Children whose families are involved in their education perform better. They earn better grades, are absent less often, have better social skills, and are more likely to graduate from high school and attend college. This is the well-established rationale for encouraging family engagement. Yet what does effective family engagement mean?
A recent report – “Back to School: How Parent Involvement Affects Student Achievement” — from the Center for Public Education (CPE) summarizes the data. “Do all the PTA meetings, take-home flyers and Back to School nights actually generate increases in student achievement?” the report asks.
First an overview of the different types of parental involvement, from sociologist Joyce Epstein, a nationally recognized expert on the subject, known for redefining parental and family engagement and finding new ways to reach more families. Epstein directs the Center on School, Family, and Community Partnerships and the National Network of Partnership Schools at Johns Hopkins University.
- Parenting, in which schools help families with their parenting skills by providing information on children’s developmental stages and offering advice on learning-friendly home environments;
- Communicating, or working to educate families about their child’s progress and school services and providing opportunities for parents to communicate with the school;
- Volunteering, which ranges from offering opportunities for parents to visit their child’s school to finding ways to recruit and train them to work in the school or classroom;
- Learning at home, in which schools and educators share ideas to promote at-home learning through high expectations and strategies so parents can monitor and help with homework.
- Decision-making, in which schools include families as partners in school organizations, advisory panels, and similar committees.
- Community collaboration, a two-way outreach strategy in which community or business groups are involved in education and schools encourage family participation in the community.
Research finds that parents at all income levels and races are involved in some way with their children’s education. A 2002 meta-analysis by the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (SEDL) cautions against common stereotypes about parental involvement. “Recognize that all parents, regardless of income, education or cultural background, are involved in their children’s learning and want their children to do well,” SEDL notes.
The National Center for Education Statistics’ 2007 survey of family involvement finds that 92% of K-8 parents attended a PTO meeting and half volunteered. More than 80% of parents, across racial and ethnic groups, said they checked their children’s homework.
Finally, the answer to the question posed above – “Do all the PTA meetings, take-home flyers and Back to School nights actually generate increases in student achievement?” – is “not necessarily.”
“Drilling down to determine what types of involvement work best, SEDL found one common factor: ‘Programs and interventions that engage families in supporting their children’s learning at home are linked to higher student achievement,’” the report finds. “Other forms of involvement among Epstein’s six factors (volunteering, attending school events) appeared to have less direct effect on student achievement.”
The report also finds targeted communication with parents, to reduce absenteeism, for instance, can also be effective.
“Parents of all income levels and ethnicities want to be involved in their child’s learning, even if they aren’t often visible at bake sales or PTA meetings. However, schools and parents often have a different understanding of what that involvement should look like. Creating a partnership between schools and parents can have a significant impact on student achievement,” the report concludes. “Parent involvement should be a support, not a substitute, for the true work of schools: good teaching and learning. But the research is clear: parents want to be involved, and parent involvement can make a difference in student learning.”