In the NYTimes today, Parental Involvement is Overrated. I liked this article, not because I think it's intelligent or well-written (I don't), but because, with any luck, it's an early sign that the parental-involvement pendulum is starting to swing back. That's good news for me. As regular readers will know, I resent the schools' ham-handed attempts to get me involved, from homework assignments my child can't possibly do on her own to pointless parent-teacher conferences.
As to the article itself, what a mess. The writers performed a longitudinal study, going back to the 1980s, of surveys of parent involvement. Schools have changed enormously over the past 30 years, not least in the requirements made of parents. You can't make a meaningful comparison of parental behavior in 1980 and parental behavior today without taking these changes into account. Besides, surveys are notorious in their ability to bring out whatever the subjects think the survey-taker wants to hear. They're rarely an accurate measure. (Alfie Kohn points out, for instance, that children and their parents report different amounts of time spent on homework; it's not clear that either report is accurate.)
The writers don't even mention an important form of parent involvement that's become very common; parent re-teaching and tutoring. These efforts have become a normal part of childhood, from the middle class on up the economic scale. Parents don't trust the schools to ensure their child has learned the material, so they find their own resources. It's terribly inefficient, but we're stuck with it. As I remarked to my employer at the after-school math club where I've been teaching, wouldn't it be great if we could get this done during the school day?