The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

Early School Success Starts in the Home

Bryce J. Christensen and Robert W. Patterson

Relatively few American parents would identify themselves as homeschoolers. However, a study completed at the University of Pennsylvania and the State University of New York at Stony Brook indicates parents pervasively affect the academic success of their children simply through the kind of home environment they create. That environment is most likely to foster high achievement when it reflects an abiding marital commitment between parents.

To design a tool to identify children at risk of academic failure, the researchers analyze survey data collected between 1986 and 1998 on 2,919 children. Their analysis found that “sociodemographics (i.e. maternal education, age, marital status, and child gender) and a few specific attributes of the home environment (i.e. number of children’s books, frequency of reading to a child, and parenting conflicts) were stronger predictors of early school success than child personality or developmental factors.” Parental marital status, in fact, remains in the final statistical models as one of the “child and family sociodemographic characteristics remained strongly associated with [children’s academic] scores.” Perhaps surprisingly, the data indicate that even children living with a married or “partnered” mother reporting “high conflict” over child rearing are scoring significantly higher on standardized tests than are children living with an unmarried mother or a mother with no partner.

Because “early school success is clearly related to later health,” the researchers are particularly helpful that their findings will help school and public-health officials “to assess children’s risk for poor academic achievement . . . direct targeted service delivery to improve child outcomes.”

No doubt, as this study finds, children do better in school if they live in a home with a lot of children’s books. But this study adds to a mountain of research indicating that no number of books can compensate for the absence of an intact parental marriage.

(Susami Pati et al., “Early Identification of Young Children at Risk for Poor Academic Achievement: Preliminary Development of a Parent-Report Prediction Tool,” BMC Health Services Research 11 [August 18, 2011]: 197, emphasis added.)