It is a formula for school achievement as old as apples for the teacher and as new as homework done on the Internet: Fathers’ participation in their children’s schools, the Department of Education has found, boosts the children’s performance and wards off misbehavior and academic failure.
Children get better marks and are less likely to repeat a grade or be expelled if their fathers are involved in school activities, the study concluded. Among children whose fathers alone were highly involved at their schools, almost half brought home report cards bearing mostly A’s. And for children whose mothers are involved at their schools, the addition of a father’s participation increased the likelihood of high academic performance.
The survey-based report, released at the White House on Thursday by Vice President Al Gore, found that fathers’ involvement made a substantial difference whether or not the dads lived with their children.
In spite of a burgeoning movement among middle-class fathers to involve themselves in their children’s lives, more than half of all fathers in two-parent families - and 82 percent of fathers who do not live with their children - have no significant involvement in their children’s schools.
Gore called the report “a wake-up call” for fathers and those who would minimize their role in their children’s development. “Fathers, even conscientious fathers, have been leaving this role to mothers too much,” he added.
More broadly, its findings support a growing body of evidence showing that fathers play a pivotal role in their children’s health and development.
While that is not news to many men, or to mothers who have pressed their partners to do more, there had been little hard evidence to prove it. Previous research had underscored the critical importance of a mother’s active role in her children’s school achievement, but none had singled out the role of fathers.
That is where the Education Department survey breaks new ground.
The study, prompted by a Clinton administration directive that ordered federal agencies to place greater emphasis on the role of fathers, found that a father’s participation tended to lift his children’s academic performance - regardless of parents’ income, race, ethnicity or parental education.
For men such as Walter Waddles, a 54-year-old custodian and father of two sons in South-Central Los Angeles, the study underscores a couple of things that have long been clear to him: Children - especially boys, he says - need regular reminders of their fathers’ expectations, and there is no substitute for spending time in their schools and in their schooling.
Waddles reads and does homework with his sons, goes to parent-teacher meetings and volunteers for the school district and a police advisory board. In hopes of improving the grades of his sons, seventh-grader Tyree and eight-grader Tijuan, Waddles has put them in a tutoring program.
Many psychologists believe that, in general, a father’s influence on his children complements a slightly different approach typical of mothers.
“Fathers are more oriented toward the product: What are your grades?” said Wade Horne, director of the National Fatherhood Initiative, based in Gaithersburg, Md. “It should come as no great surprise that when they are more active, you get more of the output that they focus on.”