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Does Parental Involvement Matter?

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A new study of low-income schools in California has raised some eyebrows by concluding that, when it comes to student achievement, parental involvement is less important than a number of school-based instructional factors.

The report’s authors, however, have hastened to discount media coverage of their research suggesting that parental involvement is not connected to school success.

The study, conducted by the California-based research group EdSource, looked at survey data on educational practices provided by teachers and principals at 257 demographically similar elementary schools. Since the schools ranged widely in the state’s academic-performance rankings, the researchers sought to ferret out which activities were most strongly correlated with higher student test scores.

According the study, the four practices found to be mostly closely associated with higher performance were: prioritizing student achievement by setting higher expectations for students and creating well-defined plans for instructional improvement; implementing a consistent school-wide curriculum aligned with state standards; using varied assessment data to evaluate student progress and instructional needs; and ensuring an adequate supply of up-to-date instructional materials and trained teachers.

The practices found to be less closely associated with better performance included some erstwhile staples of school-improvement efforts, such as increasing involvement and support of parents, encouraging teacher collaboration and development, and enforcing high expectations of student behavior.

Parental Guidance

After the finding about parental involvement prompted a somewhat overstated headline in the Los Angeles Times, however, EdSource issued a statement clarifying that parental involvement, along with teacher collaboration and student behavioral standards, was in fact “found to be positively correlated” with achievement. It just didn’t have nearly as pronounced an impact on performance as the top four practices did, the statement said.

The researchers also noted that some efforts to involve parents, such as those directly related to the curriculum and specific academic subject areas, were more closely related to better school performance than others.

Still, according to a Washington Post story, the study has a generated a “national debate” on parents’ impact on school performance, with researchers and administrators weighing in with varied opinions.

At the same time, EdSource’s primary findings on effective practices for low-income schools are echoed in other recent reports. In a survey report issued last month, Teach For America, the group that recruits recent college graduates to teach in disadvantaged schools, found that its current members overwhelmingly cited teacher quality and higher expectations for students as the key solutions to socio-economic achievement gaps in schools.

And in a separate study of demographically similar schools, the research and advocacy group Education Trust found that “high-impact high schools”—those that get better-than-expected results with students who are behind academically—tend to embrace external standards and assessments, set high expectations for students regardless of their prior performance, and identify students who need help early.

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