The Power of Parent Engagement: School Reform Starts at Home

We want higher scores on standardized tests, higher high school graduation rates, and higher numbers of high school grads ready for college. If students are falling short of these demands, it must be the teacher who’s supposed to be teaching them something, right? According to some new studies: wrong.

In Thomas Friedman’s most recent op-ed, “How About Better Parents,” he summarizes the finding of the following studies and their implications for parents.

The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests 15-year-olds in the world’s leading industrialized nations on reading comprehension and problem solving abilities in math and science, which have proved to be the skills most needed to succeed in college courses and the world of work. American students are behind students in Singapore, Finland, and Shanghai.

Researcher Andreas Schleicher, along with the PISA team, wanted to figure out the “why” behind the gaps in global student achievement, so they interviewed the parents of 5,000 students and interviewed them on how they raised their children, followed by comparing their answers with the test results.

The study found:

  • 15-year-old students whose parents often read books with them during their first year of primary school show higher scores in PISA than those whose parents read to them infrequently or not at all.
  • Showing “genuine interest” in what a child learned during the day and by simply asking questions like “how was your day?” proved to have the same impact as hours of tutoring.
  • Students with parents who read a book with their child “every day or almost every day” and those with parents who “read once or  twice a week” during primary school years had significantly higher PISA scores than students who rarely or never read to their children. The difference was equivalent to half a school year.
  • The type of parent involvement matters. The most effective are when parents read with a child, talk about things during the day, and tell their kids stories. The least effective is playing with their children.

Friedman closes by saying: “Better parents can make every teacher more effective.”

At LifeBound, we offer parent engagement programs for parents of students in elementary, middle school, and high school. We also have a weekly blog for parents written by LifeBound’s lead trainer, co-author, and parent Maureen Breeze. I invite you to become part of our online community via the blog and to visit to learn more about the parent sessions we offer.


“How About Better Parents” by Thomas Friedman.

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