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Getting Parents Involved in Schools

— The Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement
Updated on May 1, 2014

Parent involvement continues to challenge practitioners engaged in school reform despite being a required component of many school improvement initiatives-from Title I Schoolwide Programs to federally mandated school improvement plans. The benefits of parent involvement are clear: A growing body of research shows that successful parent involvement improves not only student behavior and attendance but also positively affects student achievement. Yet many schools continue to struggle with defining and measuring meaningful parental involvement, and many don't feel that their efforts are successful. A recent survey of American teachers revealed that 20 percent of new teachers and nearly one fourth of principals identify their relationships with parents as a cause of significant stress in their jobs (MetLife, 2005).

In this month's newsletter, we offer research-based advice and resources designed to help schools and districts foster successful parent involvement.

What is successful parent involvement?

Successful parent involvement can be defined as the active, ongoing participation of a parent or primary caregiver in the education of his or her child. Parents can demonstrate involvement at home-by reading with their children, helping with homework, and discussing school events-or at school, by attending functions or volunteering in classrooms. Schools with involved parents engage those parents, communicate with them regularly, and incorporate them into the learning process.

What are the barriers to successful parent involvement?

Schools often don't engage parents because they don't think they can. "A lot of it is perception. Teachers perceive that families don't want to be involved when, in fact, families don't know how to be involved," says Karen Salinas, communications director for the Center on School, Family, and Community Partnerships at Johns Hopkins University.

For their part, parents are sometimes hesitant to become involved in school because they don't have extra time or because they don't speak fluent English. But "the biggest problem is the disconnect between the school and the families," says Salinas. "Parents believe that they are not welcome. It comes in part from their own education history. They often have had a less-than-satisfactory experience with their own schooling, and so they don't feel like [being involved] is guaranteed to be a good experience."

Despite these communication barriers, both schools and parents want the relationship to improve, if only for the benefit of students. A 2003 analysis of more than 25 public opinion surveys by Public Agenda, a nonpartisan public opinion research organization, found that 65 percent of teachers say their students would do better in school if their parents were more involved, and 72 percent of parents feel that children whose parents are not involved sometimes "fall through the cracks" in school (Johnson & Duffett, 2003).

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