Families & the Community

There’s a Disconnect Between Parent Expectations and Student Realities

By Sarah D. Sparks — September 26, 2017 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Virtually no parent believes his child will drop out of high school, and nearly 70 percent expect their children to earn a bachelor’s or professional degree in college.

Those results are part of a first look at data released this morning from the 2016 federal Parent and Family Involvement in Education Survey, a nationally representative study of more than 14,000 parents of children in K-12 public, private, or home schools. Some of the data suggest a disconnect between school outcomes and how parents expect schools to work.

For example, the data show only 1 percent of middle or high school parents didn’t think their student would graduate high school, and the largest share of parents, 39 percent, thought their children would earn a master’s degree or more. Those expectations are jarring, considering the national high school graduation rate hovers just above 83 percent and little more than 1 in 10 American adults earns a master’s or other advanced postsecondary degree.

The vast majority of parents of all income levels have participated in regularly scheduled parent-teacher conferences and general school or parent-teacher organization meetings, but other activities show a divide between poor and wealthier families. Parents in poverty were 20 percentage points or more less likely to participate in class fund-raising, volunteer or serve on a school committee, or attend class events such as field trips, which can help families build more social supports for their children and leverage within a school. All told, parents living above the poverty line attended about two more school activities or meetings each year than parents in poverty.

That’s not to say parents in poor families were not involved in their children’s education. Children in poverty were equally as likely as wealthier peers to have a place set aside in their home for them to do homework. A higher percentage of children in poverty always had an adult check that their homework was completed, 72 percent versus 65 percent of children who were not poor.

The survey also showed that parents were more likely to be involved if their children attended public schools of their choice or private schools than if their children attended assigned schools. For example, only 39 percent of parents of assigned public school students volunteered or served on committees at their child’s school, and only 76 percent had attended a standard parent-teacher conference. If parents had chosen their public school, by contrast, they were 7 percentage points more likely to volunteer and 3 percentage points more likely to attend parent-teacher meetings. Private school parents were more than 20 percentage points more likely to volunteer and about 10 percentage points more likely to attend meetings with teachers than assigned public school parents.

It’s not clear what that means for parent involvement, though. Parents may take greater ownership in schools they choose or have to pay for, but private schools often also require a certain number of parent volunteer hours or fund-raising as part of acceptance.

Home Schooling Levels Off

The data also show fewer parents seem to be choosing to teach their children at home, after years of growth in homeschooling:

“So, why did parents say they homeschooled their kids? The most important reason for homeschooling in 2016 was ‘concern about the school environment, such as safety, drugs, or negative peer pressure,’ reported by 34 percent of parents of homeschooled students,” said Sarah Grady, the National Center for Education Statistics researcher who directed the survey, adding that was also the most common reason parents gave for teaching their children at home in 2012, when the survey was last administered. “The PFI survey is uniquely suited to collect data about homeschooled students because it collects data from households rather than schools or other institutions.”

The full data set is expected to be released next month.

Chart Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Parent Survey of the National Household Education Surveys Program (NHES), 1999; Parent and Family Involvement in Education Survey of the NHES, 2003, 2007, 2012, and 2016. * Statistically adjusted

Related Tags:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.