Education Letter to the Editor

Parental Involvement’s Underexamined Issues

December 08, 2009 1 min read

To the Editor:

Your recent article “Researchers Explore Teens, Parents, Schools” (Nov. 18, 2009), which describes research by Harvard University’s Nancy E. Hill on parental involvement at the middle school level, raises (and indeed questions) the effects on student achievement of such involvement. That the impact is not all positive really should come as no surprise.

Many parents have a complex relationship to education and to schools. My own parents left school at age 14 and never came to either my elementary school or my high school, although their commitment to my “doing well” was always clear. Their lack of involvement did not reflect a lack of interest, but actually resulted from their trust in my teachers and school.

Another issue worth considering is that many schools do not have too little parental involvement, but are almost overwhelmed by it. Indeed, current policy initiatives often fail to question the effect that this overinvolvement may have on teachers, the administration, or on others in the school community. Often the tensions of a community are played out in the parent-teacher association.

In my particular district, for example, incoming “gentrifying” families take the lead in school fundraising and enrichment initiatives, and teachers complain of being overwhelmed with their ideas and suggestions. At the same time, the neighborhood dynamic is re-created and the PTA becomes the voice of the already “educated.” The pressure on “uneducated” parents, or their “fit” with the school, remains unchanged.

Parental involvement on behalf of student achievement, while important, should not be seen as the only solution to education’s problems. Schools serve all in the community, regardless of parents’ cultural fit with the schools or their involvement in them. I welcome more of Ms. Hill’s thoughtful research.

Aileen Wilson

Associate Professor of Art and Design Education

Pratt Institute

Brooklyn, N.Y.

A version of this article appeared in the December 09, 2009 edition of Education Week as Parental Involvement’s Underexamined Issues