Family structure impacts outcomes, so why isn’t Utah tracking it?

Written by The Likely Voter

April 27, 2023

Students with involved parents do better in school, and that ought to prompt policymakers to better track family structure data, according to Sutherland Education Policy Fellow Christine Fairbanks. “During my time as a teacher, I saw how family impacted students,” Fairbanks writes in her latest Insights article. “Students whose parents were involved seemed to do better in school or were able to improve when they struggled.” 

Fairbanks points out that family structure plays a crucial role in the overall success of children, especially in education. And with education policy being front and center in this past legislative session, Fairbanks says that Utah would be best served to make family structure data publicly available in their reports. 

What does it mean for the state to collect and report “family structure” data? Just as the state reports education outcomes broken out by income, gender and race, Fairbanks recommends that the state should also report family composition, “for instance, whether students are from a two-parent household.”  

“Family has major impacts on nearly every metric of an individual’s life,” Fairbanks writes. “Therefore, we ought to be collecting and reporting on family structure to make sound policy.” 

Public debate about disparities in education outcomes often highlights race and other factors, but it often leaves out the evidence that family circumstance has a crucial impact on learning outcomes. 

By making this data on family structure publicly available, Fairbanks believes, “it helps prevent us from hyper-centering on any one particular narrative,” and allows legislators to “make more informed policy recommendations,” Fairbanks writes. 

Family structure not only impacts educational outcomes, it also ties into a multitude of developmental aspects for children later in life, particularly in mental and physical health, as pointed out by Brad Wilcox. 

In order to foster more complete dialogue about what impacts Utah student outcomes, Utahns should expect elected officials and education professionals to include family structure in future education policy debates.

The Likely Voter is Sutherland Institute’s voice speaking directly to Utah voters, equipping them with increased knowledge and context to support informed and engaged citizenship.

For a more in-depth perspective on this article, read our Insights piece here.

Takeaways: the most important things voters need to know. For civically engaged citizens.  

  • Family structure plays an integral role in life outcomes
  • Utah would be best served making family structure data publicly reported
  • Students perform better in school when parents are more involved

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