Monday, March 31, 2003

Father involvement stressed
to boost school success

By Molly Murray
Gannett News Service
and Shauna Scott Rhone
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Several studies have proved that parent involvement in education plays a big part in academic success for many children. But now there is growing evidence of the importance of involving fathers, specifically, in their children's academic life.

That can be especially important for boys, who lag girls in reading and other key subjects, educators and researchers say.

Betti Hinton, executive director of Children's Protective Services and FamiliesFORWARD in Mount Auburn, believes involved fathers sympathize with the difficulties their sons have in school "because they have had the same concerns."

She says growing up with a proactive father encourages children, particularly boys, to work harder.

"Boys need fathers for identification" as they grow into manhood and success in life, she says.

Fathers with a high level of involvement in a child's school life increase the chances that a child will excel by as much as 42 percent, says Melinda Malico, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education. A mother's involvement increases chances of success by 20 percent.

No one is sure why this is so, but early research points to differences in the ways fathers and mothers play with their children.

Mothers are more likely to read to a child, play with a toy or talk and instruct.

A father's play typically is more physical, less verbal and offers youngsters more stimulation. Fathers also are more likely to let children try new skills such as cutting with scissors or using other tools long before a mother will.

"With boys in particular," says National Fatherhood Initiative president Roland Warren, "the presence of fathers has a direct effect on discipline and aggression. Fathers have an enormous role in aggressive and positive behaviors. Typically, boys suffer from a lack of impulse control, and fathers help boys understand how to control their impulses.

"Rough and tumble play is a wonderful way to learn how to master impulse control," says Warren. "It teaches them when it's time to settle down, like at school." The National Center for Education Statistics, a research branch of the Education Department, has begun a study to learn more about a father's impact on learning. The study will examine the role fathers play in child development and learning over a child's first seven years. Researchers will track a mix of racial, ethnic and social groups from birth to the start of first grade.

"When you look at the impact of fathers as it pertains to the academic performance of kids," says Warren, "the raw data shows that children with a father absent are two times more likely to drop out of school and have a lower college attendance.

"Cultures that thrive are ones who support engaged fathers," he says. "Fathers who are involved in their kid's lives engage those kids on all levels. We can predict college success by the presence of the father factor."

"Parent involvement has often meant mothers' involvement," states a June 2000 report from the research center. When fathers get involved, they "demonstrate to their children that male adults can take responsibility, help to establish appropriate conduct and provide a daily example of ... the importance of achievement and productivity."

More involved fathers also can help counter the lack of male role models in schools, particularly elementary schools, said Alan Farstrup, executive director of the International Reading Association. Most elementary schools are staffed overwhelmingly by women.

Warren agrees. "If positive role modeling is present in a kid's life, young boys can see themselves being that man," and seek to emulate him. "The best mother in the world can't be a (male) role model for her son."


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