Academic journal article School Community Journal

Is the Compass Broken or Did the Navigators Err?

Academic journal article School Community Journal

Is the Compass Broken or Did the Navigators Err?

Article excerpt

Keith Robinson and Angel L. Harris recently published a book titled The Broken Compass in which they allegedly demonstrate that parent involvement rarely helps and more often hinders students' achievement in school. As iden- tified in this editorial, basic conceptual, methodological, and analytical flaws in their study severely limit any conclusions that can be drawn about the role of parent involvement in education. In this brief essay, I will highlight some of the problems with their work. Time and space do not allow a complete point- by-point rebuttal. Counterexamples illustrate broader criticisms and are only a few of many possible examples.

Analyses from four large, publicly available data sets were presented and in- terpreted in the book. The first data set utilized was the National Educational Longitudinal Study of 1988 (NELS88), which began following students in eighth grade. In the analyses presented in the book, parent involvement and achievement control variables came from wave 1 (Grade 8) and outcomes from wave 3 (Grade 12). They also used the more recent Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 (ELS, N = 15,362), which began following students in 10th grade. Their third source was the Child Development Supplement (CDS) to the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (CDS Wave 1 = 3,563 & CDS Wave 2 = 2,908 families). Wave 1 focused on children between 0 and 12 years of age, so a considerable number of preschool children were included; Wave 2 follow-up achievement data were collected five years later. Finally, they used the Mary- land Adolescent Development in Context Study which followed 1,407 Black and White students residing on the Eastern Seaboard of the U.S. from middle school entry to beyond high school.

Parent Involvement as a Major Focus of Educational Policy?

In the introduction to the book, Robinson and Harris argue that enormous policy efforts and resources have been expended on parent involvement in an attempt to solve our nation's educational underachievement problems. Their evidence consists of politicians' speeches (see pp. 3-4) and both the Improve America's Schools Act (IASA) and No Child Left Behind (NCLB; see p. 18). In fact, policy initiatives to promote parent involvement in education have been modest at best. IASA and NCLB have mandated parent involvement in schools attended by low-income students through Title I, which requires schools re- ceiving more than half a million dollars in federal Title I funds to spend at least one percent of their Part A allocation on parent involvement (including any funds expended on family literacy and basic parenting initiatives). With 99% of Title I funds directed elsewhere, and given that not all schools receive Title I funds, this hardly constitutes substantial policy-driven effort or resources for parent involvement. Thus, despite political rhetoric about the importance of parent involvement, substantial federal educational policy efforts and resources have not been showered upon promoting parent involvement in schooling.

Failure to Review Relevant Literature

A deeply troubling aspect of the book is the failure of the authors to ade- quately review the extensive interdisciplinary literature on parent involvement. Had they done so, they might have planned, conducted, and interpreted their study differently. Scholars from multiple disciplines are interested in why, how, and to what effect parents are involved in their children's education, and these multiple perspectives are critical in understanding how parent involvement matters to students' school success. Robinson and Harris's contention that little is known and/or that there are widely conflicting results in the existing litera- ture is simply not correct. Google scholar returns 1,200 results for the search terms "NELS 88" and "parent involvement." Some of those papers are consis- tent with the findings they present in the book as novel (e.g., high expectations are positively associated with student outcomes, associations differ by SES and race/ethnicity, and homework help is negatively associated with achievement) while others contradict them, probably because those studies tied parent in- volvement to outcomes in the same school year (see analytical concerns below for possible reasons). …

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