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The Bottom Line Family Matters Most

Variation of student achievement comes from factors outside of school, and that rests with the family.  The influence of family in childhood educational outcomes results from four factors: parental education, family income, parental choice, and the access to early childhood education.

Parents who are better educated generate great social and cultural capital for their children. For example, children of better-educated adults are exposed to many more words. Don Nielsen points out in his book, Every School, that in “a home where at least one parent is a professional, a child will hear 2,153 words per waking hour. In a working-class home, the number is 1,251 words per hour. A child growing up in a welfare home averages only 616 words per hour.” This can greatly impact school readiness and the IQ of the child. Another factor related to a better-educated parent is their access to a greater social network, which can help a child decide upon and navigate a career path they’re considering. For example, the parents of a child interested in entrepreneurship may be able to connect them with an entrepreneur they know, even if they themselves are not entrepreneurs.

Family income is another factor influencing a child’s educational performance. Parents with greater financial resources are able to provide more choice in regards to schools, the community the family lives in, and extracurricular activities available. Typically, families with more financial support are able to give their children every opportunity they need in order to succeed. Substantial evidence shows that upsurges in family income can boost the success rates of students raised in low-income working families, holding other influences constant.

Parental choice, a third factor, is sometimes influenced by the financial resources available to a family, as mentioned above. However, it does not have to be this way. Programs that allow families to choose schools regardless of their neighborhood of residence are critically needed. This requires a shift in the minds of adults who believe charter public schools are “taking away money from traditional public schools.” Typically, schools of choice are representing the communities of low socio-economic standing and the results are staggering in terms of the better educational outcomes they produce for these students.

Early childhood education is the final family factor, which is directly related to the topic of brain development. As Nielsen states, “though the mind is considered by many to be more than just the physical working of the brain (it also includes such things as consciousness, intentionality, meaning, reason, purpose, judgements, decision-making, value, and will) a crucial element in shaping the human mind and the learning process, is the development of the brain.” How children are raised during their earliest years will determine the type of person they are. In order to make sure each child is receiving the care they deserve, “requires that we make provisions for early childhood education for those children who will not receive it at home. We should also, develop programs for the parents of these children – parents who are either under educated adults, who were failed by an ineffective school system, or recent immigrants who may not have had any formal education.” Early childhood education for at-risk children is necessary in generating a responsible citizenry.

Families alone can’t level the vast inequalities that students face. However, focusing on the matters we control can make the difference needed to effectively educate every child. As Nielsen suggests, “As a society, we need to look at education not as K-12 System, but as a program of child development that goes from birth until the child is capable of becoming a productive citizen.”

Bailey Takacs

Development Program Coordinator, American Center for Transforming Education
Bailey Takacs served as development program coordinator to Discovery Institutes' American Center for Transforming Education and Development team. Bailey has experiences which also include: campaign management and administrative roles with elected officials at the local, state, and federal levels of the government. He holds a B.A. in Politics and Government from Pacific Lutheran University.
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