"When schools, families, and community groups work together to support learning, children tend to do better in school, stay in school longer, and like school more." That's the conclusion of a recent report from the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory. The report, a synthesis of research on parent involvement over the past decade, goes on to find that, regardless of family income or background, "students with involved parents are more likely to:
- Earn higher grades and test scores, and enroll in higher-level programs;
- Be promoted, pass their classes, and earn credits;
- Attend school regularly;
- Have better social skills, show improved behavior, and adapt well to school; and
- Graduate and go on to postsecondary education" (Henderson & Mapp, 2002).
But if parents have a central role in influencing their children's progress in school, research has shown that schools in turn have an important part to play in determining levels of parent involvement (Epstein, 2001). Working to include parents is particularly important as students grow older, and in schools with high concentrations of poor and minority students (Rutherford et al., 1997).
Data from the 2000 administration of the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed that, nationally, 90 percent of 4th graders were in schools where a school official reported that more than half of parents participated in parent-teacher conferences. Among 8th graders, though, that proportion dropped to 57 percent.
A report from the U.S. Department of Education cites several reasons for the decline in involvement as children grow older. Parents of middle schoolers often report feeling that children should do homework alone, and that the parents shouldn't try to help if they're not experts in the subject. The structure of many middle schools can also deter parents. Middle schools are larger and more impersonal than most elementary schools, and students may receive instruction from several teachers, meaning parents no longer have one contact in the school who knows their child well (Rutherford et al., 1997).
But research also shows there are ways middle schools can overcome such impediments. Organizing a middle school so that at least one person knows each child well, keeping a "parent room" in the building, and sponsoring parent-to-parent communication and events are key parts of an effective parent-involvement program in the middle grades (Berla, Henderson, & Kerewsky, 1989).
Data also indicate that parent involvement can vary by poverty concentration and minority enrollment in the school. The 2000 NAEP survey found that 73 percent of white 4th graders were in schools in which lack of parent involvement was deemed not to be a problem, or to be only a minor problem. The same could be said for only 38 percent of black 4th graders, however, and 48 percent of Hispanic 4th graders. Efforts to recruit poor or non-English-speaking parents can include a bilingual hotline, transportation to the school for the parent, translation services, or child care (Rutherford et al., 1997). Among poor students, defined as those eligible for the federal free or reduced-price lunch program, 42 percent of 4th graders were in schools where lack of parent involvement was not a problem or was only a minor problem. Of their better-off peers, 72 percent were in such schools.
According to the National Network of Partnership Schools, for parent involvement to flourish, it must be meaningfully integrated into a school's programs and community. The network developed a framework of six types of parent involvement that schools can use to guide their efforts. It says schools can:
- Help families with parenting and child-rearing skills;
- Communicate with families about school programs and student progress and needs;
- Work to improve recruitment, training, and schedules to involve families as volunteers in school activities;
- Encourage families to be involved in learning activities at home;
- Include parents as participants in important school decisions; and
- Coordinate with businesses and agencies to provide resources and services for families, students, and the community (Epstein, 2001).