"If you want your kids to do well in school, then the amount of education you get yourself is important. This may mean that parents need to go back to school," said Pamela Davis-Kean, a psychologist at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research (ISR).
"A growing number of large-scale, long-term studies now show that increasing parental education beyond high school is strongly linked to increasing language ability in children.
"Even after controlling for parental income, marital status and a host of other factors, we find that the impact of parental education remains significant," Davis-Kean added.
For the study researchers examined the long-term effects of parental education on children's success in school and work, beginning when children are eight years old and extending until they are age 48.
They also examined how language skills and school readiness of three-year-olds are positively affected when mothers return to school.
"In every case, we've found that an increase in parental education has a positive impact on children's success in school. And this impact is particularly strong when parents start with a high school education or less," Davis-Kean said.
"These findings may be reassuring to parents at a time when many are unemployed or worried about future job prospects. They clearly show that in terms of the effect on children's achievement, it's more important for parents to get a good education than to get a high-paying job.
"Of course, the more education you have, the more likely it is that you'll find a good job, so an increase in education often leads to an increase in income," Davis-Kean added.
The reasons behind the power of parental education are not yet fully understood, but researchers think it's more than just providing a model that children want to imitate.
Davis-Kean suggests that more education might mean that parents are more likely to read to their children. Or it could be that parents who are in school need to be more organized in order to get everything done, so they tend to create a more structured home environment, with dinner and bedtime occurring at regular times, for example.
Many studies have shown that this kind of predictable, structured environment has a positive impact on child development.
The research has been published in the July 2009 issue of the Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, a peer-reviewed journal.