What helps kids to learn? Parents, teacher unions or education bureaucrats?

Christine Kim
Christine Kim

What’s the best way to help children do well in school?

On the one hand, social conservatives on the right favor the traditional family structure, complete with a father who lives in the home and is an involved parent. Parents have an incentive to help children do well in school because they are biologically linked to the children and they are paying all the bills at home. They are making sacrifices and they want to see some results.

On the other other hand, social liberals on the left favor raising taxes on working families, and funneling the proceeds to unionized public school teachers. Do teachers get paid more for improving the quality of education for students? Or do they get paid more for contributing to Democrats who will increase their salaries? Do they have an incentive to make children learn?

Parents vs teacher unions: Who does the best job?

Consider this research paper from Christine C. Kim of the Heritage Foundation, my favorite think tank.


American taxpayers invest heavily in education. Last year, spending on public K–12 education totaled $553 billion, about 4 percent of gross domestic prod­uct (GDP) in 2006. For each child enrolled in a pub­lic elementary or secondary school, expenditures averaged $9,266 that year—an increase of 128 per­cent, adjusted for inflation, since 1970.

Despite this increase in public spending, student achievement and educational attainment over the last four decades has remained relatively flat. In 2007, a significant portion of students, disproportionately from disadvantaged backgrounds, scored “below basic” in reading and math on the National Assess­ment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Sadly, in many of the nation’s largest cities, fewer than half of high school students graduate.

While academic research has consistently shown that increased spending does not correlate with edu­cational gains, the research does show a strong rela­tionship between parental influences and children’s educational outcomes, from school readiness to college completion. Two compelling parental factors emerge:

  1. family structure, i.e., the number of parents living in the student’s home and their relationships to the child, and
  2. parents’ involvement in their children’s schoolwork.

Consequently, the solution to improving educa­tional outcomes begins at home, by strengthening marriage and promoting stable family formation and parental involvement.

The PDF is here. In the rest of the paper, Christine supports her conclusions using evidence.

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