Editor’s Note: The following post is excerpted from a new report released this week by the Institute for Family Studies.

The State of Ohio is renowned for it’s outstanding educational and cultural institutions, including Ohio State and Oberlin College, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Wexner Medical Center, and the Columbus, Cincinnati, and Cleveland Museums of Art. Yet public school systems in Ohio have had only middling success in recent years in providing all students with the knowledge and skills they need to function as informed citizens and thrive in a rapidly changing economy.

To illustrate, the on-time high school graduation rate in Ohio for the 2014-2015 academic year was 80.7 percent, below the average rate for the nation as a whole of 83.2 percent. For Ohio students from economically disadvantaged families, the graduation rate was only 68.7 percent. This was substantially lower than the average rate for disadvantaged students across the U.S., which was 75.9 percent.1

The tested achievement of Ohio students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress has also been mediocre. In 2013, for example, 79 percent of Ohio eighth graders had basic or better reading skills, which is about the same as the national average of 78 percent. Furthermore, average reading test scores of Ohio students have remained basically unchanged since 2003.

Like other states, Ohio has tried to funnel more of the money spent on education to schools that serve children from needy families. But increased spending has not reduced the gap in achievement between children of more educated and affluent parents and children whose parents have less education and low incomes.2

In order to bolster achievement further, educators and policy makers in Ohio would do well to focus not only on the schools to which students go but also on the families from which they come. A long line of studies, starting with the 1966 Coleman Report, have shown that educational outcomes have a great deal to do with the characteristics of students’ families. Better-educated parents are more likely to read to their children, spend quality time with them, and participate in youth-related organizations, including clubs, teams, and parent-teacher organizations. By contrast, poor families have less money to devote to their sons’ and daughters’ education and face more stresses, which can affect children’s schooling.3 Finally, two-parent families are typically able to devote more time, attention, financial support, and consistent discipline to their children, all of which redound to the educational benefit of their children.4

A new report released this week by the Institute for Family Studies, Strong Families, Successful Students, builds on this research to explore the relationships between family structure and three important indicators of academic progress and school adjustment in Ohio: the school contacting parents because of student problems in class; having to repeat a grade; and, on the positive side, being consistently engaged in schoolwork. Each of these indicators is predictive of longer-term educational outcomes like graduating high school on time, enrolling in college, not needing remedial instruction, and completing college. Each is also predictive of negative outcomes like being suspended or expelled, dropping out of high school, becoming unemployed or underemployed, becoming an unmarried parent, and engaging in criminal behavior in adolescence or young adulthood.

We also investigate how the three indicators relate to parent education, child poverty and family income, and the extent to which socioeconomic disparities between married- and unmarried parent families help account for differences in student achievement. Our work controls for student race and ethnicity as well as student age and gender.

We find that Ohio students from married two-parent families do better on each of these three educational progress indicators, even after controlling for socioeconomic and demographic correlates of family structure.

Continue reading the full report here . . .

1. “Public High School 4-year Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate (ACGR), By Race/Ethnicity and Selected Demographics for the United States, the 50 States, and the District of Columbia: School Year 2013-14,” EdFacts Data Groups 695 and 696, School Year 2014-15 (Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics, September 15, 2016); Joel McFarland, Patrick Stark, and Jiashan Cui, Trends in High School Dropout and Completion Rates in the United States: 2013 (Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics, October 2016).

2. Erick A. Hanushek, “The Failure of Input-Based Schooling Policies, The Economic Journal, 113 (2003): F64-F98; Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2015 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2015): 50-51 and 157-169 (Tables ED2.A/B and ED2.C). Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, America’s Children in Brief: National Indicators of Well-Being, 2016 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2016): 34-35.

3. Ariel Kalil, Rebecca Ryan, and Michael Corey, “Diverging Destinies: Maternal Education and the Developmental Gradient in Time With Children,” Demography 49, no. 4 (2012): 1361-1383; Barbara Schneider and James Coleman (eds.), Parents, Their Children, and Schools (Boulder, CO: Westview, 1996).

4. Paul Amato, “The Impact of Family Formation Change on the Cognitive, Social, and Emotional Well-Being of the Next Generation,” Future of Children 15, no. 2 (2005): 75-96; Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandefur, Growing Up With a Single Parent: What Hurts, What Helps (Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 1994); Nicholas Zill, “Family Change and Student Achievement: What We Have Learned, What It Means for Schools,” in Family-School Links: How Do They Affect Educational Outcomes?, ed. Alan Booth and Judith F. Dunn (Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum, 1996).