992).

In contrast, permissive (under control) and authoritarian (over control) parenting are negatively correlated with student achievement, as measured by grades and standardized test scores.

Parent involvement is even more likely to benefit "students' school success when it occurs within an authoritative parenting style...typified by parental acceptance and warmth and by behavioral supervision that allows for some degree of democracy and autonomy on the part of the child” (Gonzalez-DeHass, Willems, & Holbein, 2005, p.121). For example, the more parents were involved in monitoring, enforcing or helping with homework, the more students reported being extrinsically motivated and dependent on external sources for academic guidance and evaluation; teachers rated these students as showing less initiation, autonomy, persistence, and satisfaction in doing their school work. When parents reacted to their child’s grades with extrinsic rewards, reaction was related to an extrinsic motivational orientation, whereas encouragement and praise provided an intrinsic motivational orientation. When students perceived that parents valued the importance of effort and academic success, students had higher perceived academic competence and placed a high priority on their academic ability, effort and grades.

Based on a review of 145 empirical studies where 108 studies examined the link between parent involvement and student achievement, six types of involvement seem to be very important for promoting achievement gains (Baker & Sodden, 1997). These are: a stimulating literacy and material environment, monitoring of TV viewing and homework completion, joint learning activities at home, emphasis on effort rather than ability, promoting of independence and self-reliance, and high expectations and moderate levels of parent support and supervision. With respect to the latter two, it appears that the authoritative parenting style (i.e., demandingness and responsivity) corroborates these practices. Moderate levels of support and structure are important to avoid “doing the work” for the adolescent or adopting an overly protective stance.

Some researchers have found a negative relationship between achievement (grades and test scores) and parent supervision, involvement with homework, and contacts with school (Catsambis, 1998; Fan & Chen, 1999; Finn, 1993; Shumow & Miller, 2001). Researchers tend to explain this relationship as a function of the timing of parent involvement to assist students; namely, that parents become more involved when students are struggling in their academic work. Also, there may be more direct involvement in supervising homework completion, rather than using motivational support (Finn, 1993) or advising and guiding teens academic decisions (Catsambis, 1998). “The most effective types of parental involvement are not those geared towards behavioral supervision, but rather, those geared towards advising or guiding teens’ academic decisions” (Catsambis, 1998, p.24). Finn (1993) found that engagement was associated with discussions about school, less monitoring of homework, and greater academic resources in the home, whereas disengagement was associated with the opposite characteristics. These data suggest that motivational support for learning, specifically structuring the home environment and emphasizing children’s efforts to succeed, appear to be important in facilitating academic achievement, perhaps more so than direct assistance and monitoring of homework.

Regardless of their ethnic background, social class or family structure, adolescents whose parents are accepting, firm, and use an authoritative parenting style earn higher grades in school, are more self-reliant, report less psychological distress related to symptoms of anxiety and depression, and are less likely to engage in delinquent behavior (Steinberg, Mounts, Lamborn, & Dornbusch, 1991). In addition, youth who describe their parents as warm, democratic, and firm are more likely than their peers to develop positive attitudes and beliefs about achievement, and therefore, are more likely to do better in school (Steinberg, Elmen, & Mounts, 1989).

Children aged 8 to 17 with the greatest parental monitoring of activities and best self regulatory skills were the most resilient, which was defined as a lack of behavioral problems, lack of mental health symptoms and both a high level of functioning and competence in daily living. Fifty-three percent of the 155 youth interviewed were girls and their ethnic/racial profile was mixed with many of the families experiencing homelessness in the past. To measure parental monitoring, the mothers were asked how often they knew where their children were and with whom they were with, when their children were away from home.

Youth do best in school when parents provide predictable boundaries for their lives, encourage productive use of time, and provide learning experiences as a regular part of family life. Redding (2000) labeled this family practice routine of family life; it consists of such practices as a regularly scheduled study time; routine that involves eat, sleep, work, study, read, and play; and family interest in educational activities. When families set aside time each day for studying and learning, especially for adolescents, rather than asking them to study only when required to do so by teachers, they learn that studying and learning is valued by the family.

Highly structured, interactive instruction has been associated positively with achievement gains and active participation for students. The instructional structure is teacher-directed, academically focused, and follows a demonstrate-prompt-practice-prove instructional sequence. Clear lesson explanations, carefully sequenced materials and tasks, supervised guided feedback, sufficient independent practice (classroom and homework), and evaluation of student performance are provided. Monitoring occurs at all points throughout the instructional sequence (Good & Grouws, 1979; Rosenshine & Stevens, 1986). A high degree of teacher-student interaction, maintained by teacher questioning and student responding patterns, and by providing students with informative feedback, is associated positively with student achievement. To the extent that students are younger, have little or no prior background knowledge, and have difficulty learning, instruction is more effective if it is highly structured and overlearning of skills is emphasized (Rosenshine, 1983).

Brophy & Good (1986) identified many characteristics of effective classrooms. High achieving classrooms are often characterized by: (a) frequent student initiation of academic interaction, (b) whole class instruction, (c) clear instruction, (d) a non-evaluative, relaxed, task-focused environment, and (e) a lack of disruptions. In addition, they identified several links to achievement that are within the control of the teacher. These links are: the importance of the quantity and pacing of instruction; emphasis on academic instruction and expectation that students will master the curriculum; brief transitions and minimal time wasted on disruptions; providing an instructional match; employing elements of active teaching such as demonstration, instruction, discussion, and recitation; using advance organizers and overviews; helping students link curriculum to something familiar and relevant to their lives; redundancy, clarity, and enthusiasm in delivery of instruction; and effectively using wait time. McKee and Witt (1990) also emphasize the importance of clarity, active teaching, and connecting new knowledge to existing knowledge or schema.

Although there is a moderate and positive relationship between rate of academic engaged time and student achievement (Fisher & Berliner, 1985; Karweit, 1983), the relationship between academic learning time and student achievement is stronger (Marliave & Filby, 1985). Academic learning time is the time spent by a student engaged in an academically relevant task with a high rate of success. The central issue is not simply time, but also the nature of the task (e.g., means to achieve intended instructional goal and student success rate for completion).

The implementation of a few, essential behavioral rules and organizational routines (e.g., how to find materials) in the classroom has been positively associated with students' engagement rates (Good, 1983; Karweit, 1983). The systematic use of effective classroom management strategies has been positively associated with student achievement gains for regular education students (Anderson, Evertson, & Brophy, 1979; Doyle, 1986) and special education students (Englert & Thomas, 1982).

Teacher Evaluation Study, Marliave and Filby determined that for guided or initial practice opportunities a student's success rate should be at least 70%; a success rate of 80% or higher on initial tasks is often preferred. On independent activities, it was recommended that students complete the assigned task with 90-100% success.

Teacher monitoring of student progress toward the intended goal influences student achievement. First, Waxman, Wang, Anderson, and Walberg (1985) have demonstrated that the academic performance of low-achieving students in adaptive instruction classrooms is higher than that of low-achieving students in traditional classrooms with less systematic monitoring, feedback, and use of adaptive strategies. Second, Gettinger (1984) has demonstrated that providing students with the time needed to learn a specific task or skill is a stronger predictor of academic achievement than is IQ.

When teenagers perceive that community monitoring of behavior exists (e.g., someone to notice when appropriate or inappropriate behavior occurs), they are less likely to participate in negative or high risk behaviors such as drug use (Garbarino, 1995).

A study of 7664 diverse students in the suburban San Francisco Bay Area found that community variables were the only good predictor of grades for African-American students. The quality of the community that the African-American students lived in had a more powerful effect on student grades than family status variables, and in fact, weakened the influence of the individual family on the youth (Dornbusch, Ritter, & Steinberg, 1991). Dornbusch and colleagues also found that the influence of the individual family was weakened for white children when they lived in more mixed communities. The Search Institute has found that the greatest differences between the most healthy and the least healthy communities were associated with the strength of community institutions such as churches and schools, rather than the strengths associated with families and peers (Blyth, 1992).

The Task Force on Education of Young Adolescents of the Carnegie Council (1989) made several recommendations for creating positive environments for middle grade students. They recommended the following conditions as helpful: (a) small communities for learning, like schools within a school or teams of teachers and students; (b) an academic program that teaches youth to think critically and lead a healthy lifestyle and reinforces literacy and emphasizes the sciences; (c) success for all students orientation by eliminating tracking, using cooperative learning and making modifications to instructional time and strategies; (d) teacher and administrator control of decisions; (e) a staff of middle grade teachers who have been prepared to meet the needs of this age group; (f) an environment that promotes good health amongst the students, and provide counseling and health services; (g) opportunities for families to be involved in their child's education; and (h) community connections with schools (e.g., service, health and social services, and constructive out of school programs).

Focus Group Comments

How Do We Do This?

At Home

Education as a Priority

Routine

Monitoring and Supervision

Consequences, Accountability, and Parenting Style

In School

Within Community

Sources

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Baumrind, D. (1991). The influence of parenting style on adolescent competence and substance use. Journal of Early Adolescence, 11(1), 56-95.

Blyth, D. (1992). Healthy communities; healthy youth: How communities contribute to positive youth development. Handout. Minneapolis, MN: Search Institute.

Brophy, J. E. & Good, T. L. (1986). Teacher behavior and student achievement. In M.L. Wittrock (Ed.), Handbook of Research on Teaching (3rd ed.) (pp. 328-375). New York: MacMillan.

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Clark, R. M. (1983). Family life and school achievement. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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Cooper, H. (1989). Synthesis of research on homework. Educational Leadership, 47, 85-91.

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Related Resources

Using Natural and Logical Consequences — Get step-by-step instructions for using natural and logical consequences and see examples of this strategy in action.

Learning — Review with the research says about learning, and how children's school success is facilitated when they are provided with various tools for learning and when key adults in their life communicate with each other. Part of the Research on the Factors for School Success series.

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