Amazon unveiled a new online “storefront” called Amazon Ignite that will allow educators to earn money by publishing—online, of course—their original lesson plans, worksheets, games, and more. The entry into the curricular marketplace is obviously motivated by a perceived market opportunity—and that’s not wrong. The vast majority of teachers are supplementing their core curriculum or don’t have one to start with. Yet we know almost nothing about the quality of such supplementary materials. Our new study helps fill that void.
As we were putting the final touches on our new report, The Supplemental Curriculum Bazaar: Is What's Online Any Good?, Amazon unveiled a “new storefront” called Amazon Ignite. The site will allow educators to earn money by publishing—online, of course—their original educational resources (lesson plans, worksheets, games, and more).
The e-commerce titan’s entry into the curricular marketplace is obviously motivated by a perceived market opportunity—and that’s not wrong. The vast majority of teachers are supplementing their core curriculum or don’t have a core curriculum to start with, so it’s no surprise that they often frequent the online arena to obtain the materials with which to meet their instructional needs.
In fact, recent studies by RAND found that nearly all teachers report using the Internet to source instructional materials, and many of them do so quite often. For example, 55 percent of English language arts (ELA) teachers said they used Teachers Pay Teachers for curriculum materials at least once a week. That site reports that one billion resources have been downloaded—a massive number, to be sure.
Yet we know almost nothing about the quality of such supplementary materials. Although several organizations have stepped up to offer impartial reviews of full curriculum products, to our knowledge there’s no equivalent when it comes to add-on resources. Therefore, we set out to answer a simple question: Are popular websites supplying teachers with high-quality supplemental materials?
We recruited University of Southern California associate professor Morgan Polikoff to lead the review. He has conducted numerous studies on academic standards, curriculum, and assessments (including a previous Fordham study on Common Core–era tests), and he co-leads a federal research center on standards implementation. Jennifer Dean, an expert in assessment, standards alignment, and ELA content, served as lead reviewer of materials and assisted with report writing. She was joined by four other expert reviewers with backgrounds in teaching ELA, developing curricula and assessment items, and/or leading instructional teams.
Morgan and Jennifer and their team, with the help of external advisers, developed a rubric that captured both the overall dimensions of quality in curriculum materials—things like rigor and usability—and more discrete dimensions that reflected the key instructional shifts called for by the new generation of states’ ELA content standards: things like regular practice with complex texts and reading and writing tasks grounded in evidence from the text. In all, they examined over three hundred of the most downloaded materials found on three of the most popular supplemental websites: Teachers Pay Teachers, ReadWriteThink, and Share My Lesson.
This crackerjack review team unearthed a wealth of valuable information (encapsulated in nine key findings) that has important implications for district, school, and instructional leaders everywhere, as well as for classroom instructors themselves.
Sadly, the reviewers concluded that the majority of these materials are not worth using: more precisely, 64 percent of them should “not be used” or are “probably not worth using.” On all three websites, a majority of materials were rated 0 or 1 on an overall 0–3 quality scale.
That’s sobering to say the least, particularly given the popularity of these sites and the materials we reviewed. It suggests a major mismatch between what the experts think teachers should (and shouldn’t) use in classrooms and what teachers themselves are downloading for such use—and, in some cases, paying for.
That’s not necessarily a criticism of the teachers. They may be finding value in these materials in ways that we “experts” need to better understand. In interviews, teachers told us that they use the materials to fill instructional gaps, meet the needs of both low and high achievers, foster student engagement, and save them time. They rarely use the materials as is. Much adapting goes on as they choose and modify items to fill specific needs—needs that likely take precedence day to day over whether particular materials are aligned to state standards or incorporate high cognitive demand (or some other quality valued by experts).
We’re not suggesting that teachers’ views and judgments should yield to those of experts. Why not weigh both? Consider how this works on Rotten Tomatoes, the popular website that reviews the quality of movies and other entertainment. Their Tomatometer is based on the opinions of hundreds of film and television critics and is a trusted go-to for millions of viewers. When at least 60 percent of the critics’ reviews of a movie or TV show are positive, it receives a red tomato, meaning it’s “fresh.” Less than 60 percent and it gets a green splat, meaning it’s “rotten.”
Those could reasonably be termed expert judgments. But Rotten Tomatoes also provides Audience Scores, which are just that. When at least 60 percent of viewers give a movie or TV show a star rating of 3.5 or higher, a full popcorn bucket indicates that it’s “fresh” from the audience’s perspective. When less than 60 percent, a tipped-over popcorn bucket reveals it’s “rotten.”
So the moviegoer and television watcher can readily access two different ratings—one from professional critics and another from the audience. Often they’re similar, but not infrequently, they diverge. It’s hard to say who is “right,” but potential viewers get more information by seeing both ratings than they would from just one.
Same thing here. By definition, we looked at materials with high “Audience Scores,” which is to say these were materials that had been downloaded the most. Yet in a majority of cases, our expert critics gave them a green splat, even though teachers rewarded them with a full popcorn bucket.
What then? Should we search for ways to block or deter teachers from using materials that experts don’t like? Some on our team would welcome such a heavy-handed approach to monitoring supplemental resources, perhaps by empowering district leaders to enforce stringent policies about which supplemental resources would be allowed in their schools. We understand that impulse. It recalls an argument we often have with libertarians over school choice, wherein we think it’s sometimes necessary to close really bad schools even though parents may like them.
In this case, however, we think a better solution is simply to provide teachers with more information, Tomatometer style. In addition to proving user reviews or comments to teachers, or highlighting and promoting the most popular lessons, the platforms should also make expert reviews available.
Two additional points are worth mentioning.
First, as our title indicates, the online marketplace is a bustling bazaar of cacophonous activity with myriad offerings of every sort. We cannot claim that our results apply to the thousands of other online resources out there for educators nor even to everything on the sites that we did evaluate. There’s no way to evaluate it all, and undoubtedly, much of what’s on offer is worth using. Yet we can state with some confidence that most of the most popular items leave much to be desired.
Second, not everyone will agree with our criteria and methods for assessing these materials. Even within our review team, not everyone was satisfied with every part of the process or with the conclusions about some materials. In some cases, we may have been too easy on the materials. In evaluating alignment, for instance, we simply asked whether the materials aligned to the standards that the teacher developers said that they aligned to. Similarly, a key expectation with assessments was that they cover the key content of the lesson.
In other cases, maybe the bar was too high. For example, we looked for cultural diversity by seeking the inclusion of multiple authors from diverse groups and/or topics of diverse cultural importance. Whether that’s a reasonable expectation for any one supplemental item (versus a full-fledged curriculum) is certainly debatable. Ditto in expecting supplementary lessons to offer supports for most or all student subgroups, given how inadequately many full-bore curricula handle differentiation.
Regardless of their quality, one of the things that can get lost when teachers go trawling for supplemental materials is curricular coherence. As such, we agree with Morgan and Jennifer that school leaders and department heads should pay more attention to what’s actually taught in classrooms by way of supplemental materials. What they learn could inform an array of subsequent strategies for improvement, from offering teachers training in how to identify high-quality materials to publishing a list of curated supplemental resources and addressing shortcomings and gaps in their core curriculum (the work of the Louisiana Department of Education may be instructive here).
Teachers are understandably hungry for instructional stuff, but the sites they’re turning to are often providing subpar versions of it. We hope that they make improvements going forward. And we also hope that Amazon, the “most valuable company on the planet,” will learn from its predecessors and strive to beat them at the quality game.
In her compelling new book, The Knowledge Gap, Natalie Wexler relates a story about a young girl in an elementary school in Washington, D.C., who, for over ten minutes during reading class, is busy drawing a picture on her reading worksheet. When Wexler asks what she’s doing, the little girl replies that she’s drawing clowns. “Why are you drawing clowns?” Wexler asks. “Because it says right here, ‘Draw clowns,’” the girl explains, pointing to instructions that say, “Draw conclusions.” An unread article is sitting face-down on the child’s desk.
This story is sweet; it’s funny; and it’s heartbreaking. We can see in it the challenges that students have with both decoding and comprehending—challenges that were on display, writ large, in the fourth and eighth grade 2019 NAEP results—challenges that have prompted the Council of Chief State School Officers to convene a Literacy Summit in January to spur action.
Clearly, America has work to do, and there are actions that states can take. In fourth grade reading, where NAEP scores dropped by one point nationwide, we know a lot about what needs to be done—the trick is doing it. In eighth grade reading, where NAEP scores dropped by 3 points nationally and 6 points for the lowest performers, the prescription is less clear but the level of urgency is high.
Let’s start with the known—early literacy. The fourth grade NAEP scores reflect the instruction that happens in kindergarten through fourth grade—those critical years when every child must learn to turn symbols on a page into words they can say and sentences they can make sense of. The serious consequences of leaving grade three without being an independent, fluent, on-grade-level reader are well understood. The science of how children learn to read, and how to explicitly teach them to do so, is also well understood. The problem is that most teachers did not learn how to teach early literacy. Few educator preparation programs teach it to the aspiring teachers they train. Few districts cover it in their professional development. And none of the best-selling textbooks addresses it completely and properly according to the nonprofit rating service, EdReports.
By now, most teachers have learned that “phonics is in,” but as Thompson and Zeuli pointed out in their seminal 1999 paper, The Frame and the Tapestry, “teachers are like independent artisans” who change their practice through “tinkering.” Teachers don’t tend to stop doing the practices they’re used to; they generally add new ones to their repertoire. As a result, in many classrooms, children are getting some systematic phonics instruction (effective practice), some unsystematic phonics (ineffective practice), some three-cueing systems instruction (also ineffective practice), and a host of other adaptations in between. We see this in the clown story. The little girl could sight-read the word “draw” but did not know how to sound out the word “conclusions.” She likely looked at the first letter, “c,” looked for other clues to the meaning, and finding none, drew her own conclusions: “I should draw clowns.”
When this instructional confusion is coupled with the false belief that “some kids just aren’t ready to read by third grade,” we end up with chronically low fourth grade NAEP scores. Mississippi has taken the early literacy research to heart—and made a concerted, statewide effort to improve their educator preparation programs, as well as their in-service professional learning. And their NAEP results show it. Networks of districts in Tennessee have also engaged in deliberate, research-based early literacy instruction. Others could learn much from these colleagues’ thoughtful work.
Eighth grade NAEP is another problem altogether (though of course all the readers who didn’t learn to decode properly by third grade contribute to the downward NAEP eighth grade trajectory). Here’s the challenge: Reading comprehension scores reflect the sum total of everything an eighth grader has learned over thirteen years of life, both in school and out. The more content you’ve learned in school, the more topics you’ve been exposed to outside school, the more language you’ve heard, the more books you’ve read, the more you know about the world around you, the better your overall reading comprehension. Why? Because new knowledge builds on prior knowledge, so all of us are better at comprehending when we already know something about the subject. If you’re passionate about baseball and have lots of exposure to it, you’ll “get” a baseball article’s main idea faster than your baseball-oblivious classmate will, regardless of how strong a reader you are. Students with topical knowledge have an advantage in reading at grade level in those content areas, and students with far-ranging content knowledge have an advantage on reading assessments generally.
We see this playing out by eighth grade, where the huge inequalities in family incomes and backgrounds reveal increasing gaps on NAEP between those who have and those who have not been exposed to great varieties of content and concepts. While schools—clocking in at a mere six and a half hours a day for 180 days a year—may have a hard time closing the knowledge gap on their own, there is much more they could be doing. However, educators have been taught to focus on teaching general reading strategies, not on building knowledge, so that’s what they have done. They have taken a strategies-first, rather than a knowledge-first approach, to teaching literacy.
What would need to happen to help teachers focus their classes on building knowledge? A lot, it turns out—which is one reason this is so hard. The first and biggest problem is that someone has to decide what content areas to cover. The good news is that there is no such thing as too much knowledge, so there are few “wrong answers.”
Ideally, topics should be aligned within a grade level so that the “big ideas” to be learned that year in social studies, science, and the arts—as well as literature—are the focus of students’ literacy blocks. If students are studying the phenomenon of sound waves in seventh grade science, that’s a great time to read all about sound in English class. If they’re learning jazz in music class, why not read about the history of jazz? This is not an argument for taking time away from science or music class and telling literacy teachers to carry that load. This is doing science in science class, and doing music in music class, and having literacy teachers teach reading comprehension in the context of what their students are experiencing in their other classes.
For knowledge to build over time, the content areas must also be aligned across grade levels so that content is not only connected to what students are learning elsewhere in school that year, but also to what students learned in prior years and to what will be expected of them in subsequent years.
Decisions about what topics to teach and when could be made school-by-school or district-by-district. But they typically are not. Doing so is just too hard. There are design, resource, instructional materials, professional development, and implementation challenges. The barriers are daunting.
The most practical approach for schools and districts that wish to take a knowledge-building approach to literacy is adopting one of the few published curricula explicitly designed to build knowledge, such as Core Knowledge, Wit & Wisdom, or EL Education. While such programs do not necessarily align within a grade level to the science and social studies being taught in each state, these curricula do tend to align vertically from one grade level to the next. And all promote thoughtful knowledge-building through reading complex, grade-level texts.
States could play a critical role in supporting students’ knowledge-building. Here’s how.
First, states could look across their academic standards and build a “knowledge map” of the big topics students are expected to learn in each grade level across content areas. No state does this today. That’s probably true for a few reasons. Doing so may expose deficiencies in the state’s literacy, math, science, social studies, or arts standards; maybe these standards aren’t clear enough, don’t thoughtfully build from year to year, or don’t align as well as they could across disciplines. Another concern is politics: Every education policymaker can share their war stories and scars from fighting content battles, and few would voluntarily choose to reopen these wounds. If, however, the work is simply pulling out the big ideas from existing (if voluminous) state standards documents, the hope would be that the benefit to educators would outweigh the risk to policymakers.
Second, states could work with publishers of high-quality, standards-aligned curricula to augment their materials with text sets aligned to these big ideas. Large states might have enough scale to sway publishers independently; smaller states might need to band together. And foundations—many of whom fund the newer, high-quality, nonprofit publishers—might be enlisted to help fund the effort.
Third, states could align the reading passages and writing prompts in their annual assessments to their “knowledge maps”—that is, to the big ideas covered in that grade level. The results of such an assessment would give educators and parents a much more realistic idea of what students can actually read and understand. And focusing assessments around these big ideas would provide incentives for districts to build students’ knowledge.
Fourth, states could up their game around district support. They could identify those instructional materials that focus on knowledge building and incentivize districts to use those materials. They could also identify those professional learning groups that provide high-quality support anchored around these instructional materials and incentivize districts to use those providers.
Finally, states could use their influence and policy levers to get educator preparation programs to prepare aspiring teachers and principals to teach reading comprehension in a way that is deeply content-connected and focused on building knowledge (with strategies applied, as appropriate to each text) rather than focusing only on reading strategies in a content-disconnected way.
Perhaps one or two states could pilot this approach with several districts, wrapping a serious evaluation study around the work to determine the efficacy of the knowledge-first versus strategies-first approach to reading. Perhaps foundations would help fund such studies.
States have not traditionally taken deliberate steps to steer teaching and learning; they have left that to local educators. But this is the work that needs to be done, and states are in a position to support many of the necessary changes. For early literacy classrooms, it’s a question of committing to the practices known to work (and stopping those that don’t). And across grade levels, it’s about committing to supporting students in reading complex, grade-level texts that intentionally build subject-matter knowledge. This work isn’t fast and it isn’t easy, but it’s the right work to do. It’s time to relegate to the realm of fiction stories like those Wexler tells.
Civics education has been a problem forever, or so it seems, and if that problem feels more urgent today it’s because so many are dismayed by the erosion of civility and good citizenship in today’s America, as well as mounting evidence that younger generations are both woefully ignorant in this realm—check out umpteen recent surveys, as well as NAEP data—and losing faith in democracy itself. Many high-profile folks are behaving badly in their public roles, and the mean and sour atmosphere and sundry resentments are combining with neglect by the formal education system to produce people who neither understand nor value the country’s basic principles and mechanisms.
We’ve seen one initiative after another to try to solve the problem, in recent decades perhaps most famously CIRCLE’s (and Carnegie’s) Civic Mission of Schools report in 2003 and Justice Sandra Day O’Conner’s launch of iCivics in 2008. Emerging around iCivics has been a sprawling consortium of organizations working in this space that calls itself the Civics Renewal Network. Many of these groups work outside, around, or in some sort of partnership with schools. Closer to the curricular heavings of K–12 education itself, the National Council for the Social Studies has given rise to the “College, Career, and Civic Life Framework for Social Studies State Standards,” a.k.a. C3, which is in use in many states and districts, mostly in elementary and middle schools.
At the high school level, the overwhelming majority of states require students to take some sort of civics or American government course before graduating. And the Advanced Placement program, working with the National Constitution Center, has done a commendable job of reformulating its course in American government, now taken by hundreds of thousands of young people every year.
Yet for umpteen reasons, the problem remains unsolved. Not even one quarter of eighth graders were proficient in civics on the 2014 National Assessment. (Newer data are expected in the spring.) The reasons are many, starting with the fact that civics isn’t actually a university discipline, so there’s no real professoriate or college major in this realm. K–12 social studies is a mishmash of history, geography, economics, and much else, as well as civics, and in any case has been eclipsed in most schools by the “accountability” subjects of ELA and math. Not many states even assess it. Today’s rapturous embrace of social and emotional learning has more to do with feelings, personal wellbeing, and interpersonal relationship than with citizenship, civic understanding, and character formation. And within the civics-ed space itself, there’s a major tussle between trendy promoters of “action civics” in pursuit of “social justice” and more tradition-minded advocates of young people learning how democracy works, what are a citizen’s responsibilities as well as rights, and why the founders’ legacy is worth preserving and perfecting.
The latest effort to right the civics ship was commissioned by several private foundations—notably Hewlett and Koch—that had the good sense to engage Raj Vinnakota, now president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, to survey this sprawling field and try to make sense both of what’s underway today and how it might be done better tomorrow. After a heroic effort—including interviewing nearly five-score people—his ninety-nine-page “landscape analysis and case for collaboration” is now available for viewing. I can’t say it rivals a John Grisham mystery as a page-turner, but it’s a valuable map of the hundreds of organizations and funders presently in this space and why they need to team up to do a lot better tomorrow. More than that, Vinnakota builds a solid case for shifting the core concept from civics education as historically defined into a civic learning ecosystem with ten key components. He identifies “foreseeable bumps in the road” but—seemingly undaunted—goes on to outline a path forward.
Much else is underway, including an ambitious federally-funded “convening-and-roadmapping” project being undertaken by iCivics and several partners. Which is to say, we’ll presently have both a map and a roadmap. Then we’ll see whether anyone can follow these to a more satisfactory destination.
Of course I hope so, but I can’t muster great optimism. The six “bumps in road” that” Vinnakota identified are large and jolting, both structurally and philosophically. There’s no ringmaster for the civics circus and the zillion organizations active in the field have their own projects, strategies, and interests to sustain and defend. Many of the cultural and technological forces at work in modern society—kids spending more time alone on their devices, for example, than in scouts, church, and little league—do little to promote citizenship and civil society, much as identity politics and echo-chamber media emphasis the pluribus at the expense of the unum. The shutting down of open discourse and respect for divergent opinions on campus is affecting the K–12 space, too. And we see a nearly irresistible tendency among adult “cause organizations” to recruit and deploy kids in pursuit of changes sought by grownups. Such “action civics” can be engaging for the kids, certainly more than studying the founding documents, for example, or the history of how things came to be the way they are, but I don’t believe it produces solid, well-informed citizens for a complex, diverse democracy.
Having maps and roadmaps can only help. But without greater consensus on destinations and the deployment of higher-traction vehicles than we’ve been driving, not to mention carefully-pumped philanthropic fuel, I fear we won’t see much purposeful movement through the muck.
Hard as it may be to believe, the Knowledge is Power Program, better known as KIPP, is now older than a lot of the people who teach in its schools. The first KIPP school opened in Houston in 1994, and it’s now the 800-pound gorilla of urban charter school networks, with nearly 250 schools and over 100,000 students in its classrooms, and another 13,000 former students on college campuses across the nation. With twenty-five years of data to draw upon, KIPP’s results have long offered a leading-edge glimpse into the effectiveness of its model and the “no excuses” practices it pioneered—practices that have influenced or been adapted by a generation of college prep charter schools and brand-name CMOs.
I’d somehow overlooked this study from Mathematica, published in September, which adds to our understanding of KIPP—and the respect the network has earned for its work getting underserved kids “to and through” college. It’s a long-term tracking study that followed 1,177 students who applied to one of thirteen different lotteries for oversubscribed KIPP middle schools in 2008 or 2009; it utilizes a randomized control trial design to explore the impact of KIPP middle schools on student enrollment in a four year college, and on college persistence in such schools, during the first two years after high school graduation. Students who received an admissions offer through the lottery were compared to non-winners of the enrollment lottery, whether or not they attended. “Attending KIPP following a middle school lottery produced an increase of 12.9 percentage points in enrollment in four-year college programs,” Mathematica found. “In our sample, 51.8 percent of students who attended KIPP enrolled in a four-year college within two years after high school graduation, compared to 39.0 percent of control students” (a more conservative methodology still produced an impact estimate of ten percent). “In other words, the impact of attending a KIPP school (10 to 13 percentage points) would be almost enough to erase the nationwide racial disparity in college enrollment rates.” The author’s deemed the college persistence data “more ambiguous,” noting that those offered admission in KIPP’s lottery were nearly 5 percent more likely “to enroll immediately after graduation in a four-year college and remain enrolled for two years, but this difference was not statistically significant.”
Danielle Eisenberg, who oversees research and evaluation for the KIPP Foundation, points out that focusing exclusively on four-year college enrollment and persistence may underestimate the network’s overall effect on student outcomes. The study defines persistence as enrolling in a four-year college right after high school and remaining enrolled for four semesters. “That is not what plays out for a lot of our kids and how they get through college,” she notes. “Sometimes they’re taking some time before they enroll, sometimes enroll, drop out, and go back. A lot of times they’re going to two-year colleges and then transferring, which is not appearing in this data set yet.”
KIPP has long been admirably transparent in reporting college enrollment and persistence rates, and recalibrating its curriculum, culture, and overall approach based on those outcomes. Thus as interesting and affirming as this study is, what’s coming into view on the horizon may be even more important and offer the ultimate referendum on “no excuses” schooling at large. With the earliest cohorts of KIPP middle schoolers approaching their fortieth birthdays, we will soon have long-term data allowing us to evaluate not just whether this brand of education is effective at getting low-income kids of color “to and through” college, but the long-term effects of KIPP on employment, earnings and upward mobility, family formation and stability, health, and well-being—the broader life outcomes and measures of well-being for which college graduation is mostly a suggestive indicator or proxy. In other words, what is the impact of this style of schooling whether or not students attend college at all?
A tantalizing glimpse of what might be mined from this emerging vein of ore was produced last summer by WHYY radio, Philadelphia’s NPR outlet. Enterprising reporters tracked down thirty-three members of the 2003 inaugural class of KIPP Philadelphia to see how they were faring in adulthood. On the one hand, their recollections are not uniformly positive (KIPP officials complain that the reporters and producers of the piece focused exclusively on those who had not gone to college, the promised outcome of the school’s founder). On the other, the picture that emerged of strict and even humiliating student discipline practices feels at least somewhat dated, suggesting a No Excuses 1.0 view of the network and its school culture. Even so, “we came across no dramatic stories of lives crushed by KIPP’s disciplinary focus and didn’t find any former students who are currently in prison,” WHYY reported.
The piece also validates Eisenberg’s suggestion that the Mathematica report might undersell KIPP’s impact. Of the thirty-four kids who left KIPP in 2007, “almost none…did four years at one high school followed by four years at one college.” Yet six years after high school graduation, 35 percent of the class had an associate or bachelor’s degree. At the seven-year mark, the number was 44 percent. And even students who were less than enamored of their experience suggested it had an effect. “It’s like the army, man,” said one ex-KIPPster to WHYY. “You leave out a totally different person.”
In a few years, the data will begin to show just how different. Eisenberg tells me her team has a few long-term research initiatives “underway.” Stay tuned.
A new study aims to describe the effects zealous parents can have on their children—behaviors popularly known as “helicoptering” or “snowplowing.” While some potentially troubling associations are manifested by the analysis, specific constraints of the study design keep it from proving causation.
Researchers Kristin Moilanen and Mary Lynn Manuel of West Virginia University (WVU) surveyed 302 young adults between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four via an online survey. Most of the sample was white (79.4 percent), and two-thirds was female. Respondents were recruited via the internet and from the community around WVU. Respondents completed multiple batteries of questions, most of which appeared to be constructed so as to assess current experience (sample item: “My parent makes important decisions for me such as where I live, where I work, what classes I take, etc.,” rated on a scale from strongly agree to strongly disagree) rather than experience over time. Along with an assessment of the type and level of zealous parenting respondents experienced (or, more likely, were currently experiencing), other batteries administered included the Children’s Reports of Parental Behavior Inventory, which measures parental acceptance and psychological and firm control; the Pearlin Mastery Scale, which measures a person’s sense of control over their life outcomes; and assessments of self-regulatory ability, interpersonal competence, tendency toward feelings of depression, alcohol and substance use, and history of criminal activity.
Moilanen and Manuel had three stated goals: to determine the effect of zealous parenting in a variety of areas including peer social competence, prosocial behavior, depression, substance use, and lifetime criminality; to see if other parenting practices, such as parental acceptance, psychological control, and behavioral/firm control, mitigate those effects; and to test whether students’ mastery and self-regulation skills mediated the effects of zealous parenting.
Unfortunately, due to the lack of data over time they were only able to determine linkages between zealous parenting and children’s psycho-social states, not effects. To wit: They found that highly zealous parenting was associated with low mastery, self-regulation, and social competence in the young adults surveyed, as well as with high depression. Only associations with depression were mitigated by the presence of other parenting practices. The connections between zealous parenting and the children’s current mental and social states were pervasive. Respondents with strong self-regulation and/or mastery skills showed lessened association with helicoptering and snowplowing, but only in the areas of depression and social competence.
But the big caveat here is the issue of directionality: Were respondents reporting low self-regulation and high depression as a result of their parents’ zealous efforts on their behalf, or were parents exhibiting helicopter or snowplow behavior because their children had low self-regulation skills and high depression to begin with? This research design, unfortunately, did not allow for such directional conclusions to be made. The correlations described are interesting and potentially important, but do not allow for solid conclusions as to cause and effect.
One positive aspect of this study is that the recruitment of survey participants via the internet allowed for a wide cross-section of respondents. Wider, the authors say, than is typical for similar studies. These included young adults who had achieved desirable outcomes already (college graduation, financial stability, etc.) and those who had failed to do so in their lives thus far. The associations between zealous parenting and children’s psycho-social states were the same regardless of which of these outcomes the respondents had experienced. Future research should endeavor to include such outcome-based data but must include a directional component first and foremost.
SOURCE: Kristin L. Moilanen and Mary Lynn Manuel, “Helicopter Parenting and Adjustment Outcomes in Young Adulthood: A Consideration of the Mediating Roles of Mastery and Self-Regulation,” Journal of Child and Family Studies (August 2019).
On this week’s podcast, Morgan Polikoff, associate professor of education at USC, joins Mike Petrilli and David Griffith to talk about Fordham’s new report that he coauthored, The Supplemental Curriculum Bazaar. On the Research Minute, Amber Northern discusses a study on ways to sustain effective teacher evaluation.
Amber's Research Minute
Thomas Dee, Jessalynn James, and Jim Wyckoff, “Is Effective Teacher Evaluation Sustainable? Evidence from DCPS,” Education Finance and Policy (November 26, 2019).