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Education Lab Blog

Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

December 11, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Not bowling alone: Families helping families helps students

In the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago, a community-based program has succeeded in bringing parents into its schools and has inspired others to spread the program statewide. Parent mentor Crystal Robles, center (with safety vest) monitors students as they are dismissed. Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times

In the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago, a community-based program has succeeded in bringing parents into its schools and has inspired others to spread the program statewide. Parent mentor Crystal Robles, center (with safety vest) monitors students as they are dismissed. Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times

In our Sunday story about tapping into the power of parents in education, we summed up some of the research into ways parents can help students achieve.

But there’s much more, including studies from the “social capital” camp — researchers who study the webs of relationships that can bring benefits to individuals, families and schools.

That concept was at the heart of “Bowling Alone,” a book that got a lot of play a few years back for tracking the demise of social ties in America.

The studies ring true to anyone who has ever gained from being part of a school community, getting advice and information from other parents as well as teachers and principals.

As University of Chicago sociologist Mario Small wrote in the preface to his book, “Unanticipated Gains:”

The thousands of books and articles spawned by social capital theory have probably convinced even the toughest skeptics that better connected people enjoy better health, faster access to information, stronger social support, and greater ease in dealing with crises or everyday problems.

To jump to the punch line, Small, in his study of childcare centers in New York City, found that even small, seemingly inconsequential decisions can help parents build social networks. One example: the centers with set drop-off and pick-up times gave parents a better chance to interact with each other, which led them to ask each other for ideas, advice and sometimes help. One review called that time a “social capital gold mine.”

A second study looked at family social networks versus the ones that exist at schools.  The authors suggested that family social capital – defined in part as how much time parents spend checking homework, having discussions with their children and attending school events — increased student achievement more than the quality of their schools.

Their conclusion: To help students do better in school, we might look at building stronger social networks for families rather than focusing so much on improving schools.

Comments | More in News | Topics: bowling alone, Chicago, Logan Square Neighborhood Association

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