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How Much Do Parents Matter? Testing the Reciprocal Association between Parental Involvement and Children's Educational Trajectories among Native and Immigrant Families


That parental involvement makes a positive impact on children's educational outcomes is well established (Fan & Chen, 2001). However, several gaps remain in when and how parental involvement influences children's educational progress: (1) parental involvement is mainly studied at particular points in the life course, but not across the developmental continuum, (2) the parental involvement-achievement link is generally modeled as a unidirectional relationship as compared with a transactional process, (3) the parental involvement-achievement link has mainly been examined among native families but less is known about how these associations apply to immigrant families in the U.S. To address these limitations, the current study tested the reciprocal associations between parental involvement and academic achievement across the elementary and middle school years for children from native and immigrant families. Data came from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Cohort. A subsample of 7,100 families was used, for whom longitudinal data from first to eighth grade and nativity status information was available. All analyses were conducted within a structural equation modeling framework using Mplus v.5.1.

Continuous time cross-lagged panel analyses showed the mutual influence between parental involvement and reading and math achievement across the elementary and middle school years. Early involvement was observed to positively predict children's future reading and math achievement. In addition, prior reading and math achievement was observed to influence future levels of parental involvement. As children did better in school, parents became less involved during the transition from fifth to eighth grade and vice versa. The patterns of associations were similar among native and immigrant families.

Findings shed light into the dynamic relationship between parental involvement and children's academic achievement across the school years, and for children from diverse backgrounds. Future studies should consider how the parental involvement-achievement link varies by other family background characteristics. It is important to consider children's role in shaping parental involvement and to understand the factors that influence why parents become involved. Educational implications include rethinking family interventions that are just geared towards changing parents' involvement strategies but consider programs to increase parental education and income or to improve communication between families and schools.

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