Schooling vs. Parenting

March 16, 1992

If the schools aren't doing an adequate job educating today's students, the problem must lie with the schools, right? Not necessarily, says a new study of children of Indochinese boat people. Among this group, researchers found, the schools are actually doing pretty well.

Asian students are often stereotyped as the "model minority" because so many excel in school. Three researchers from the University of Michigan decided to find out why. What they discovered confirmed many long-held beliefs of educators about the value of parental involvement: The critical factor was the value that parents placed on education and the sacrifices both ++ parents and children were willing to make in order to excel.

That's certainly not new. But it did lead to some startling conclusions. If American schools work reasonably well for these students, why are Americans students falling behind their European and Japanese counterparts? The answer seems to lie not in differences in the quality of American schools but in the level of involvement by parents in their children's learning. The parental emphasis on education seems to be greater abroad.

Many studies suggest that American parents of both sexes today work longer hours, spend less time with their children and often arrive home so tired they simply can't devote "quality time" to their kids. Add to that the myriad distractions of the youth culture and it's no wonder U.S. students are falling behind.

The real test will be what happens to the next generation of Indochinese children in American schools. Will their parents retain the strong emphasis on family and education? Or will they increasingly be so harried by jobs and responsibilities that, like other American parents, they wind up with little time or energy to invest in their own children's schooling? In that case, their children may begin to resemble other American kids in at least one respect: They will score lower on tests than their counterparts in Europe and Japan.

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