Involving parents in education helps poor preschoolers

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Parental involvement is effective for lower-income preschoolers’ cognitive development, according to a study published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. This is yet another study showing that helping parents help their kids is effective, contrary to the findings of gold-standard studies, which find government preschool programs ineffective.

The paper, “Family-based training program improves brain function, cognition, and behavior in lower socioeconomic status preschoolers,” was coauthored by seven Oregon-based psychologists from the University of Oregon and Willamette University. In their paper, the authors assert: “[T]he study is unique in engaging the larger family context, as well as direct child training, to support the development of selective attention.”

The authors conducted an eight-week study of 141 Head Start students from families at or below the national poverty level. Data from the program, dubbed Parents and Children Making Connections–Highlighting Attention (PCMC-A), led the psychologists to conclude that parent involvement in their kids’ early education reduces parent stress and increases student cognition compared to a control group without a parental component.

‘Parents Engaging Child Development’
According to the authors, the study “underscore[s] the importance of engaging parents to support child development.”

They conclude: “[T]he study provides a comprehensive picture of the changes resulting from a family-based training model, including not only gains for children in a direct neural measure of selective attention but also specific skills assessed by standardized tests, parent reports of child behavior, and parent behaviors and parenting stress levels.”

The appropriate response should be to boost families, rather than large government programs “in an effort to replicate the findings of a small group of students,” said Lindsey Burke, Will Skillman Fellow in Education at the Heritage Foundation. “We’ve seen the documented failed outcomes of the federal government’s largest preschool intervention–the Head Start program. The authors’ findings might be useful for center-based care programs at the local level but should not be interpreted to further a federal preschool agenda,” she said.

Bruce Edward Walker (walker.editorial@gmail.comis an information technology and telecommunications policy advisor for The Heartland Institute.