Raising Parental Involvement in School
Patreca Pamela Hawkins | R. Ananda Mahto | Talathain Manning | Elissa Twachtman
Critical Issues in Education
This paper provides a framework for increasing parental involvement at XYZ School. It begins by presenting an overview of different forms of parental involvement in education and the difficulties that often occur when trying to get parents into the schools. This overview is followed by a literature review which presents research findings on the significance of parental involvement in education. Different forms of parental involvement, methods for sustaining parental involvement, and specific recommendations for XYZ School are also presented. This paper also includes appendices with sample forms and proposed timelines to promote more effective parental involvement.
Raising Parental Involvement in School
Studies have shown that parental involvement in a child’s education can lead to many positive outcomes in the quality of a child’s learning. These positive contributions include improved attendance, lower school violence, improved attitudes towards education, and higher possibility of college enrollment. The term “parental involvement” as pertains to education is somewhat ambiguous because parental involvement can occur both in the school setting and at home or outside of the school setting.
For the purposes of this project, the focus will be on increasing the low levels of parental involvement at our school as a means of improving the academic performance of our students. Even if there is considerable unobserved parental support outside of the school setting, parental involvement at school can still contribute significantly to education. Students can get a sense of validation and recognition for the work they do; students can also begin to develop a stronger feeling of “ownership” if they feel that school is somewhere that welcomes their family. Parents can develop a stronger sense of community amongst themselves and amongst school employees. Through increased time at school, parents can better understand some of the challenges educators face and become stronger advocates for the support (political, community, and otherwise) of scholastic programs. Thus, while the ultimate goal can be seen as another method of trying to improve grades, there are many additional benefits that can be observed if we are successful at increasing parental involvement at our school.
There are many excuses—some more valid than others—which have been offered as explanations for the low levels of parental involvement that we observe. Parent apathy is perhaps one of the most widely used explanations, and essentially implies that some parents simply do not care enough to make time for their child’s scholastic events. Parent apathy is difficult to measure, however, especially if one considers the unobserved parental involvement which can occur outside of school. Poor distribution of information and ineffective communication are also factors which can influence the level of parental involvement. Information is often transmitted home via the student who may or may not deliver the information. Additionally, especially in areas with high immigrant populations, parents may not be proficient in English. As such, they may be absent from events or activities because (1) they could not understand the information sent home or (2) they decided not to attend because they did not feel that they will be adequately represented. A third excuse that is sometimes used is that of parent intimidation. Depending on the education and culture of parents, schools may be quite intimidating places for them. This is especially true if parents are usually only present at school to be told “bad news” about their child. Finally, another frequently used excuse is the lack of time. Traditionally, parents with low involvement levels are believed to be from lower-income families. These parents may be working in jobs which require extended shifts or they may be working multiple jobs to support the household. Additionally, these jobs rarely have the same level of “official” benefits (such as sick-days or paid vacation time) and “unofficial” benefits (such as the flexibility to leave early on certain days) that parents from more affluent families may benefit from.
Some of the above excuses are more easily dealt with than others. The following pages will present a literature review which looks at the importance of parental involvement and make proposals for our school which will foster an environment that naturally promotes parental involvement. Both quantitative data (in the form of the number of parents in attendance at formal events as well as number of parents at informal events) and qualitative data (in the form of surveys administered to parents and teachers) will be collected throughout the school year. The qualitative survey will also try to identify the amount of parental involvement that takes place outside of school. This data will be cross-analyzed with academic reports from the end of this academic year and throughout the upcoming year to note whether there is any significant correlation between different levels of parental involvement and the overall academic improvement of our school.
While there is considerable literature on parental involvement and a host of topics associated with education, the following literature review focuses on the role of parents as first teachers and a generalized literature review of the importance of parental involvement.
Parents as First Teachers
Much of the literature points out that one reason it is important to try to increase parental involvement is the role of parents as first teachers. Parents teach their children their first language and provide answers to their earliest questions. Parents also hold a vision of their children’s success throughout their education and life endeavors. During the early development years, when children are driven by their curiosity to explore and learn about their world, parents play a vital role, regardless of their ethnic background. Considering that parents are the first teachers of their children, it is vital that they continue participating in their children’s education at home and at school to ensure future success (Mann, n.d.).
Schools need to consider the various backgrounds of the parents in regard to parental involvement. Parents come to school districts with a range of levels of education, income, and social networks. Teachers should take time to explore the cultural backgrounds of the parents in order to better involve parents in school related activities. Among the elements of cultural background that should be included are linguistic differences, personal beliefs, and the expectations of parents when it comes to education and their children’s future (Mann, n.d.).
The Importance of Parental Involvement
Research has shown that parents can increase children’s academic success through involvement with schools and communities. Parental involvement improves student morale, attitudes, and academic achievement across all subject areas. Parental involvement reduces the student’s risk of academic failure and dropping out before graduation. Children’s behavior and social adjustment improve when parents are proactive with schools and neighborhoods to cultivate an environment that promotes learning (Parental Involvement, n.d.).
It should be noted that parental involvement can take place in many different forms including communicating with teachers, helping children with homework, and participating in school policymaking groups. However, many environmental, social, and economic factors have a powerful effect on both student performance and parental involvement. Among the factors which place children at greater risk of underachieving in schools are: growing up in poverty, inadequate learning opportunities, run-down schools, exposure to drugs or violence at home or at school, lack of adequate after-school care, neighborhood distress, dysfunctional families, inadequate health-care, poor nutrition, few role models, and teen pregnancy (Parental Involvement, n.d.).
It is important to consider student background since studies show that low-achieving students are more likely to be disruptive in the classroom and are more likely to threaten other students and teachers. Parents can have a great influence over many of these challenges. Parents, working with schools and the community, are a vital resource in improving schools and neighborhoods. Parents contribute significantly in creating a nurturing environment in which children can grow and learn (Parental Involvement, n.d.).
There are many reasons that parents are not adequately involved in education. Among the barriers to parental involvement cited by teachers are: differing ideas among parents and teachers on what constitutes involvement; a less than welcoming atmosphere toward visitors in schools and classrooms; persistent negative or neutral communication from schools; insufficient training for teachers on how to reach out to both mothers and fathers; lack of parental education and parenting skills; time constraints for both parents and teachers; job pressures or the lack of flexibility in the parents’ workplace; and language barriers, especially for immigrant parents (Parental Involvement, n.d.).
These barriers to involvement are further compounded by the trend for parents to become less involved in education as their children get older. A study by the U. S. Department of Education (DOE) found that nationwide, as children grow older, contacts between families and schools decline both in number and in the positive nature of such contacts. Decline in involvement is the result, in part, of a variety of challenges that families face that make their participation difficult. Negative contact with schools includes a range of things all of which can contribute to an unfriendly climate that reduces the likelihood of parental involvement. If parents themselves had negative experiences in their own schooling, they may already have formed a negative view of schools. Parents who are not comfortable speaking English may have experienced discrimination and humiliation because of the language difference when they were students. Lack of bilingual staff in schools contributes to feelings of powerlessness on the parent of non-English speaking parents when attempting to advocate for or resolve problems for their children. Parents in economically disadvantaged families face difficulties when attempting to participate in their children’s education. Parents with low-wage jobs face losing their jobs if they take time off work to attend meetings and functions. Uneducated parents may find it difficult to help with homework (Parental Involvement, n.d.).
Parents and teachers differ in opinion regarding how parents should be involved in education. Some educators prefer traditional types of parent involvement such as volunteering to help with activities planned by the school and helping children with their homework. Teachers may oppose parent involvement in academic planning or school policy, fearing parents will be too interfering or critical of their children’s teachers. Thus, one challenge is to find ways for parents and schools to work together in a way that is not only mutually beneficial, but also improves the lives of children (Parental Involvement, n.d.).
Recognizing that parents are their children’s best advocates, their first step to becoming involved should be contacting teachers on a regular basis to find out about their children’s progress. Parents can also become directly involved in their children’s education by monitoring their child’s homework time, setting a time each day for homework to be done and checking for completeness and understanding, limiting time spent with friends and watching television, providing support for educators, essential leadership for programs, and ideas for improvements in the educational system, and taking advantage of opportunities to become involved with school administration and policy development including attending school board meetings and PTA meetings (Parental Involvement, n.d.).
These are not trivial recommendations. The U. S. DOE has conducted research reinforcing the significance of this home-level parental involvement. Here are some of their findings. Children’s success in reading comprehension is directly related to the availability of reading materials in the home. Children respond positively when parents set high but realistic standards for achievement. Positive encouragement in the form of praise, expressed interest, and rewards for effort are all strong motivators for children. While television can be an educational tool, without supervision children tend to spend too much time watching lower quality programming and not engaging their own minds in active learning. While many parents (73%) desire to limit their children’s television viewing, many find it difficult to monitor television use due to their own busy schedules. The U. S. DOE also noted a significant loss in academic achievement results when children spend more than 10 hours a week watching television. Monitoring children’s homework, however, resulted in noticeable increases in academic achievement. More significantly, it was found that it was not necessary for parents to know all the answers, but rather that it was more important for them to demonstrate their interest by providing a quiet, well-lit place for doing homework, encouraging children’s efforts, being available for questions, and being willing to discuss material the child is learning (Parental Involvement, n.d.).
While the above deals with parental involvement at home, parents can also involve themselves directly in school activities which may consequently indirectly influence their children’s education. Parents can make their presence in school a familiar one by engaging in activities like volunteering in the library, working in the school cafeteria, monitoring the halls, and chaperoning on field trips. This sort of parental involvement has many benefits. Because the parent becomes a familiar face in the school environment, natural opportunities for communicating with their children’s teachers may arise. Teachers may also become more receptive to parents’ communication regarding their children’s needs when they are first-hand witnesses to the parent’s commitment to education (Parental Involvement, n.d.).
The U. S. DOE study also found that schools can be very influential in encouraging parental involvement. The level of interest by schools in parental involvement was actually be found to be a stronger predictor of parental involvement than certain family attributes like marital status, family size, level of parents’ education, student grade level, or even socioeconomic status. Parental involvement was found to increase when the administration and staff communicated a genuine desire to involve parents by considering their needs. Schools which worked to accommodate parents’ work schedules by arranging meetings at times when parents can be available were also found to be more successful. What this ultimately leads to is a scenario where all parties benefit. Furthermore, when the communication is consistently high across generations, mutual respect is built, and students are better trained to compare differing points of view and to think abstractly (Parental Involvement, n.d.).
Forms of Parental Involvement
Some studies have indicated that parents typically presumed to be disinterested in their children’s education actually are, at least at the beginning of the school year, quite eager participants. One study (Abdul-Adi & Farmer, 2006) pointed out that many African-American parents initially strongly participate in their children’s schooling, but their participation dissipates over time, especially if their experiences at school were condescending or negative. In cases where a high level of interest is observed, school administrators need to look at ways of maintaining this initial interest, using it to everyone’s benefit, and continue motivating parents to participate throughout the year. School administrators should also be aware of the severity of negativism—parents may easily become disinterested if the schools reinforce an idea of negativism and contact parents only when their child has misbehaved or performed poorly (Barreno, 2005).
Parental involvement should also be more than simply attending PTA meetings and parent teacher conferences. Parental involvement should go beyond the simple concept of the “head count” and should strive to be something more substantial (Steiny, 2003). While we usually think of parental involvement in education as what it looks like at school—in other words the “visibility” of parents at school—parental involvement in education should be looked at in the broader context including family and community interaction. As such, sometimes helping parents directly through education or additional support can be a very positive contributor to increased parental involvement. In other words, the problem can almost be rephrased as “How can schools proactively build relationships with parents into their current framework?”
To address this problem, one should realize that there is a range of opportunities that are sometimes neglected when the school is addressing parental involvement. Barreno (2005) identifies six ways that relationships with parents could be built upon. The six broad categories include (1) parenting, (2) communication, (3) volunteering, (4) home learning, (5) decision making, and (6) community collaboration. Each of these elements will be addressed in more detail below.
Schools should be prepared to offer some basic parenting classes. If parenting skills are successfully improved, integrating parents in school activities becomes much easier. Additionally, these parenting skills themselves can lead directly to improved academic performance. Many of the specific skills being referred to are very straightforward and include things like regular family dinners, providing a time and place for their children to study, giving children responsibilities or chores within the home, and being consistent with the application of discipline. Other factors which can be covered in parenting classes include the monitoring of TV programs or other screen media and ensuring that children have safe, reliable after-school care (Barreno, 2005).
Parent participation will be much better if parents feel more comfortable communicating things both to school personnel and to their children. Various types of communication skills can be reinforced including improved verbal communication through questioning and conversation as well as written communication skills like writing letters to teachers or notes to their children. Additionally, parents can be taught how to access resources within the community such as reference materials from libraries that are available to them at no cost. Again, this is a skill set that can be taught using parenting classes (Barreno, 2005).
One of the best and most visible ways for parents to be involved in education would be to have them volunteer for certain school events. This includes creating opportunities for parents to act as chaperones for field trips and creating classroom opportunities that can incorporate parent participation. Volunteering can also happen in less visible “behind-the-scenes” ways. This form of volunteering may include preparing food for social school events or helping teachers prepare materials for lessons or activities (Barreno, 2005).
Education does not end when the school day ends. As mentioned earlier, parent involvement can fall under the category of the support they offer at home. Reading and writing are perhaps the two most important skills that can be reinforced at home by parents. Parents can read to their children or have their children to them. Parents and their children can practice storytelling together and can practice writing by writing notes and letters to their friends and family (Barreno, 2005).
In building a community, it is important to ensure that community members feel that they are adequately represented. If parents are too far removed from the decision making that goes on at school, they may not feel like they are valuable community members and will be less likely to participate in school events. Many parents have expressed that they would like to be included in decisions such as the allocation of funds, course offerings, and the hiring of administrators. While it may not be appropriate or desirable to give parents full decision making powers, it is important to include them in the process and to ensure that they are informed adequately when they are required to make such significant decisions (Barreno, 2005).
Parents have a good sense of what the community has to offer, whether the offerings are from within their workplace or through their day-to-day activities. Parents can be involved with bringing resources in as well as networking with community members to develop an inter-related network where schools, parents, and the community integrate well together. If a parent feels well represented at school, they will most likely be a stronger advocate when trying to garner community support for school events (Barreno, 2005).
Sustaining Parent Involvement
There are several prerequisites for sustained parental involvement. First, and perhaps most significantly, all families should be targeted, not just those who are easier to contact or involve in schools. Different methods of communication should be explored. This can include using the school marquee, sending announcements home with children, setting up an online parent bulletin-board, implementing a telephone messaging system, or mailing out periodical newsletters. Whatever method or methods of communication is chosen, special care must be taken to ensure that the type of communication is appropriate for the particular demographic. This includes method of delivery (for example using emails only if you know that most of the parents are “connected”) and other requirements such as language used in communication (for example some parent communities may benefit from translated materials sent home or available on a telephone messaging system) (Barreno, 2005).
Second, goals and expectations should be clearly defined for both parents and teachers; training should be provided whenever appropriate or necessary. If teachers are better equipped to handle interactions with parents—both spontaneous and pre-scheduled—meetings with parents can be both more flexible and more effective. If meetings with parents are more flexible, parents are more likely to be at ease in their interaction leading to a more positive productive meeting. Often, the process of meeting teachers at parent/teacher meetings can be quite exhausting for both parties, leading to a less than optimal communication environment (Barreno, 2005 & Steiny, 2003).
Third, programs seeking to increase parent involvement should be designed for long-term interaction and not just focus on immediate, short-term solutions. A successfully designed idealistic parent-involvement program would require the most intensive investment in the early years of implementation. After some time, a strong enough relationship between the parents and the school should have developed so that continued efforts to draw parents in would be minimal. Even in this idealistic setting, however, there will always be moments which can significantly alter the level of participation including teacher changes or transitions from one school to the next (for example from elementary school to middle school).
The previous pages have focused on a general presentation of the importance of parental involvement reinforced by the contemporary research as well as some broad ideas for ways to involve parents in education. This section will focus on some specific ideas we may try to implement in our school to better facilitate parental involvement. Some of the recommendations can be implemented more easily than others due to space, infrastructure, or budgetary limitations and other factors which are less variable.
Our school would benefit greatly from a “parent room.” The parent room will be somewhere that parents will have open access to at the hours surrounding child drop-off and pick-up. Along with being a welcoming place for parents, the parent room will also have internet-connected computers available as a resource for the parents. It will also double as a classroom for any parent-enrichment courses including English language classes, GED preparation courses, and parenting courses that we can offer directly or through community support. The parent room will contain bulletin boards for both school related information as well as for family- or community-development information. A volunteer will be present in the parent-room during the hours that it is open.
Equally as important as the parent room is the provision of well-staffed childcare during scheduled parent events such as parent/teacher conferences. Parents will be more likely to attend parent/teacher conferences or other school events if they feel that they can do so while still providing care for their children. Providing transportation, food, and snacks are also likely to help increase parental involvement since these may also be significant obstacles for many parents.
All school staff should be committed to the idea of implementing a welcoming “open-door” policy for our parents. This does not mean that school staff needs to give up all rights to scheduling, but rather that the times when parents can visit are more flexible. Teachers may want to consider establishing a “classroom visiting hours” scheduling system for parents. This can be a sign-in sheet in the main office allowing parents to have easy access to it when they drop their child off to school. The idea of the open-door policy is that parents will respond better if their children’s teachers are more easily approachable. More regular meetings will probably also help ensure that teachers can have opportunities to share more of the positive day-to-day events that may easily be overlooked in the less frequent parent/teacher conferences.
Along with an open door policy, our school may also benefit from setting up a “contact person” between the family and the schools. Having a contact person who stays with a family throughout their stay at our school helps promote continuity and assists in making our school more approachable to parents. The liaison can also partake in outreach programs including regular phone-calls home or short in-house visits. Having a liaison who manages most of the direct communication with parents can also alleviate some of the time-restricted pressures a teacher may feel if trying to incorporate some of these ideas into their regular schedule.
As parental involvement increases, we also need to ensure that we promote more active parental involvement through their participation in steering committees and task forces, as well as their active participation in PTA groups. As parents become stronger participants in the school system, they will also be better able to make more important decisions about the educational offerings at their school. They will also have a better understanding of how the school system operates and will consequently be better advocates for their children throughout their children’s educational career.
Finally, we will not even begin to understand why we are succeeding or failing with our parental involvement attempts without the voice of the parents. Our school should regularly conduct simple parent surveys to find areas for improvement. These surveys can be used to find out things such as parents’ perception of their role in school and their abilities to be involved in some of the decision making responsibilities at our school.
- Abdul-Adil, J. K., & Farmer, A. D. (2006, Spring). Inner-city African-American parental involvement in elementary schools: Getting beyond urban legends of apathy. School Psychology Quarterly 21(1).
- Barreno, A. L. (2005). Principal’s effective strategies and practices in involving Hispanic parents. Baylor University: Waco, Texas. Dissertation—UMI Number: 3177570.
- Center for Public Policy Priorities. (n.d.). Center for Public Policy Priorities. Retrieved April, 2006, from www.cppp.org
- National Center for Educational Statistics. (n.d.). National Center for Educational Statistics.Retrieved April, 2006, from http://nces.ed.gov
- No Child Left Behind. (2004). No Child Left Behind. Retrieved April 19, 2006, from www.nclb.gov
- Steiny, J. (2003, May 4). Parental involvement made real. The Providence Journal, p. H01. Retrieved from Business Dateline database.
Appendix A: Checklist for School Personnel
The following checklist will be issued to teachers to encourage them to find ways to include parents in day-to-day activities as well as scheduled events. Teachers will be encouraged to use the checklist to find areas that may need reinforcement and will also be encouraged to share successful methods of parental involvement with other staff members to increase the overall effectiveness of currently implemented strategies.
|Type of Involvement||Frequently||Rarely||Never||N/A|
|Meet the Staff|
|Parent Breakfast/Coffee at School|
|Written progress reports|
|Open house or back-to-school nights|
|Parent accompaniment on field trips|
|Parents are included in designing specific school or classroom events|
|Parents assist with the preparations or cleanup for certain activities|
|Parents are involved in voluntary after-school homework centers|
|Parents help with fundraising activities|
|Parents help prepare bulletin boards|
|Parents help with translation of materials|
|Parents work directly with students for activities like reading, writing, or practicing math skills|
|Parents get a chance to share their cultural/travel/work experiences with students to reinforce lessons|
|Parents help prepare and distribute flyers and other communication devices|
|Parents help with time-intensive activities like typing up student work or creating display cases|
Appendix B: Parent Inclusion Survey
All teachers will administer a parent survey (see following page) at the beginning of the year to find out ways parents picture themselves being involved in their child’s educations and to find out what parents see as some of their strengths and weaknesses. Parents are encouraged to participate directly in their own children’s classes; however, in some cases, teachers may wish to coordinate with each other to share the cultural background of parents, especially if an educational module would benefit significantly from a first-hand perspective.
While the survey presented here is in English, translations will be provided according to the demographics at our school. At the end of the year, a parent satisfaction survey will also be administered and a short social event honoring the parents’ commitment to participating in school will be held.
2006-2007 Parent Survey
|Phone Number:||Best time to call:|
|I am interested in volunteering in the classroom to:|
|Work with after-school tutoring classes.||Work with small groups of students.|
|Read to students or listen to students read.||Help the teacher with clerical work.|
|Chaperone field trips.|
|Translate materials for students and parents. Please note language(s) here:|
|Other. Please note here:|
|I can work at home by:|
|Preparing foods for special events.||Typing or scanning student work.|
|Creating bulletin boards or flyers.|
|Other. Please note here:|
|I would be interested in sharing the following with students:|
|Talent or hobbies:|
|Other. Please note here:|
|I would like to help the Parent Organization with:|
|Speaking and advocacy.||Networking with the community.|
|Other. Please note here:|
If you have a new idea or something you know that has help students succeed please feel free to comment.
Appendix C: School-Parent-Student Compact
At the beginning of the school year, along with the parent introductory package, a school-parent-student compact (see following two pages) will be distributed. All parents and their children will be required to sign and return an acknowledgement of receipt and understanding of the compact by the end of the first week. Translations will be provided for all families needing copies of the compact in languages other than English.
Dear Parents and Students,
This compact should be accompanied by a signed note from your child’s teacher indicating his or her agreement with the guidelines within. Please take a moment to carefully review the following compact and sign, date, and return the forms at the end of the compact to your child’s teacher. If you have any questions about the compact, please feel free to contact your child’s teacher or the school’s principal for clarification.
The school will:
- Provide a copy of the State’s educational objectives which students are required to meet per grade level.
- Provide parents and students with feedback by issuing progress reports and report cards.
- Hold parent/teacher conferences twice a year.
- Facilitate open-house meetings twice a year.
- Arrange for parent/teacher conferences to be made available by appointment at any time the parent chooses.
- Allow parents to be able to view student progress through class observation by notification in the office.
- Involve parents in the planning, review, and improvement of the school’s parental involvement policy in an organized, ongoing, and timely way.
- Involve parents in the development of school wide programs.
- Provide parents with information in a format which parents can read including, but not limited to translated materials or customized materials for parents with visual impairments.
- Inform parents of individualized education plans.
- Provide parents with the opportunity to make suggestions about their child’s education.
- Monitor their child’s attendance.
- Ensure that homework is completed.
- Monitor the amount of television their children watch.
- Volunteer in their child’s classroom.
- Promote positive use of their child’s extracurricular time.
- Stay informed about their child’s education by promptly reading all notices from the school and keeping lines of communication with the school open.
- Attend IEP meetings as needed for their child’s success.
- Complete their homework every day and ask for help when they need to.
- Read at least 30 minutes every day outside of school time.
- Give their parents or guardian any information meant for them received from their school.
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