New Study Finds Parent Engagement on Rise

By Michele Molnar — March 12, 2012 4 min read
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While teacher satisfaction has declined to its lowest point in more than two decades, parent engagement is climbing to new heights across America, a new survey reports.

And parent engagement turns out to be important for teachers as well as for students. In fact, it appears to play a key role for those teachers who are happier with their jobs, according to the “MetLife Survey of the American Teacher: Teachers, Parents and the Economy,”
the 28th in an annual series commissioned by MetLife and conducted by Harris Interactive.

A 15 percent drop in teachers’ satisfaction ratings between 2009 and 2011 can be attributed—at least in part—to the economy and educational budget cuts, as Education Week‘s Teacher Blogger Liana Heitin reports about the “teacher satisfaction” portion of the survey.

But the report also says, “The teachers with higher job satisfaction are likelier to report greater involvement of parents and their schools in coming together to improve the learning and success of students.”

To assess attitudes about public education, MetLife/Harris reached out to three constituent groups: parents, teachers, and students. The survey was conducted by telephone among 1,001 public school teachers, and online among 1,086 parents and 947 students in October and November 2011.

Levels of engagement between parents and schools have seen marked improvement over past surveys.

Two-thirds of students (64 percent) report that they talk about things that happen at school with their parents every day, up 14 percent from 1988, the first time the survey asked this specific question.

Nearly three times as many students as in 1988 report that their parents visit their school at least once a month—46 percent, up from 16 percent.

These numbers echo what parents report.

Fewer parents now than 25 years ago believe that there is widespread parental disengagement with their children’s school and education in general.

Since the first time the survey series addressed the general issue of parent engagement this issue in 1987, there has been a significant decline in the proportion of teachers and parents reporting that most or many parents take too little interest in their children’s education, fail to motivate their children so they want to learn, or leave their children alone too much after school.

Most teachers (91 percent) and eight in ten parents believe that their schools help all parents understand what they can do at home to support student success, and 83 percent of students agree that their teachers and parents work together to help them succeed.

Teachers are more likely to receive get good reviews in places where parents are highly involved.

“Parents of students in schools with high parent engagement are more likely than those with low engagement to rate their child’s teachers as ‘excellent’ or ‘good’ on a range of measures, including: being responsive to their requests for information (98 percent vs. 57 percent), contacting them if their child is having academic or social problems (97 percent vs. 50 percent), providing guidance on what they can do to help their child succeed (96 percent vs. 41 percent), and being flexible to meet with them at different times of day or different locations (91 percent vs. 47 percent).”

Areas to Work On

The report finds that there is room for improvement in parent engagement, “particularly for secondary schools and schools with larger proportions of high-needs students.”

Typically, parents depend upon their child, the child’s teachers, and written communication from the school for information. “However, other sources of information such as the PTA/PTO, other parents, parent/community liaisons, and the principal emerge as particularly important resources for urban, minority, or lower-income parents, and those parents with no more than a high school education,” the report’s authors write.

Joyce Epstein, founder and director of the National Network of Partnership Schools,, located at Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore, believes improvement can come from strengthened school/community partnerships.

“Although it’s very encouraging that family and community involvement has increased over time across the country, this is by no means an accomplished goal,” she said.

Epstein pointed to the survey results in which students identified issues that create a poor learning environment. Those include the 5 percent of high school students who said that their school could not be described as “safe,” the 7 percent of middle school students and 10 percent of high school students who said that their school could be described as “too noisy to concentrate,” and the 10 percent of students who worry about being bullied at school. Beyond that, 16 percent of students say they worry about their parents losing a job, or being unable to find one.

“Because there are over 88,000 public schools in this country, the seemingly small percentages really affect around 7 to 10 million students and families in poor urban and poor rural communities,” she said. “The progress noted is excellent, but there are still great challenges ahead.”

To access the 122-page new survey, download the MetLife Survey of the American Teacher: Teachers, Parents and the Economy here.

A version of this news article first appeared in the K-12 Parents and the Public blog.