For years, researchers like Dr. Joyce Epstein have advocated for increased parent involvement in schools as an obvious and important factor in increasing student achievement. Ask any teacher or administrator and they will agree. Parents are the first teacher students have, and quite often, the most important. There are numerous factors involved in why parents do or do not involve themselves in schools: ethnicity, employment status, education, family structure, etc. Of course, it is clear from research that increased parental involvement has a clear and positive impact on reading, mathematics, behavior, attendance and a significant drop in grade retention.
Researchers have identified some key roles of parental involvement: parent focused, school focused, and partnership focused. Parent focused involvement can be identified as parents having the primary responsibility of the education of their children. This can be problematic if there is a non-traditional parent structure such as a single parent, a grandparent/relative as caregiver, etc. However, parents generally agree that this is an important part of student development and is not to be taken lightly. Teachers and other education professionals see this role as empowering parents by giving them teaching roles (as if parents don’t already have this power but many may not be aware of how powerful a voice they can be in their children’s educations.
Another role, in stark contrast of the parent-centered role, is school focused parent involvement. This tends to be the norm in most public schools since the advent of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). In the school focused role the school has primary responsibility for education. This is evident in the ever-increasing clamor of accountability, higher standardized test scores, teacher evaluations, etc. The key problem here, however, is the emphasis on a clear separation between home and school.
The third role is partnership focused involvement where teachers and parents work together collaboratively in the education of the children. Partnerships between parents and educators is a relatively recent innovation, but it has the potential to be a game changer in student achievement. It blends the traditional emphasis of parents and teachers – all with the benefit that students have more attention and care given to their education in a more personalized fashion.
Parental involvement is not just good for students, it is also extremely beneficial to parents as well. As parents become more involved in schools, they become more aware of their students individual learning needs, teacher objectives and classroom strategies, and increased positive outlook and relationships with teachers. For the schools, increased parent involvement can mean a school is more effective and makes better decisions in regards to educational practices and how those practices are viewed by the community.
The problem that is apparent in low parent involvement is that some parents from different cultures may not feel like they can connect with the schools due to perhaps their own level of education, work schedules, or simply being overwhelmed when more than one student is going through the system at a time. Teachers tend to view low parental involvement as disinterest and may not take into account these issues. There is a loss of trust between parents and teachers that is a primary obstacle owing to language and physical barriers, and cultural differences. Dr. Ruby Payne argues that social barriers such as the class system (i.e. poverty levels) are also a key problem.
Overcoming these obstacles is where the partnership focused role comes in and can overwhelm the problem with a plethora of solutions. Families, job schedules, community mobility, etc. are not the same as they once were and schools need to find ways to work with these varying issues. Using tools such as social media, schools can reach out to parents in non-traditional ways that can absolutely change a school culture. Changing times and locations of events is another possibility. There is no hard and fast rule that a school event has to take place on a school campus or even in the evening or during “office hours.”
Once a school and a community of parents finds common ground, the possibilities are endless. Student achievement will increase, disaffectedness will decrease, and everyone – parents, teachers, and students – will benefit.
This article has been republished from July 12, 2012. I felt the article was and is timely as a reflection upon the school year as we enter the halfway point of the academic year. I encourage all of my readers to reflect upon the level of parent involvement in their schools and re-focus their efforts on bringing parents into the classrooms. – Dr. Norwood
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