More Bad News for Obsessive Parents

In the chapter of Freakonomics called “What Makes a Perfect Parent?”, we analyze the data from the U.S. Dept. of Education’s Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, and argue that many things that modern parents do to make their kids “smarter” (i.e. culture cramming), doesn’t have any effect on early childhood test scores. Apparently we’re not the only ones who think this is so.


Larry Horse

The best way to get students to do better in school is to pay them. For example, I'd say pay a kid $1,000 times his or her GPA times his or her attendance percentage if they graduate from high school. That way, a 4.0 GPA with perfect attendance gets $4,000 cash upon graduation, and a 3.0 GPA with 90% attendance gets $2,700. That way you motivate kids to come to school, do good work, and to graduate. Of course, the base $1,000 could be raised or lowered depending on studies to show how large an effect this could have, but this would be a lot cheaper than unproven ideas like building more classrooms or being super-duper-high-tech

ethesis

Though, for a contrary thought:

http://www.aft.org/pubs-reports/american_educator/spring2003/catastrophe.html

Nana

A friend's idea: Junior high is pretty much a hormonally enhanced education wasteland. Maybe kids should be allowed to drop out and go to work. Kicker 1: About the only jobs they could get would be of the Mickey D's variety. Kicker 2: Half of their earnings would be put into a savings account for at least two years. About the time they got sick of flipping burgers, they could return to school with money in their pockets and maybe increased motivation to lean enough to qualify for a better job the next time round.

econopete

Nana: I love your ideas. Ethesis: I'll read it when I have more time.

I would be interested in reading about the socio-economic connection of schooling. A friend of mine student-taught at one of the richest, then one of the poorest areas in the same county, and even though the cost-per-child was much higher in the poorer area, part of it was explained by the poorer school providing daily breakfast for the children (they often had no food at home) and providing soap and toothbrushes so that they could "wash up" at school. In the same district I have observed stairways in buildings physically falling apart; the district decided to performe a book audit because many of the students simply do not have them.

That said, can't we have these obsessive parents donate some of their energy and time to these kids?

Paul Ma

Any links to the study itself? I'd like to know if they estimated the impact of Teach for America teachers as well.

ghoon

My parents were not obsessive at all, and I ended up getting a PhD in a physical science and a JD. My parents immigrated to this country from Vietnam in '75 and I was their first born in '76. We were working class for the first 12 years or so of my life. I had absolutely no extracurricular activities because my parents could neither afford them nor could they find time off of work to shuttle me around. Because they weren't very proficient in English in the beginning, they never helped me with my homework. Thinking back, I can point to a few things that helped me succeed: my parents' instilling in me a sense of shame for getting below an A on anything, lots and lots of TV and lots and lots of video games. Shame spurred me to study, TV connected me to the culture around me and video games developed my spatial abilities. Whatever positive contribution my parents made to my academic development was indirect and cultural.

Read more...

zenlarson

Aren't there more meaninful ways to measure educational progress than a standardized test score? If we've managed to develop a measure of success that is independent of parental influence, then I would say the measure is the flawed. Otherwise, just round all the kids up into concentration camps for 12 years until they know all the answers.

roylee

I wish the authors had also considered the affects of nutrition on outcome. Look at what happened when a school in Appleton Wisconsin changed their cafeteria's diet. (Google 'applewood wisconsin school diet'). Of course nutrition has more far-reaching effects than just school performance. Consider Dr Price's classic 'Nutrition and Physical Degeneration'. excerpt here -> http://www.soilandhealth.org/02/0203CAT/020305ppnf/PPNFpartII.html

Unfortunately there is little money to be made with this approach ...

kickstand

The problem here is that these studies use standardized test scores to measure achievement. We all know there's a hell of a lot more to achievement than getting a good test score.

A good parent exposes his/her children to arts, culture, and the like not to increase test scores, for goodness' sake. You expose your kids to the world for a lot of reasons, for example making a more well-rounded person.

I like to think that you're looking for the thing that "clicks" with the child. Somebody once brought Billy Joel to his first piano concert. Somebody once brought Stephen J. Gould to his first visit to the Museum of Natural History. Somebody once gave Lance Armstrong his first bike. None of these actions in themselves probably increased the kids' test scores. But they changed their lives.

Bruce Hayden

ghoon

Shame isn't going to work here. Sorry to be somewhat racist, but it is more of an Asian thing. It is much more a significant part of many Eastern Asian cultures. Here, we have guilt, but that is different, esp. in this context. I don't think that guilt works nearly as well as shame does to get those top grades. Not when it is easier to go to Confession. But it does work - some times. My girlfriend got straight A's because of guilt, possibly one or two of my brothers, and, maybe my daughter. Actually, for my brothers, it was the guilt of having two older brothers (including me) who didn't work to capacity.

The downside of shame though as a motivating force in the scholostic realm is (IMHO) that failure can be devastating. The suicide rate in Japan for students who don't do quite as well as they and their parents would have liked is scary.

I think that this country is to egalitarian to ever buy into shame for motivation because there is a real social cost to it - as shown by the Japanese student suicides. I just don't think we are willing to pay the cost of the effects on those who do fail, regardless of the obvious benefits.

Final note here - what will be interesting is see how your grandchildren do. My guess is that they probably won't excel at nearly the level that yours has - which would of course be hard, given the awsome success that your generation of Vietnamese-Americans has achieved. But I suspect that the shame motiviation will decrease as you become more assimilated. Indeed, I think that it is already starting to happen.

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StCheryl

You acquitted yourself well. Did you meet my friend Elizabeth Kostova?

Larry Horse

The best way to get students to do better in school is to pay them. For example, I'd say pay a kid $1,000 times his or her GPA times his or her attendance percentage if they graduate from high school. That way, a 4.0 GPA with perfect attendance gets $4,000 cash upon graduation, and a 3.0 GPA with 90% attendance gets $2,700. That way you motivate kids to come to school, do good work, and to graduate. Of course, the base $1,000 could be raised or lowered depending on studies to show how large an effect this could have, but this would be a lot cheaper than unproven ideas like building more classrooms or being super-duper-high-tech

ethesis

Though, for a contrary thought:

http://www.aft.org/pubs-reports/american_educator/spring2003/catastrophe.html

Nana

A friend's idea: Junior high is pretty much a hormonally enhanced education wasteland. Maybe kids should be allowed to drop out and go to work. Kicker 1: About the only jobs they could get would be of the Mickey D's variety. Kicker 2: Half of their earnings would be put into a savings account for at least two years. About the time they got sick of flipping burgers, they could return to school with money in their pockets and maybe increased motivation to lean enough to qualify for a better job the next time round.

econopete

Nana: I love your ideas. Ethesis: I'll read it when I have more time.

I would be interested in reading about the socio-economic connection of schooling. A friend of mine student-taught at one of the richest, then one of the poorest areas in the same county, and even though the cost-per-child was much higher in the poorer area, part of it was explained by the poorer school providing daily breakfast for the children (they often had no food at home) and providing soap and toothbrushes so that they could "wash up" at school. In the same district I have observed stairways in buildings physically falling apart; the district decided to performe a book audit because many of the students simply do not have them.

That said, can't we have these obsessive parents donate some of their energy and time to these kids?

Paul Ma

Any links to the study itself? I'd like to know if they estimated the impact of Teach for America teachers as well.

ghoon

My parents were not obsessive at all, and I ended up getting a PhD in a physical science and a JD. My parents immigrated to this country from Vietnam in '75 and I was their first born in '76. We were working class for the first 12 years or so of my life. I had absolutely no extracurricular activities because my parents could neither afford them nor could they find time off of work to shuttle me around. Because they weren't very proficient in English in the beginning, they never helped me with my homework. Thinking back, I can point to a few things that helped me succeed: my parents' instilling in me a sense of shame for getting below an A on anything, lots and lots of TV and lots and lots of video games. Shame spurred me to study, TV connected me to the culture around me and video games developed my spatial abilities. Whatever positive contribution my parents made to my academic development was indirect and cultural.

Read more...

zenlarson

Aren't there more meaninful ways to measure educational progress than a standardized test score? If we've managed to develop a measure of success that is independent of parental influence, then I would say the measure is the flawed. Otherwise, just round all the kids up into concentration camps for 12 years until they know all the answers.

roylee

I wish the authors had also considered the affects of nutrition on outcome. Look at what happened when a school in Appleton Wisconsin changed their cafeteria's diet. (Google 'applewood wisconsin school diet'). Of course nutrition has more far-reaching effects than just school performance. Consider Dr Price's classic 'Nutrition and Physical Degeneration'. excerpt here -> http://www.soilandhealth.org/02/0203CAT/020305ppnf/PPNFpartII.html

Unfortunately there is little money to be made with this approach ...

kickstand

The problem here is that these studies use standardized test scores to measure achievement. We all know there's a hell of a lot more to achievement than getting a good test score.

A good parent exposes his/her children to arts, culture, and the like not to increase test scores, for goodness' sake. You expose your kids to the world for a lot of reasons, for example making a more well-rounded person.

I like to think that you're looking for the thing that "clicks" with the child. Somebody once brought Billy Joel to his first piano concert. Somebody once brought Stephen J. Gould to his first visit to the Museum of Natural History. Somebody once gave Lance Armstrong his first bike. None of these actions in themselves probably increased the kids' test scores. But they changed their lives.