Urban Students Gain When Parent Involvement Gets School Support

By Michele Molnar — February 08, 2013 3 min read
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Linking schools’ programs that promote parent involvement to students’ greater academic success just got another boost with the findings of a California professor who completed a meta-analysis on the subject.

“Parental involvement programs are associated with higher student academic outcomes,” concludes William H. Jeynes, professor of education at California State University at Long Beach, in a meta-analysis of 51 studies of school-based parental involvement programs.

Jeynes summarized his findings in “A Meta-Analysis of the Efficacy of Different Types of Parental Involvement Programs for Urban Students,” a Research Digest for the Harvard Family Research Project released on Feb. 7.

Much as it is beneficial when parents provide some structure for their children to study at home—such as, “You must finish your homework before playing video games or checking Facebook,"—Jeynes says schools can help parents by providing some structure for them about how to support their children’s learning.

When schools give that kind of direction to parents to encourage parent involvement, the results correlate more directly with positive outcomes in standardized test scores, grades and other measures of school success, than when the school-parent partnership is lacking, Jeynes explained in an interview with K-12 Parents & the Public.

“Parents know that reading with children is good generally, but they may not know how to interact with children to get the maximum out of reading,” Jeynes explained.

For instance, parents might not understand the rating scale educators use in recommended reading for students. “Books for youngsters have ratings as to how difficult they are, a numerical system. Parents need to understand that, to benefit their children, it’s best to go from reading at 500 level to a 505 or a 510, vs. a jump from 500 to 600,” he said.

In a previous meta-analysis published in 2005, Jeynes examined 77 studies of parents’ voluntary involvement in their children’s achievement at school. What he learned was that when parents, of their own accord, support children’s learning—by reading to children, or setting high expectations for school achievement— those behaviors are “strongly related to school outcomes.”

With his most recent research, published in July 2012 in the academic journal, Urban Education, Jeynes identified this key finding: "...among the factors that were common to successful program efforts, one variable that clearly stood out was the emphasis on partnerships between parents and teachers.”

The four types of parental programs that had a statistically significant positive outcome were:

  • Shared reading, in which parents are encouraged by school to read with their children;
  • “Emphasized partnerships,” which involve a concerted effort on the part of schools to get parents and teachers to work together as “equal partners” for better student outcomes;
  • Homework checking, in which parents are encouraged by the school to make sure their children are completing homework every day, and,
  • Communications between school and home, where programs incorporate school efforts to increase communications between parents and teachers.

“It appears that when the school says,'This is the way we want you to check homework,or this is the way to get the most out of shared reading with children,’ it makes these efforts much more effective than if parents are initiating them on their own,” he explains.

As for “voluntary” parent involvement, Jeynes says “subtle” involvement is better than authoritarian or autocratic enforcement of rules around learning.

“It’s [important] to have high expectations on the part of parents, but not conveyed as ‘You will go to Harvard.’ It’s more, ‘In our household, you’ll do your very best’,” says Jeynes, who adds that he and his wife have told their children, “We would rather they get an A- when they told us they gave it their best shot, than an A and they didn’t give it your best shot.”

Another component that requires subtlety is parental style, “combining a supportive loving environment, yet there’s structure, it’s not a permissive environment, but it’s not authoritarian either,” he says. Keeping parental communication positive and encouraging for children is very important, too, he says.

Jeynes says he has presented his research at the White House under both the Bush and Obama administrations. He receives calls from state and local school districts interested in implementing his findings, and from high school students working on papers, too.

He takes this interest as a sign that a focus on parent involvement is key to future success. “There’s only so far schools can go on their own. Teachers and parents need to draw from what each one has to offer. We really need each other,” he says.

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