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Rasing Successful Kids

Which factor has a greater impact on your child's test scores: The amount of time you spend reading with your child, or the number of books you have in your house? Got your answer? Try this one: The number of hours the kid spends watching television, or the number of hours the parents spend at PTA meetings? One more pair: The neighborhood in which you live, or your family's socioeconomic status?

One final question: Of the six factors listed above, three have little or no impact on test scores. Which three?

The Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS) is a U.S. Department of Education study begun in 1998 to determine factors that led to success in school. The results were surprising. Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner report in their 2005 book Freakonomics on sixteen factors included in the ECLS. You'll find the answers to the above questions in these lists.

Here now are the eight factors that are strongly correlated with test scores:

The child has highly educated parents.
The child's parents have high socioeconomic status.
The child's mother was thirty or older at the time of her first child's birth.
The child had low birthweight.
The child's parents speak English in the home.
The child is adopted.
The child's parents are involved in the PTA.
The child has many books in his home.

And the eight that aren't:

The child's family is intact.
The child's parents recently moved in to a better neighborhood.
The child's mother didn't work between birth and kindergarten.
The child attended Head Start.
The child's parents regularly take him to museums.
The child is regularly spanked.
The child frequently watches television.
The child's parents read to him nearly every day.

Of the eight factors that do correlate with test scores, two—low birth weight and adoption—had a negative correlation. Levitt and Dubner offer an analysis:

To overgeneralize a bit, the first list describes things that parents are; the second list describes things that parents do. Parents who are well educated, successful, and healthy tend to have children who test well in school; but it doesn't seem to much matter whether a child is trotted off to museums or spanked or sent to Head Start or frequently read to or plopped in front of the television.

For parents—and parenting experts—who are obsessed with child-rearing technique, this may be sobering news. The reality is that technique looks to be highly overrated.

In other words, what's the best way to improve your kids' academic success? Be the type of parents who have successful kids.

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