Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Hot Topics/Home Environment

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What are the effects of the home environment on learning?

In a recent population survey, 7.1 million students under the age of 18 lived in a neighborhood with a poverty rate of 30 percent or more [1]. This high incidence of poverty places these children at a higher rate of becoming ill, not having proper health care, becoming parents before finishing school, using illegal drugs, being exposed to or involved in violence, and going to jail before they are even old enough to vote. Children living in below average neighborhoods should be given the same opportunities as children living in average and above average housing.

Disadvantages Faced by Poverty-stricken Students[edit]

A major disadvantage to students produced from living in poverty stricken neighborhoods is the possibility of growing up not able to succeed in life because they were not properly trained as children. “They are unable to work, parent, or excel in society. [1]” It is the responsibility of the authoritarians, policymakers, parents, schools, and teachers to make sure each student, despite their living arrangements, is given an equal opportunity to succeed.

Statistics have shown that students who live in poor neighborhoods usually test lower on standardized test. The students also tend to learn less than students in average schools. In the book, “The Good--and the Not-So-Good--News About American Schools,” 13-year-old students were not on the appropriate grade level in math. These students were doing math problem on a 9-year-old’s level.

Many other disadvantages play a part in the lack of success in children who live in low-income neighborhoods. Education is not a key factor that is stressed in the home as evidenced by the low rate of parental involvement. In addition, children living in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods have few role models to show them ways to improve their lives and break the cycle of poverty.

Aspects for Properly Preparing Students Living in Poor Neighborhoods[edit]

In order to make sure students living in low income neighborhoods are well prepared for life as adults, certain things are required. Basic aspects include: “greater access to supports that all families need to raise kids successfully--employment opportunities for parents, quality health care, formal and informal networks of adults who can assist in times of crisis, vibrant religious institutions, organized recreation, and safe streets. [1]” Parental opportunities, good health care, religious groups, and fun activities all make for a well rounded student, but these children need a quality education. “Education has been the vehicle for advancing the social and economic status of children and families, compensating for poverty and distressed environments, and, for millions of kids, paving the way to opportunities unavailable to their parents. [1]” Education is the catalyst for success. “Research shows that school completion and academic success increase children's ability to escape poverty, form strong families, and raise successful kids of their own. [1]” The more education one receives the greater your chances are of getting a higher paying job.

Research from the U.S. Bureau of the Census, Money Income in the United States, states that a college graduate earns twice as much money a year compared to an adult with only a high school diploma, and that same college graduate earns about three times as much as a high school dropout. Sadly, students living in these low-income neighborhoods are falling by the wayside. The chances of getting a quality education while living in poverty are very small. “If our nation is to remain prosperous and committed to equality of opportunity, we must create successful schools for poor children. [1]”

Contributing to Successful Students[edit]

It is possible for students in poverty stricken neighborhoods to succeed but it requires quite a bit of dedication. “In order to contribute to kids' success in school and overall development five ideas should be demonstrated. They include: preschool experiences that prepare children to learn, schools that are small enough to engage every child, high standards in curriculum, instruction, and assessment, strong, meaningful family participation, and making education part of a larger community commitment to healthy youth and family development. “High-quality early childhood care and preschool education can stimulate cognitive development, increase school readiness, and advance academic achievement in the early elementary grades. [1]” Smaller classroom sizes promote more one on one between the student and teacher. Students are able to receive more individualized help. The teachers are also able to change the flow of instructional time if necessary; they can do what works best for the class a whole. Higher success rate also come from having “high learning standards, challenging curricula based on those standards, and instructional practices that keep kids actively engaged in learning. [1]” The definition of the word standard from the Encarta Dictionary is the level of quality or excellence attained by somebody or something. In schools standards are set so the students comprehend the seriousness and the value the school places on academic success. “States like Kentucky, Washington, and Maryland and districts like Milwaukee and Philadelphia have taken significant steps to set standards that are aligned with curriculum, instruction, and assessment practices. [1]” Parental involvement and parent-teacher interaction is also a key to the success of the students. Interaction between the teacher and parent can be as simple as a brief email or telephone call. Involvement should include knowing the latest news in the school, participating in any parent orientations and meetings, and helping and being aware of the students’ homework.

Other Factors That May Affect Education[edit]

Homelessness[edit]

A child’s success may be dependent upon many factors that may take place in the home or the lack thereof. “According to the Year 2000 Report to Congress on the Education for Homeless Children and Youth Program, there were approximately 928,429 homeless children and youth (Pre K-12) reported in 2000, an increase of 10 percent over the last reporting year of 1997, with 65 percent of these children in Pre K-Grade 6. [3]” Students who are homeless are defined as lacking a stable, long term place to reside. “The students may be: Sharing the housing of other persons due to the loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason, Living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camping grounds due to the lack of alternative adequate accommodations, Living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations, or similar settings, Living in emergency or transitional shelters, Abandoned in hospitals, Awaiting foster care placement, Have a primary nighttime residence that is not designed for regular sleeping accommodation for humans” [3].

Homeless students are battered psychologically and emotionally and have added pressures once entering the school building. These children are presented with many obstacles to overcome in school ranging from having their homes taken away, living in a shelter, to not knowing when and where their next meal is going to come. Once in the classroom the students have a hard time focusing forcing them to become less motivated about completing school. Homeless students have a higher rate of dropping out of school entering the work force because of lack of enthusiasm and focus. Those students who chose to be homeless, because they have run away from home, experience both sexually and physical abuse. They sometimes become involved with illegal drugs and excessive alcohol use. Other factors that may be a factor that might prohibit a quality education for a homeless child may include: poor nutrition, inadequate sleep, and lack of health care.

Family Composition[edit]

An interview with a social worker revealed the impact home and social environment on a child’s education. In this social worker’s school, a school for children with emotional and/or learning disabilities, a number of the students reside in neighborhoods at or below poverty level. They are often times being raised by single parents or grandparents who also care for other children or relatives placing the child’s education low on the caregiver’s list of priorities. Children from these types of environments often display inappropriate behavior that negatively impacts their academic development.

A major difficulty for the teachers and social workers in this school is the lack of parental involvement. The school, according to the social worker, is at least is an hour long bus ride for the parents (most don’t own cars) which keeps many parents from visiting the school and meeting the child’s teachers. The school has often offered to fund the parents’ transportation to and from the school; however the parents face difficulties in getting time off from their jobs. Whether or not the parents’ have an interest in the child’s education, the children do not see a connection between the parent’s and their teachers resulting in lack of academic motivation and no desire to behave appropriately.

There is a fascinating article in The Elementary School Journal entitled "Teachers' Reported Practices of Parent Involvement: Problems and Possibilities," by Joyce L. Epstein and Henry Jay Becker of John Hopkins University which addresses the family and how the parental involvement affects a child's educational process. This article is about a study of teachers in Maryland and how they feel about parent involvement. The comments from the 3,700 teachers vary tremendously from teachers who strongly believe that their job can only be performed adequately if they can rely on parental help, and the other opposite thought from teachers who have long given up the hope of parental help. Some of the teachers polled felt that "parents have so little prime time to spend with their child or children," (Epstein, 1982) that it is very hard to cultivate a parent-teacher relationship much less a parent-teacher-child relationship.

This study/article also delves into the world of today, and how the working parents have more demands on their time and how helping kids at home becomes a more frustrating task when a parent is tired or has so many jobs to just pay the bills (Epstein, 1982). Teachers seem to be split down the middle when it comes to deciding if it is worth their effort to try to involve parents, but the general synopsis of the study was that in the long run it is well worth the effort for the child's sake no matter what the family structure entails. Single parents, working parents, grandparents raising their grandchildren, and all family structures should begin with the child's educational process at home and help the schools and teachers open the doors and windows into the mind of the child. This applies to every socioeconomic structure of family, not just poverty structures.

Drugs, Alcohol, and Abuse[edit]

Drugs and alcohol can have a lasting affect on children. The affects can start in fetal development and continue through life development. Having a mother that uses alcohol or drugs while she is pregnant can affect the fetus and have lasting affects on their cognitive and social development. Alcohol can cause mental retardation, slower physical development, severe learning and cognitive disabilities. A mother that uses illegal drugs, like marijuana, cocaine, etc, can also have a severe and lasting effect on the child. They can decrease the cellular oxygen and nutrient supply for the fetus which then affects the parts of the brain responsible for learning, memory, behavior, and cognitive functions. It can also cause language delays and attention problems. (Kaplan, 122)

Drugs and alcohol can also effect more then just the child’s body, it also effects the environment they live in. The drug and alcohol abuse leads to poverty, abuse, and neglect in the home. The parents are too busy with there habits that they have little emotional involvement with the child. (Kaplan, 124-125)

Abuse is also a major problem affecting children in school and in life. Out of the three million children that are reported each year to child protective service agencies for being alleged victims of abuse and neglect, about one-third (about one million) are determined to be legitimate cases that require action (Bullough, 69). There are three types of abuse; physical, sexual, and emotional. Physical neglect is the most common form of child maltreatment. It is responsible for about sixty percent (60%) of all reported cases of abuse (Bullough, 57). They all have major lasting effects on the children. All of them cause psychological problems in the child. Abuse can cause language delays, poor social relationships with peers, lower intelligence scores, and behavioral problems. Studies show that the abused child also is more likely to experience failure in school because of all the problems abuse causes. (Kaplan, 355) At least half of all valid cases of child abuse involve caregivers that are under alcohol or drug abuse.(Bullough, 43)

All of this can cause effects on the child’s learning. The brain development, emotional development causes problems in school and how the child can learn.

Conclusion[edit]

A child’s destiny should not be determined by the neighborhood a child lives in, composition of the child’s family, or the child’s circumstances. Each and every child should be given the same equal opportunity to achieve excellence. Teachers should view every child as a child that is capable of learning. The responsibility of instilling the value of learning is placed not only on the parents, but the teachers, administrators, school board officials, and every other adult that has a part of a child’s life.

Multiple Choice Questions[edit]

Click to reveal the answer.

Poverty stricken children may grow up with not being able to succeed because_______.
A. Poor health.
B. They were not properly trained as children.
C. Low test scores.
D. Lack of parental involvement.

B. They were not properly trained as children.

________ students under the age if 18 lived in a neighborhood with a poverty rate of ______ or more.
A. 6.3 million, 20%
B. 10.7 million, 50%
C. 9.6 million, 10%
D. 7.1 million, 30%

D. 7.1 million, 30%

Home and social environment can have an impact on a child's education.
A. True
B. False

A. True

Out of the number of alleged child abuse cases how many are considered legitimate and require action?
A. 10%
B. 30%
C. 40%
D. 60%

D. 60%

How many cases of abuse involve caregivers that have an alcohol and/or drug abuse problem?
A. None
B. One-third (1/3)
C. One-half (1/2)
D. Two-thirds (2/3)

C. One-half (1/2)

How do you think the majority of teachers today feel about involving parents' assistance with extra instruction?
A. Teachers today believe that it is very helpful to ask for parents' assistance.
B. Teachers feel it is a waste of their valuable time.
C. Teachers are too busy teaching to worry about parents and their problems.
D. Teachers feel parents are a pain.

A. Teachers today believe that it is very helpful to ask for parents' assistance.

What does the term "family structure" means?
A. How many members of the family there are.
B. What the make-up of the family is like: father/mother, single father, single mother, etc.
C. If the family has any pets.
D. Where the child is in the family structure.

B. What the make-up of the family is like: father/mother, single father, single mother, etc.

Essay Question[edit]

Click to reveal sample responses.

After reading the following article how important do think parental involvement is to a child’s success in school? Do you feel that in young men a lack of male influence plays a part in the success of the student? Explain.

Parental involvement is perhaps one of the single most important factors in a child’s success in school. As a 7th grade teacher I see students each and every day who are the product of a less than desirable home situation. Unfortunately, these children are unable to leave that baggage at home and they bring it into the classroom. Then when the children misbehave or fail to perform well, teachers contact parents and get little or no support. Often times, these parents don’t want to engage, don’t want to help, and even blame the teachers for the child’s issues in school. Just a little help from a parent really goes a long way. And it doesn’t start when they get to school, parents need to be actively involved in their child’s education from day one-they are their child’s first teachers!

I do feel that in many cases the lack of a male figure in a child’s life can negatively impact that child’s academic success. There are many reasons for this: many single women may not be as assertive with discipline, many single women may not have advanced knowledge in the subject matters taught in schools these days, many of these children may not have someone at home to make sure they study, and finally many of these children may be too concerned with “survival concerns” at home to focus in school. However, if the male influences in a child’s life are not responsible, and don’t give added security, they can be equally if not more detrimental to the child. —Brandy Herndon


Parental involvement is key in to a child’s success, not only in school but in all areas of life. This can be explained by using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. If a Child is not eating, chances are their need for safety is not being met. Likewise, if their need for safety is not being met then chances are they are lacking love. Finally, if they are not loved, they will not proceed to the next level of self-actualization where learning occurs. If a child does not have parents who support them emotional, physical, and educationally it is very unlikely that they will succeed. Parents are necessary to encourage learning and enforce discipline in the classroom. They hold the road-map to their child’s success. If the child does not have any support at home they will feel as if they do not have a chance at success in school. If they have no support at home what do they have to lose if they fail?

I absolutely feel that a lack of a male influence plays a part in the success of a student, both male and female. In our kindergarten class we had a troubled young boy who was constantly acting out. On day he was looking at my family picture which consists of seven children, yes seven, a Mom, a Dad, and a super cool black lab puppy. The person who caught his attention was my husband. He asked, “Is that the Dad?” and “Does he eat dinner with the kids?” That was such a light bulb moment for us. We realized what he was missing. I believe that every child needs a positive male influence in their lives. —Brenda Kilmurray


I feel that parental involvement is extremely important to a child's success in the classroom. Children not only need support and motivation from their teachers but also from their parents or guardians. In a classroom you can definitely tell if a child has support from their home environment or not. From my experiences, often children who do not have a motivating and supporting family at home do not perform well in the classroom and usually are the trouble makers in the classroom. I feel that parent should want to take an active role in their child's education. The more involved a parent is in their child's educational experience the better their child will perform.

I think that the lack of a male figure in a child's life can definitely affect a child's success in the classroom, especially young boys. A male figure can offer many attributes that a woman can not do alone. For instance, a male figure can provide security and encouragement to a young boy that would lead to an overall feeling of achievement that their mother may not be able to provide. There are many things in life that a young boy may feel that he can only look to a male figure for guidance. —Brittany Lester

References[edit]

  • Bullough Jr., Robert V. Uncertain Lives, Children of Promise, Teachers of Hope. New York. Teachers College Press
  • Cooper, Ryan. Those Who Can Teach. 11. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000.
  • [3] Ellis, Debbie. "Education for Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessness." Child & Family. June 2003. NW Archives Regional Educational Laboratory. 14 Mar 2007. http://www.nwrel.org/cfc/newsletters/vol3_is2.asp
  • Epstein, Joyce L. and Henry Jay Becker. "Teachers' Reported Practices of Parent Involvement: Problems and Possibilities." The Elementary School Journal 83.2 (1982): pp.105-107. retrieved 31 July 2007. [1]
  • Fields, Erica. E-mail interview. 13 March 2007.
  • Kaplan, Paul S. A Child's Odyssey. USA. Wadsworth/Thomson Learning
  • [1] Nelson , Douglas. "Success in School: Education Ideas that Count." The Annie E. Casey Foundation. March 2007. 14 Mar 2007. http://www.aecf.org/publications/success/over.htm