Published Online: May 21, 1997


Children & Families

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Almost everyone agrees that parent involvement improves a child's chances of succeeding in school. But what causes parents to get involved in the first place?

Two researchers from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., reviewed psychological theory to find the answer.

Kathleen V. Hoover-Dempsey and Howard M. Sandler suggest that there are three factors that influence parents' decisions about being part of their child's schooling: their beliefs about what is important, necessary, and permissible for them to do with and for their children; the extent to which the parents believe they have a positive effect on their child's education; and parents' perceptions that their child wants them to be involved and that the school welcomes their participation as well.

Ms. Hoover-Dempsey and Mr. Sandler's definition of parent involvement includes a range of home-based activities--such as helping with homework and discussing school events with a child--as well as school-based projects, such as driving on a field trip, attending parent-teacher conferences, and volunteering at school.

Once parents decide to participate, they make choices about what activities are best suited to them, the researchers say.

Parents select activities by evaluating their own skills, interests, and abilities and by determining how much time and energy they have to donate.

The researchers conclude that schools should be aware that parents' personal experiences and beliefs about child rearing determine whether and how they will be involved in their child's education.

"Absent specific attention to these parental components of involvement, the best and most well-financed school efforts to invite involvement are likely to fall frustratingly short of success," the researchers write in an article appearing in the spring edition of the Review of Educational Research, the journal of the Washington-based American Educational Research Association.

Ms. Hoover-Dempsey and Mr. Sandler also recommend that teachers be given time during the workweek to interact with parents and that employers give parents a specified amount of time to attend to school-related activities.

Installing phone lines in classrooms and producing regular newsletters and other types of communication between teachers and parents are just a couple of the many strategies that schools can use, the researchers say.


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