School and family partnerships can be as important for students’ social and emotional development as for their academic progress, finds a new meta-analysis in the American Educational Research Association’s Review of Educational Research journal.
Researchers looked at 117 studies of interventions that aimed to improve students’ mental health and social-emotional development through partnerships between parents and schools. They included more traditional parent-engagement programs, such as school conferences and homework help, but also those with more targeted approaches, including those that involved parents in “problem solving, setting goals, [and] discussing aspirations.”
Studies have long shown the benefits of parent involvement for students’ academic progress. The analysis suggests, however, that common parent-involvement programs affect students’ social-emotional development and mental health in different ways. For example, asking parents to volunteer in their students’ school or class significantly improved the students’ social skills, but it had no benefit for their mental health. And involving parents in their children’s homework, such as through family literacy programs, helped academically but had no social or emotional benefits.
So what worked? Researchers found the most effective parent-school programs included:
- Home-based programs that taught parents how to model social and behavioral skills and mental-health support;
- Coordinating and training parents in behavior supports, such as positive reinforcement and goal setting; and
- Frequent collaboration between teachers and parents to set goals and monitor students’ progress.
Partnerships between schools and parents tended to be slightly more effective in rural districts than in urban ones—likely because rural families have fewer mental health resources outside the school to fall back on than families in the city, researchers suggested.
The researchers also found more-intensive parent involvement had stronger benefits for black students. “Disagreements and lack of trust are disproportionately experienced by ethnic minority families, including African Americans,” the researchers noted. “Some suggest that this is due to certain practices that isolate and alienate families who lack access to traditional means of communication and engagement. ... Our findings demonstrating significant family-school intervention effects to enhance mental health outcomes for African-American students are very encouraging.”
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A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.