Strengthening Children’s Success in School

A variety of factors are associated with children’s academic achievement. Coming from an intact family, being religiously involved, and watching less television are all associated with positive academic outcomes.

  • Academic Achievement. Adolescents with paternal role models tend to have higher academic achievement. The benefits of looking up to a father as a role model are evident in academic achievement. Adolescents with paternal role models had better grades and school performance than those lacking paternal role models. Black males who identified their fathers as their role model maintained a significantly higher grade point average and reported significantly less truancy than peers who identified a member of the extended family as a role model or lacked a role model. Those with paternal role models were also more likely to believe that they would graduate from high school than peers who had no male role model. Those with no role models exhibited the most behavioral problems and did the worst in school. Among black female students, those who identified a brother rather than their father as their male role model were significantly more likely to use alcohol and exhibit violent behavior than peers with paternal role models.1
  • Math and Reading Scores. Children in oneparent families are more likely to have lower math and reading scores than their peers in two-parent families. Children in one-parent families exhibited more behavioral problems and scored lower on mathematics and reading tests than children in two-parent families. While the differences in behavioral problems and math scores between the two groups remained constant over time, the gap in reading scores widened as the children grew older.2
  • Academic Performance. Religious adolescents tend to spend more time on homework and are less likely to be truant. Adolescents’ involvement with religion was associated with more time spent on homework and lower levels of truancy, and this effect endured over time.3
  • School Grades. Teenagers in single-father homes tend to have lower grades than their peers in two-parent families. Regardless of the level of fathers’ involvement, teenagers living in single-father homes tended to have lower grades than peers in two-parent, biological or step-parent households.4
  • Extracurricular Activities. Students who frequently participate in structured non-school activities are more likely to join school clubs, prepare for class, and feel optimistic about their future. Students who frequently participated in structured out-of-school and religious activities were more likely than their peers to join school clubs and groups, prepare for class, and feel more optimistic about their future. Students who frequently participated in structured after-school activities also had, on average, higher math and science achievement than students who participated less in structured after-school activities.5
  • Math Achievement. Home and school environment and mother’s work hours impact children’s math achievement. When other variables of social and financial capital were taken into account, home environment, the number of hours mothers worked, and social problems within the school were still related to children’s math proficiency. Home environment measured its physical condition, the presence of cognitive stimulation in the home, and mother’s affect and disciplinary style. School social problems ranged from gang activity and drug use to tardiness and measures of inadequate nutrition and clothing.6
  • Educational Attainment. Individuals’ educational attainment is linked positively to their communities’ religious attendance. Individuals’ educational attainment was related to the religious density of their communities, as measured by church attendance. After controlling for ethnic and group factors, individuals who lived in communities with high religious densities had, on average, more years of education than those who lived in communities with lower religious densities. A “ten percentage-point increase in predicted religious density [was] associated with 0.05 more years of education.”7
  • Commitment to School. Parental involvement and mother’s education are positively associated with seventh and eighth graders’ commitment to school. Parental involvement and mother’s education were positively associated with seventh and eighth graders’ commitment to school. Living with a stepparent and being male were negatively associated with seventh and eighth graders’ commitment to school.8
  • School Problems. Adolescents who are satisfied with their family life are less likely to exhibit problems in school. Every unit increase in an adolescents’ family satisfaction corresponds to a three to 12 percent decline in their odds of having problems in school.9
  • Educational Attainment. Individuals who watched more hours of weekday television during childhood and adolescence have, on average, lower educational attainment. Individuals who watched more weekday television during their childhood and adolescence had lower levels of educational attainment and were less likely to have earned a university degree by age 26 when compared to peers who watched less weekday television.10


  1. Alison L. Bryant and Marc A. Zimmerman, “Role Models and Psychosocial Outcomes Among African-American Adolescents,” Journal of Adolescent Research 18, No. 1 (January 2003): 36-67.
  2. Jay Teachman, Randal Day, Kathleen Paasch, Karen Carver, and Vaughn Call, “Sibling Resemblance in Behavioral and Cognitive Outcomes: The Role of Father Presence,” Journal of Marriage and the Family 60, No. 4 (November 1998): 835-848.
  3. Chandra Muller and Christopher G. Ellison, “Religious Involvement, Social Capital, and Adolescents’ Academic Progress: Evidence from the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988,” Sociological Focus 34, No. 2 (May 2001): 155-183.
  4. Elizabeth C. Cooksey and Michelle M. Fondell, “Spending Time with His Kids: Effects of Family Structure on Fathers’ and Children’s Lives,” Journal of Marriage and the Family 58, No. 3 (August 1996): 693-707.
  5. Will J. Jordan and Saundra Murray Nettles, “How Students Invest Their Time Out of School,” Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed at Risk Report 29, (January 1999), http://www.eric. (accessed January 25, 2011).
  6. Toby L. Parcel and Mikaela J. Dufur, “Capital at Home and at School: Effects on Student Achievement,” Social Forces 79, No. 3 (March 2010): 881-911.
  7. Jonathan Gruber, “Religious Market Structure, Religious Participation, and Outcomes: Is Religion Good for You,” Advances in Economic Policy 5, No. 1 (2005).
  8. Patricia H. Jenkins, “School Delinquency and School Commitment,” Sociology of Education 68, No. 3 (July 1995): 221-239.
  9. Mark D. Regnerus and Glenn H. Elder, “Religion and Vulnerability Among Low-Risk Adolescents,” Social Science Research 32, No. 4 (December 2003): 633-658.
  10. Robert J. Hancox, Barry J. Milne, and Richie Poulton, “Association of Television Viewing During Childhood with Poor Educational Achievement,” Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine 159, No. 7 (July 2005): 614-618.