Considering the Family Structure’s Effect on Students

Today’s educator must be prepared to address a diverse student population defined by alternative family constellations, challenging social-cultural variables, and conflicts associated with academic achievement. Analyzing data on family structure indicates a significant movement toward delayed marriages, a decline in two-parent homes, a huge increase in unmarried women parenting, and a substantial rise in single-parent households (US Census, 2009). National figures indicate only 66% of children lived in a two-parent household, 26% with a single parent, while 19% lived with one foreign-born parent, all significant departures from previous decades. The sanctity of marriage, itself, has correspondingly become more obsolete, as approximately 40% of Americans (Luscombe, 2010) feel compelled to validate a relationship legally in comparison to 1978 data. Additionally, 61% of married women parenting children are employed, altering conventional child-rearing patterns prevalent from the 1960s. Finally, family stability and economic disparities are acutely obvious between affluent and impoverished families, creating a widening differential in income, services, opportunities, and educational accomplishments (McLanahan and Beck, 2010). Families living in poverty, or failing to improve their standard of living, are especially vulnerable to recessions and joblessness, further restricting their children’s opportunity for self-actualization (Cooper, et al, 2010).

In combination, the interplay between these variables is impacting the commitment to parenting, the maturity of adult role models, the levels of parental education, and the stability of communities (Cherlin, 2009). Since the nature of families is in a constant flux regarding child-rearing practices, including a steady increase in co-habitation arrangements (Kennedy & Bumpass, 2008), schools must analyze this dynamic to create innovative practices. In particular, students’ confidence, initiative, problem-solving skills, and motivation, among others, directly reflect parental nurturing and guidance (Anfara, 2008; McKinney & Reni, 2011). With diminished parental ‘quality time’ invested in children’s welfare, students are entering elementary schools with fewer readiness skills, a greater potential for disruptive behavior, and limited socialization abilities (Burdzovic, 2009). In particular, critical social – emotional skills, like cooperation and respect, are often undeveloped because of limited parental training and modeling (Whitted, 2011).

Students with a nurturing, stable, and protective family background typically have a greater probability to excel academically, as evidence by their mastery of standardized tests (Taylor & Dounay, 2008). Lacking these basic family components (Lapkoff & Li, 2007) is a strong predictor of school-adjustment issues, which often culminates in a failure cycle that severely restricts graduation rates. Reversing this unfortunate outcome is a persistent problem that will require imaginative curricula modifications and instructional interventions.


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Whitted, K. (2011). Understanding how social and emotional skill deficits contribute to school failure. Preventing School Failure, vol 55, 1, 10 – 16.

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