The Impact of Parent Involvement on Student Achievement



Griffin and Steen (2010) determined that the state of society and of schools compels stakeholders in the education system to continually improve the manner in which students are educated. Griffin and Steen addressed educators facilitating those students who could benefit from supplementary support and resources to meet their needs and assist them in becoming academically successful.

Research showing the complexity of challenges facing students suggested that identifying successful roles taken by stakeholders, especially parents and teachers, in developing an enabling framework through which students are facilitated to achieve their academic endeavors is of critical importance (Blondal & Adalbjarnardottir, 2009; Davis-Kean & Sexton, 2009).

As reported by Regner, Loose, and Dumas (2009), teachers are in a position to address barriers to learning and to promote constructive development of students when they work in tandem with parents and the community. The goal includes promoting student achievement and success. Parents are in the position to deal with barriers to learning by working in partnership with teachers, students, and school administrations in the development of practical solutions geared toward ensuring student success.

According to the study by Griffin and Steen (2010) such policies as the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act are introduced by the government to guarantee equal educational opportunities to all children. This policy is aimed at equalizing children’s opportunities in terms of socioeconomic status, racial and ethnic peculiarities, color of skin, and language skills. According to Campbell and Verna (2007), “Achievement has become the bottom-line for many schools in the U.S. because of the [NCLB] legislation that requires periodic testing to document every school’s viability” (p. 502).

Regner et al. (2009) noted that, as a direct consequence of the existing state and federal regulations aimed at galvanizing student achievement in various schools, there has been a marked demand to involve all the stakeholders concerned in the attainment of this bottom-line agenda. Trends, as demonstrated by a meta-analysis of several studies, reveal that parents are increasingly taking a central role in determining how their children succeed in school, a marked departure from previous education methodologies that stressed the central role of teachers in molding the students’ educational experience (DePlanty, Coulter-Kern, & Duchane, 2007; Suarez-Orozco, Onaga, & de Lardemelle, 2010; Zellman & Waterman, 1998).

According to Campbell and Verna (2007), an international consensus has evolved among educators that parents, through various active participation strategies, make a major contribution to their children’s education. Suarez-Orazco et al. found that many studies have attempted to evaluate the association between parent involvement and student achievement. Few have appraised parental behaviors or practices that result in higher student achievement. The research study will aim to fill this gap by evaluating the impact of parent involvement on student achievement as measured by parenting practices.

Campbell and Verna (2007) determined that there is evidence many parents in Europe and the U.S. are satisfied with a secondary role in educating their children and readily sign off their educational responsibilities to educators when the child enters school. Walker (2008) noted that other parents hide behind the mask of school reputation to take the misplaced assumption that their children will be successful, at least academically, due to the reputation of a particular school as a high achiever.

Campbell and Verna found, “Affluent African American parents move into school districts with excellent reputations and expect the educators to give their children the hoped-for advantages” (p. 502). Studies also reveal that a good proportion of parents are engaged in their work and other obligations, compelling them to take a backseat in the education of their children, particularly on how they perform at school.

As demonstrated by studies conducted by Griffin and Gallassi (2010), some parents, in an apparent lack of guidance on how well they can positively contribute to their children’s academic achievement, end up doing homework on behalf of children or use unconventional means that do not fit with the teaching practices at school, thus creating an environment of confusion and discord for the student.

According to Blondal and Adalbjarnardottir (2009), parents enabling students to avoid authentic class work created a disturbing disconnect between the fundamental role reserved for parents as principal educators of their children and students’ academic and social achievement. Disconnection between the role of parents as educators and students achievements has been blamed for the increasingly high student drop-out rates. Griffin and Gallassi (2010) noted that the scenario is further aggravated by the lack of critical frameworks and regulations to guide parent involvement and ensure that parent involvement is positively correlated to student achievement.

By evaluating parent involvement through the lens of parenting practices, the study will also aim to come up with frameworks through which parents can guide their involvement to influence student achievement. Tam (2009) noted these frameworks should aim to strategically implement parenting practices that would stimulate parents to become active participants in their children’s education.

Many researchers indicate that parental involvement positively influences children’s success in terms of academic progress and social skills. Students are able to achieve better comprehension skills, have better attendance, and display minimal behavior problems when parents are involved in their education (Blondal & Adalbjarnardottir, 2009; Griffin & Gallassi, 2010; Suizzo & Soon, 2006; Walker, 2008; Walker, Shenker, & Hoover-Oempsey, 2010).

In spite of its perceived importance, the concept of parent involvement has not processed among parents in the U.S. Statistics released by the Department of Education and the National Center for Educational Statistics reveal that 49% of parents participate in Open School Night or Back-to-School Nights, and 1.1% participate in leadership teams (Campbell & Verna, 2007). A larger proportion, 57%, attends parent-teacher conferences. Other forms of parent participation prevalent in many U.S. schools include parent-teacher associations and parents as paraprofessionals. However, attendance by parents is usually minimal.

Campbell and Verna (2007) aimed at summarizing the National Goals Report revealed that “parental involvement in the U.S. schools include parenting courses, communication between the parents and the schools, parents volunteering, parents supporting academics at home, and involving parents in decision-making of the schools” (p. 503). As demonstrated by Walker et al. (2010), parent involvement in these forums is of critical importance since it offers teachers a platform on which to plan their goals and provides parents with an opportunity to evaluate their children’s performances.

It also provides a forum to develop mutual strategies with teachers through which students can be assisted to overcome their weak areas. Blondal and Adalbjarnardottir (2009) suggested that the minimal number of parents demonstrating an active urge to be involved in the education of their children reveals a weak link between policy and practice, or a possible disconnect of the rules of engagement between teachers and parents, thereby constricting any attempts made to actualize student achievement. To determine why parent involvement appears to be at an all-time low despite its presumed benefits on student achievement, additional research is needed to explore diverse parenting practices and how those practices encourage or hinder parent involvement.

Study Context

The research site for the dissertation is an elementary school located in one of the largest school districts in the South. The study school is a Title I school serving approximately 534 students of whom 94.1% are Black, 2.65% are non-Hispanic, 2.48% are Hispanic, and 0.35 % are White. A majority of students attending the elementary school are economically disadvantaged and come from single-parent homes. In 2009, the school was labeled by the state department of education as a School in Need of Improvement 6, Correct II School. This means the school was a Year-6 School in Need of Improvement and did not meet adequate yearly progress (AYP). In this situation, the district must provide parents with a choice in terms of additional educational services.

The problem is students at the target school are underachieving; that is, they are not meeting state academic targets. As reported by Abernathy (2007), parents should take active part in education of their children; for instance, they may choose to take a child to another educational institution if school activities do not improve students’ academic achievements. The NCLB Act and the state department in 2007 responded to that need by providing parents of children registered in public schools, who receive Title I funding and who have failed to meet the basic yearly performance requirements as set by the state the opportunity to transfer their children to a school that is performing well.

As stated in the NCLB Act and by the State Department of Education (2007), different supplemental services are available for all students as a part of educational programs; for instance, free tutoring can be provided by educators during the school day as additional services. Abernathy claims that high quality and reliability of these services must be of primary importance for educators and students.

According to the state department of education and the state comprehensive assessment test report, more than half of the students in Grades 3-5 in the study school were not meeting math proficiency in 2007. The school was identified as one of the schools in the county with the highest percentage of students in Grades 3-5 reading below grade level (Florida Department of Education, 2007).

Problem Discussion

Blondal and Adalbjarnardottir (2009) noted parent involvement in children’s schooling has demonstrated influence on students’ engagement, performance, social life, and adaptation to school. Suarez-Orazco et al. (2010) observed, “Parents’ involvement in their children’s schooling, both at home (e.g., homework assistance) and at the child’s school (e.g., parent-teacher conference attendance), has been linked, among other indicators, with higher student test scores, lower drop-out rates, and fewer disciplinary infractions” (p. 23).

Campbell and Verna (2007) determined that students undergo a myriad of distinctive challenges while adapting to the school environment, placing them at particular educational risk. Tam (2009) noted the stakes of school failure are greater than ever before judging by the increasing challenges in education. It is of overriding importance that knowledge and understanding of the processes be increased in order to contribute to trajectories of academic and social success.

Skinner, Johnson, and Snyder (2005) noted many studies have attempted to offer empirical data on the impact of parent involvement on student achievement. Walker et al. (2010) found that many American schools are culturally diverse and different cultural background influences the level of parent involvement in a different way as reinforced by cultural-specific parenting practices (Walker et al., 2010, p. 27). The Title 1 school under study serves Black, Hispanic, non-Hispanic, and White students and, by extension, parents. As such, having a deeper understanding on the cultural-specific parenting practices is of fundamental importance in ameliorating the challenges faced by the students in terms of poor scores in academic subjects.

Studies have found that differential cultural scripts about schooling may render parents unaware of the expectations set by diverse schools to monitor their children’s education (Griffin & Gallassi, 2010; Suarez-Orozco et al., 2010; Tam, 2009). Suarez-Orozco et al. determined parents from diverse cultural orientations may be unaware or ignorant of the propriety of interfacing with teachers and the school administration directly.

Walker et al. (2010) noted demographic and socioeconomic factors, such as poverty, language obstacles, long working hours, or perceived lack of childcare, bar even enthusiastic parents from being as engaged with their children’s school and social life as they might be otherwise. Suarez-Orozco noted that many of these parents may be immigrants who “may fear or experience the unfamiliar school environment as unwelcoming, threatening, or even disrespectful to them” (p. 24).

The cultural and socioeconomic challenges are further aggravated by other barriers to parental involvement that appear to cut across the full spectrum of parents. The level of parental involvement depends on the communication between the teaching staff, administration, and parents and becomes low if communication is insufficient (Epstein 1986). According Griffin and Gallassi (2010), the study revealed “16% of parents reported never receiving correspondence from the teachers, 35% reported never having parent-teacher conferences, and 60% reported never speaking directly to the teachers on the telephone” (p.88).

Another study done in 1992 by Hoover-Dempsey and colleagues found that lack of or inadequate teacher efficacy principally influences parental involvement (Desimone, 1999). According to the findings of the study, teachers with outstanding levels of effectiveness are more likely to involve parents in the education of students than teachers with limited levels of effectiveness.

Parents have made suggestions on how to overcome perceived barriers that dampen their efforts to become involved in their children’s education. Those barriers include

  1. ill-timed meeting times,
  2. inflexible school regulations and policies,
  3. lack of communication from school,
  4. childcare,
  5. faculty suspicion of parents and students,
  6. poverty and other socioeconomic inequities,
  7. parents’ perceptions and attitudes of racism and their own pessimistic school experiences, and
  8. other socioeconomic inequities (Griffin & Gallassi, 2010; Suizzo & Soon, 2006).

Desimone (1999) conducted a research trying to evaluate how the complex interplay of the factors impacts moderate parental involvement to child educational and social development. There is a need to evaluate these factors based on parenting practices to capture a realistic and pragmatic picture of how well parental involvement can be incorporated in the education system to enhance student achievement.

More importantly, an evaluation of parental involvement on student achievement as measured by parenting practices will go a long way in strengthening and harmonizing the practices that encourage student achievement. At the same time, these practices discourage those factors that seem to cause inertia in the alignment of various cultural orientations, socioeconomic status, and teacher practices that form the basis of our education system. It is these gaps in knowledge that this study will seek to fill.

Study Objectives

The general objective of the present study is to critically evaluate the impact of parent involvement on student achievement as measured by parenting practices. Researchers, parents, and educators maintain the perspective that lack of or inadequate parental involvement has a direct negative consequence on student achievement (Skinner et al., 2005). However, this study proposes to move past the evaluation of parental involvement to examine, at depth, how parenting practices shape and influence parental involvement. Enhanced involvement of parents into students’ achievements can be gained through bringing the best parenting policies into practice with regard to cultural and economic diversity (Spera, 2005; Regner et al., 2009). The following will be the specific objectives:

  1. To develop an understanding on how parenting practices influence parental involvement on student achievement.
  2. To develop an understanding on how a multiplicity of factors, specifically ethnic orientation, socioeconomic status, and single parenthood, influence parental involvement on student achievement.
  3. Analyze probable teacher-parent best practices that can be used to encourage student achievement in underperforming and underachieving schools.
  4. Formulate recommendations regarding parent involvement and student achievement in the elementary school under study.

Research Questions

The researcher will examine the relationship between parent involvement and student achievement using the following research questions:

  1. Are there differences in student achievement among students in Grades 3, 4, and 5 at the elementary school under study?
  2. To what extent are the differences in student achievement in Grades 3, 4, and 5 correlated with parent involvement indicators as measured by parenting practices?
  3. Do Epstein’s six typologies offer a conceptual framework for explaining parent involvement in the school under study?
  4. Does parent involvement influence a student’s ability to achieve academically?

Significance of Study

The value of this study is its potential contribution to understanding the relationship between parent involvement and student achievement. Many studies have determined that parental involvement in the children’s social and educational life is associated with constructive educational outcomes (DePlanty et al., 2007; Griffin & Gallassi, 2010; Tam, 2009; Zellman & Waterman, 1998).

This association has prompted efforts geared towards enhancing parent involvement through developing and implementing formal and informal programs. Zellman and Waterman noted that some of the federal policy responses, such as the NCLB Act initiative and the Title I compensatory education, have stressed the importance of parental involvement by creating an environment through which more parents and community involvement in schools is not only encouraged, but also legitimized as a viable way to increase student achievement.

However, among the programs that have been evaluated by the government and other education stakeholders, most do not appear to enhance student outcomes (Campbell & Verna, 2007; Zellman & Waterman, 1998). The non-delivery of these programs points to a possible disconnect between the constructs that guide parental involvement and various programs. Consequently, the researcher believes that programs aimed at facilitating parental involvement might be more effective and performance-oriented if they focused on the basic concepts that dictate parenting practices.

More so, to delineate the factors that lead to the disconnect between parent involvement programs and student outcomes, it is important to seek proof of the concept of parenting practices as a framework for understanding in depth the impact of parent involvement on student outcomes. In this perspective, this particular study will develop postulates on parent involvement and parenting practices that could be used by government agencies, policy makers, educators, and parents to ensure a proper alignment between parent involvement and positive student outcomes.

Studies have found differences between the magnitude of parental involvement across the spectrum of the educational system including various intermediate grade levels and secondary schools (Blondal & Adalbjarnardottir, 2009; Campbell & Verna, 2007; Walker et al., 2010). Of importance to this study is the fact that these variations assume ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic dimensions with studies revealing a close correlation between the level of parent involvement on the one hand and racial background, parents’ educational level, and family socioeconomic status on the other (DePlanty et al., 2007; Spera, 2005; Zellman & Waterman, 1998).

By evaluating parental involvement through the lens of contextual parenting styles, this study will also attempt to fill the information gap that exists of how the variations of race, family structure, and economic status affects parental involvement and lower aggregate student achievement levels at largely minority and inner-city schools. Such information will be critical in ameliorating the challenges that parents face as they attempt to improve their involvement towards a greater objective of enhancing student educational outcomes.

Study Delimitations

Although the data collection process is expected to be uneventful, some challenges may be present in the collection of student benchmark assessment data at the beginning of the school year that will be compared with the 2010 state comprehensive assessment test (CAT) data to evaluate the impact of parental involvement on student achievement for the selected grades. Challenges are also anticipated in collecting the students’ prior year FCAT scores to critically evaluate if any changes have occurred because of validity of tests.

Definitions of Terms

In order to gain a clear understanding, several terms and concepts used throughout this particular proposal include the following definitions.

Adequate yearly progress

An assessment tool defined by the NCLB Act and which allows the U.S. Department of Education to objectively evaluate the academic performances of every primary and secondary public school and school district according to the outcomes of the standardized tests (Peterson & West, 2003).

Comprehensive Assessment Test

A statewide standardized test administered annually to assess students in Grade 3-11 in all primary and secondary public schools (Abernathy, 2007). In the state of the study school, the test was introduced in 1998 to succeed the state student assessment test (SSAT).

No Child Left Behind Act

Legislation signed into law on January 8 2002, by President George W. Bush. The NCLB supports standards-based education reform, which is grounded on the fundamental belief that setting high standards and instituting quantifiable objectives can enhance student outcomes in education (Abernathy). States are required by the Act to develop evaluations in basic skills to be administered to all learners in certain grades so as to meet the basic requirements set for federal funding, implying that the Act does not emphasize a national evaluation and achievement standard.

School in need of improvement

The term refers to the NCLB Act that requires Title I schools to post Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) as an indicator of improvement toward achieving learning at the proficiency level. Public schools that receive Title 1 funding but fail to achieve positive AYP for two years in a row are evaluated as schools in need of improvement (Peterson & West, 2003).

Title I school

A type of school that benefits from federal funding focused on assisting students who are at higher risk of failure or who are unable to meet their educational needs due to some socioeconomic variations such as poverty (Peterson & West). The policy that introduced the Title I schools and the federal funding program was originally enacted in 1965 in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to reduce the achievement gap between at-risk students and other students. With the implementation of the NCLB Act, public schools are obliged to make adequate yearly progress on state testing and be centers of academic excellence to continue receiving funds.

Review of Related Literature

Introduction to Literature

This section reviews and evaluates literature and theories on parental involvement and student outcomes. The literature in this review is drawn from the following EBSCO databases: Academic Search Premier, MasterFILE Premier, Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection, ERIC, and Professional Development Collection. Keywords used either individually or in conjunction include parents, families, involvement, participation, parenting, home, students, teachers, schools, community, partnership, collaboration, communication, socioeconomic status (SES), race, ethnicity, diversity, language, culture, attitudes, expectations, learning, literacy, mathematics, homework, academic, and achievement.

Overview of Parent Involvement

From the Progressive Movement in education, the concept of parent involvement has undergone numerous changes, reflecting cultural, political, and sociodemographic shifts as well as successive education reforms. In the early 20th century, parents and teachers were characterized as natural adversaries with incompatible perspectives of what they thought best for the child (Keyes, 2002). By mid-century, participation in school through PTA or PTO organizations was increasing (Keyes, 2002) but parents and educators still occupied distinctly different realms.

The first discernable shift occurred in the 1960s with the inception of programs such as Head Start that encouraged the active involvement of low-income parents with favorable results (McWayne, Hampton, Fantuzzo, Cohen, & Sekino, 2004). The 1960s also marked the emergence of the School Development Program (SDP), a revolutionary model that involved parents in all facets of school operations, radically transforming the climates, cultures, and academic achievement of low-income, underperforming schools (Comer, 2005).

The parent teams and presence of parents on school planning and governance teams that are integral to the SDP are no longer an anomaly on the educational landscape. Epstein (2001) used the term “the new way” to denote the trend toward collaborative partnerships between schools, families, and communities (Hardy, 2007, p. 22).

Epstein’s model, delineating six types of parent involvement, serves as the framework for the National Network of Partnership Schools (NNPS) and is arguably the most popular framework for guiding parent involvement activities. Epstein is among many experts who emphasize that a successful parent involvement program demands a strategic, cohesive, collaborative plan (Comer, 2005; Epstein; Hardy; Koonce & Harper, 2005; Plevyak, 2003; Risko & Walker-Dalhouse, 2009).

Communication, one of the six points in Epstein’s model, is key to an effective home-school collaborative partnership (Brandon, 2007; Elish-Piper, 2008a, 2008b; Epstein, 2001; Epstein & Jansorn, 2004; Risko & Walker-Dalhouse, 2009; Van Velsor & Orozco, 2007). This takes on greater importance in view of the dramatic sociodemographic shifts in the American public school population. As educators and families are expected to work together as partners, there is a widening gap between their sociocultural backgrounds (Hardy, 2007; Keyes, 2002).

Joshi, Eberly, and Konzal (2005) highlighed the complexity of the issue, “Building strong, trusting, and mutually respectful relationships between parents and teachers who share similar cultural backgrounds is difficult enough…Doing so between parents and teachers who come from different backgrounds is even more difficult” (p. 11).

Economically disadvantaged, minority, and immigrant parents often complain that teachers downgrade their involvement in their children’s education (Brandon, 2007; Quiocho & Daoud, 2006). Teachers are frequently unaware of the rich learning activities that take place at home or of structural barriers, such as child care or work schedules, that prevent parents from coming to school. Teachers and parents often have different conceptions of what constitutes “parent involvement” (Carlisle, Stanley, & Kemple, 2005; Souto-Manning & Swick, 2006; Zarate, 2007). In reality, most parents have high aspirations for their children.

Epstein (2001) pointed out that research in the United States and internationally consistently belies the “myth of parental indifference” (p. 162). What is missing for many parents is clear and accurate information on how they can most constructively be involved.

In parallel fashion, teachers and principals need information on how to reach out to culturally diverse families. Ideally, this should be an integral part of teacher and educational leadership education. However, few colleges and universities are sufficiently preparing prospective teachers and principals for forging partnerships with families and communities (Baum & McMurray-Schwartz, 2004; Epstein & Sanders, 2006). The vast majority of new teachers and principals espouse the philosophy of involving parents in education (Markow & Martin, 2005). Elementary educators especially state that involving parents has high precedence at their school. Yet, despite their belief in the principles of parent involvement, most new teachers view communicating with parents as the most daunting challenge they face.

Preservice teachers surveyed by Baum and McMurray-Schwartz (2004) expressed the view “they must try to educate children ‘in spite’ of their parents, rather than in partnership with their parents” (p. 58). To the researchers, the teachers’ attitudes reflect their lack of experience in interacting with parents. Consequently, Baum and McMurray-Schwartz found that one of the fundamental tasks of teacher educators is helping prospective teachers “develop understanding of and sensitivity to the daily lives of children and their families” (p. 59).

Similarly, Sanders (2008) observed that, “Because of a lack of experience and professional development, many teachers do not have the skills, knowledge, and dispositions to effectively partner with culturally diverse parents” (p. 292). Professional development is critical to creating strong, positive collaborative partnerships (Colombo, 2006). Creating a school culture that appreciates diversity means that teachers must be open to learning from students and families (Souto-Manning & Swick, 2006).

Building genuine partnerships demands bidirectional communication (Epstein, 2001; Epstein & Jansorn, 2004; Hardy, 2007; Musti-Rao & Cartledge, 2004; Risko & Walker-Dalhouse, 2009). In a respectful, welcoming atmosphere, difficult, hard to reach, or even hostile parents can become champions and advocates for their children’s schools (Comer, 2005; Raffaele & Knoff, 1999).

Parent involvement is an integral part of the tenets of the NCLB Act. Elementary schools are expected to support parents in engaging their children in home learning activities, carry out ongoing communication with families regarding their children’s academic progress, and invite parents to participate in an array of activities and events at the school including leadership opportunities (Caspe, Lopez, & Wolos, 2007). There is a powerful research base supporting this effort.

Regardless of students’ sociodemographic characteristics, parent involvement has been found to exert a positive impact on academic achievement. In fact, evidence indicates that children from economically disadvantaged, cultural- and linguistic-minority families derive the greatest advantage from parent involvement (Comer, 2005; Jeynes, 2005; Keyes, 2002; Marschall, 2006; McWayne et al., 2004; Pena, 2000; Raffaele & Knoff, 1999).

Parent involvement is influenced by a dynamic constellation of home and family factors (Carlisle et al., 2005). Factors related to families include ethnicity and culture, parents’ previous educational experiences, parents’ work schedules and childcare responsibilities, and family social networks. At the school level, the factors include teachers’ attitudes and the expectations of teachers and schools. An effective framework for involving parents takes all these factors into consideration and includes strategies for surmounting obstacles to collaborative partnerships (Epstein, 2001; Hardy, 2007; Koonce & Harper, 2005; Zarate, 2007).

There is growing recognition that schools can no longer adhere to outmoded concepts of parent involvement that relegate parents to marginal status (Hardy, 2007; Keyes, 2002). The following section explores models of parent involvement designed to reach out to families and make them genuine partners in teaching and learning.

Models of Parent Involvement

Epstein’s six types of parent involvement

Sanders (2008) found that Epstein’s model serves as the framework for the National Network of Partnership Schools (NNPS), created in 1996 to “build the capacity of school district, and state educational leaders to develop comprehensive and permanent school, family, and community partnership programs” (p. 289). Evan apart from NNPS members, Epstein’s model is one of the most popular tools for structuring and evaluating parent involvement programs.

Epstein and Jansorn (2004) revealed the model grew out of research illustrating that a successful parent involvement program demands a cohesive, strategic plan to promote genuine partnerships between families, schools, and communities. Sanders noted the philosophy is that “students learn and grow at home, at school, and in their communities, and that they are influenced by their families, teachers, principals, and others in the community” (p. 20).

Epstein and Jansorn (2004) determined the framework offers guidelines for forging strong partnerships by addressing all six types of parent involvement. Parenting entails helping families via parenting skills, family support, promoting understanding of child and adolescent development, and creating conditions at home that promote learning for children at each stage and grade level. School personnel need support in understanding families’ backgrounds, cultures, and aspirations for their children.

Communicating means creating and maintaining bidirectional communication channels between home and school to allow families to keep in contact with teachers, principals, counselors, and other school families. Families need clear, comprehensive information about school programs and students’ progress presented in multiple formats.

Epstein and Jansorn (2004) noted the third type of involvement is volunteering. Schools need to improve and refine the strategies they use to recruit and train parents, develop activities, and schedule activities and programs to maximize the participation of families as volunteers and spectators. Teachers need opportunities to work with school volunteers. Learning at home encompasses a broad range of home learning activities including homework, goal setting, and various activities related to the classroom curriculum. Teachers are encouraged to create homework students can share with their families to stimulate discussions about interesting ideas and work.

Epstein and Jansorn (2004) revealed the fifth type of involvement is engaging families in decision making related to school governance and advocacy through groups such as school councils, school improvement teams, PTA and PTO groups, or other parent associations. The sixth and most sweeping type of involvement is collaborating with the community. This entails coordinating resources and services for students, families, and the school with local businesses, agencies, cultural and civic associations, colleges and universities, and other community groups. Through strategic coordination and collaboration, all stakeholders can have opportunities to contribute to the community.

Epstein and Jansorn (2004) noted schools that belong to the NNPS typically have an action team for partnership (ATP) comprised of teachers, parents, principals, and other education and community stakeholders. The ATP devises an annual action plan for partnerships that develops and schedules activities centered on four key school improvement goals. Two goals are directly academic such as improving students’ performance in reading and mathematics or other core subject areas.

The third goal is nonacademic, such as improving students’ attendance, pro-social behavior, or college planning. Epstein and Jansorn explained that the final goal is helping educators “create a welcoming partnership climate” for all constituents (p. 21). Epstein and Jansorn emphasized that strong principal leadership is pivotal to the success of school, family, and community partnerships.

Comer’s school development program (SDP)

Comer (2005) claimed that the SDP pioneered the school development program 40 years ago with the program’s inception at King Elementary School in New Haven, Connecticut. The school was an underperforming school serving an economically disadvantaged African American community and served as the site of the pilot project by the Yale Child Study Center. Within 3 years the school went from almost complete lack of parent involvement to involvement of a great number of families into student achievement in nearly all facets of school operations.

Comer noted that through prior experience, the developers were aware that they “could not enforce parental involvement through administrative mandates or by touting the benefits of participation” (p. 38). Instead, the project began with a team of five professionals offering mental health and social services who gradually built on small successes, creating an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect. As parents realized their involvement was welcomed and valued, they became active and eager participants in their children’s education and the school community.

Comer (2005) claims that as of 2005, more than 1,000 schools have implemented the school Development Program (SDP) and “more than two-thirds have been high-minority, low-income elementary schools” (p. 39), predominately minority families and were initially described as having a “dysfunctional culture” whereby parent involvement was “minimal or negative” (p. 39). In the most dysfunctional schools, there is a pervasive atmosphere of distrust between parents, teachers, and principals.

According to Comer, the developers are “struck” by a “mixture of parents’ hesitancy to get involved and educators’ subtle and even unintentional resistance to parental involvement” (p. 39). Comer explained that it is equally striking that parents, school personnel, and students all desire to succeed. The pathway out of the paradox was to involve parents in ways that are non-threatening to neither side so that ultimately “parental involvement would reach a critical mass that could transform even the most dysfunctional school” (p. 39).

Comer (2005) described the SDP Framework for Change as a 9-point framework encompassing three structures, three guiding principles, and three operations. The three structures are the School Planning and Management Team, Student and Staff Support Team, and Parent Team. The three guiding principles are no-fault problem solving, consensus decision making, and collaboration. The School Planning and Management Team, comprised of teachers, administrators, support staff, and parents, supervises the three school operations. The operations are the development of the comprehensive school plan, which includes curriculum, instruction, and assessment along with academic and social climate goals based on developmental knowledge of students, staff development, and assessment and modification.

Comer (2005) claimed that a major strength of the SDP is that input from parents drives the creation of strategies for building mutual trust and enabling parents to participate at a comfortable level. The parent team includes a staff liaison to help parents gain skills and confidence that, in turn, promote greater involvement. Comer noted that, pragmatically, it is unrealistic to expect the same degree of involvement from members of any organization and this understanding leads to the creation of three levels of parent involvement.

Most parents participate at Level 1, where they broadly support educational goals by attending parent-teacher conferences, helping their children with homework, attending school events, and supporting school fundraising efforts. At Level 2, parents volunteer for various school activities such as assisting in the classroom or library or accompanying classes on field trips. At Level 3, parents are involved in school decision making as members of the School Planning and Management Team or other committees.

The SDP schools have discovered advantages of parent involvement beyond the academic improvement that drove the original project. Parents make excellent advocates for the school at the district and legislative levels. Furthermore, the knowledge and confidence parents gain often inspires them to improve their own lives in ways ranging from advancing their own education and seeking out better jobs and promotions, to becoming more involved in state and local elections. Comer (2005) noted the sense of respect and belonging parents acquire from being an active part of the school community and the discovery of new skills and competencies are instrumental in transforming the lives of many school families.

Cox (2005) contended that although studies examining the effectiveness of the SDP show that the model has the most consistent success in improving school climate, its’ impact on academic achievement varies among school sites. This finding is probably not surprising given that the degree of implementation of any school program has a powerful impact on outcomes. In their review of research on the SDP, Slavin and Fashola (as cited in Cox) proposed that in view of strong community influence in some schools, fidelity to the original model may be complicated in some instances. This highlights the importance of matching the family involvement program to the unique school setting rather than expecting any model to be a panacea for school problems.

Hardy (2007) noted that Epstein emphasizes that parent involvement per se does not improve academic achievement. Rather, excellent teachers are paramount in boosting student performance. Comer (2005) verified that parents in SDP schools have actively lobbied on behalf of good teachers. Overall, the SDP has documented success in improving academic performance by creating a positive learning environment in many schools with a history of low parent involvement and low academic achievement.

Dynamics of parent involvement

Comer (2005) warned that a strong sense of self-efficacy is implicit in the benefits reported by parents involved in the SDP. Self-efficacy plays a powerful role in human motivation. With that in mind, Hoover-Dempsey and Sandler (1995, 2005) used Bandura’s (1997) social cognitive theory as the basis for their model of the dynamics driving parents’ involvement in their children’s education.

Hoover-Dempsey and Sandler (1995) theorized that parents become involved in their children’s learning for three key reasons. The first is their conception of their role as parents. Modeling or vicarious learning figures prominently in how parents invoke their own parents’ involvement with school and the actions of friends and neighbors in formulating their ideals of parent involvement. This serves as a springboard for how parents envision, anticipate, and act on numerous activities related to school involvement.

Hoover-Dempsey and Sander elucidated the second key reason entails what is needed to translate anticipation to action is a “sense of personal efficacy for helping their children succeed in school [original emphasis]” (p. 313). Consistent with Bandura’s (1997) theory, parents’ sense of efficacy arises from four major sources: directly experiencing successes resulting from personal participation, vicariously experiencing the successes of others in parent involvement activities, social persuasion from others that these activities are valuable and worthwhile, and the emotional impact of issues related to their children’s personal and academic welfare and success (Hoover-Dempsey & Sandler).

Hoover-Dempsey and Sandler (1995) gave the third key reason for parents’ involvement as how they perceive opportunities and demands presented by their children and by the schools. Comer (2005) noted that understanding the pivotal role of parents’ perceptions was central to the design of the SDP. An important feature of the Hoover-Dempsey and Sandler (2005) model is that they recognize how children’s enthusiasm and requests for their parents’ participation help shape the actions of parents in home learning and school-related activities.

In formulating their model, Hoover-Dempsey and Sandler (1995) channeled research on three ways parents influence their children’s education including (a) modeling, (b) reinforcement, and (c) direct instruction. Through these three strategies parents promote their children’s psychosocial and academic development by helping them gain essential knowledge, skills, and competencies and by boosting their confidence for succeeding at school. Hoover-Dempsey and Sandler gave paramount importance to the psychosocial facets of parent involvement. McWayne et al. (2004) emphasized that early childhood educators must be aware that fostering children’s psychosocial development is pivotal to their future school success.

Following detailed exploration of parent involvement conducted between 2001 and 2004, Hoover-Dempsey and Sandler (2005) refined and expanded their original model. In the revised model the authors built on the five levels outlined in the original one:

  1. Parent motivations for becoming involved in their children’s education.
  2. Parents selection of the types of activities with which they become involved.
  3. The three mechanisms of modeling, reinforcement, and instruction.
  4. Mediating factors, notably the match between the parents’ choice of activities and the child’s developmental level and between the type of involvement chosen and the school’s expectations related to parent involvement.
  5. Students’ academic achievement assessed via standardized test performance.

As the new model evolved, Hoover-Dempsey and Sandler (2005) added students’ perceptions of their parents’ involvement and proximal outcomes that further academic achievement to the fourth level of parent involvement. The research undertaking of Hoover-Dempsey and Sandler affirmed the validity of the model for understanding the dynamics that underlie parents’ involvement and eventual student outcomes. A particularly striking finding was that the students’ requests for their parents’ participation worked synergistically with invitations from teachers to motivate parents to become more active participants at home and school.

Including the perspectives of children along with those of parents and teachers contributed to greater understanding of specific ways in which parents facilitate children’s learning. Parents whose children underperformed the previous year provided significantly more direct instruction at home, which motivated the children to put more effort in learning. At the same time, parents of high achievers offered more encouragement, reinforcing their academic self-confidence. Thus parents matched their actions to their children’s unique learning needs.

Anderson and Minke (2007) utilized the original Hoover-Dempsey and Sandler (1995) model in an investigation of the involved decisions made by parents of children in three Southwestern elementary schools serving primarily low-income Latino and African American families. Anderson and Minke described their project as “one of a handful of studies” exploring how parents make decisions related to parent participation (p. 317).

The findings affirm the construction of parent involvement as multifaceted and complex. Although the parents are only moderately involved with the school, they are highly involved in learning activities at home. A common finding is that teachers underestimate the home learning experiences of Latino and African American children when the parents are not visible at the school (Brandon, 2007; Desimone, 1999; Quiocho & Daoud, 2006).

In a departure from Hoover-Dempsey and Sandler’s (1995, 2005) work, Anderson and Minke (2007) did not observe a relationship between parents’ sense of efficacy and their participation at school. At the same time, their active involvement in home learning activities suggests that there might have been practical barriers keeping parents from greater involvement with school. Anderson and Minke found that consistent with the revised model of Hoover-Dempsey and Sandler invitations from teachers play a prominent role in parents’ involvement at home and at the school.

Green, Walker, Hoover-Dempsey, and Sandler (2007) tested the revised model in a study of 853 parents of students enrolled in Grades 1-5 in an ethnically and socioeconomically diverse urban school system. The analysis demonstrates that invitations from children and teachers are the foremost influence on parents’ involvement. The motivational forces integral to the model override socioeconomic status (SES) in predicting parent involvement.

The effect of SES per se is minimal. The findings are somewhat analogous to those reported by Anderson and Minke (2007) in that self-efficacy perceptions are positively linked with parents’ involvement in home learning activities. Green et al. observed a slight negative association between self-efficacy perceptions and parents’ involvement with the school. Green et al. proposed that parents who are less confident in their ability to help their children at home might be more likely to turn to the school for support.

Green et al. (2007) emphasized several key findings from their analysis. The model illustrates the importance of interactions between parents and children and parents and teachers in predicting parent involvement. A second finding is that the model is applicable to families regardless of SES. Third, the model has the capacity to distinguish between and explain parents’ involvement in their children’s education at home and at school. As such, it can be used to heighten the visibility of home learning activities. In addition, certain distinctions emerge between the role concepts of parents of elementary and middle school students that affect the nature of their involvement.

Given the powerful impact of teachers’ invitations, Green et al. (2007) recommended that schools provide teachers with training on reaching out to parents as well as designing initiatives focused on increasing parents’ participation at the school. This entails recognizing that parents have multiple demands on their time and energy and thus facilitating their involvement through strategies such as flexible schedules for meetings, time-specific suggestions for helping children with homework, and working with families to illuminate home learning activities that are often ignored by the school. Some of the most effective strategies for involving Latino families build on formal recognition and support for home learning experiences (Caspe et al., 2007; Civil & Bernier, 2006).

Reaching out to disenfranchised families

Community-based approaches, based on an ecological model, can be the most effective way to engage low-income, minority parents (Comer, 2005; Koonce & Harper, 2005; Raffaele & Knoff, 1999; Van Velsor & Orozco, 2007). Koonce and Harper developed a community-based consultation model for creating collaborative relationships with economically disadvantaged African American parents who have been left “feeling disillusioned and helpless” by ineffective advocacy initiatives (p. 59). Although the focus is on African American families, the model could be tailored to the needs of other cultural and linguistic minority families (Quiocho & Daoud, 2006; Risko & Walker-Dalhouse, 2009; Zarate, 2007).

The model outlined by Koonce and Harper (2005) is similar to the beginnings of the Comer (2005) SDP model. Koonce and Harper described the participants as a parent and child pair and two consultants, typically a professional from a local community social service agency and the school psychologist. The community agency serves as the referral source for families in need of assistance. However, the model could be broadly adapted for parents who strive for a greater role in their children’s education but require support, encouragement, and guidance to assume a more active role.

Koonce and Harper (2005) gave the three phases of the model as structuring, training, and engagement. Structuring sessions focus on facilitating parents’ relationships with the school by examining role concepts, communication patterns, and decision-making processes. The goal is to help parents gain a greater sense of control over their lives as well as more confidence for interacting with the school and community. The training phase is tailored to provide parents with the knowledge, skills, and competencies needed to be active participants in school meetings and conferences and other aspects of school decision-making. In the engagement phases, the consultants coach parents on how to contact the school and arrange meetings with teachers and other school personnel.

Koonce and Harper (2005) presented a case study of a single African American mother with a 9-year-old son. The consultation model improves the mother’s parenting skills as well as her competency for advocating at school, simultaneously fostering the child’s psychosocial and academic development. Koonce and Harper noted as the mother “became more assertive and knowledgeable” about the available school services, school professionals seemed to be more amenable to working with her (p. 70). This underscores the reciprocal nature of relationships between parents and school personnel.

Although most parents may not need the intensive intervention of the consultation model, the three stages of structuring, training, and engagement could be built into a more comprehensive parent support program. At the same time, the consultation model enables schools to engage the most vulnerable families whose children gain the greatest benefits from their parents’ active involvement with the school and community. The strategies used in the consultation model are consistent with the guidelines offered by the framework for six types of parent involvement (Epstein & Jansorn, 2004).

Parent Experiences and Perspectives

Raffaele and Knoff (1999) concurred with Epstein (2001) that effective parent involvement programs must be strategic, goal-focused, and have a sound theoretical and empirical foundation. Building on their own experience as well as the existing research, Raffaele and Knoff outlined four basic principles for guiding collaborative efforts between schools and families, particularly in economically disadvantaged communities.

First, schools have the responsibility for inviting all school families to assume an active role in their children’s learning. Second, educators must strive to understand and appreciate the diversity of the school community. Third, parents need to be recognized and valued for the important contributions they make to their children’s learning. Fourth, the school should promote parent empowerment by engaging parents in dialogue in a relationship based on mutual trust and respect.

Parent involvement can be conceptualized as occurring along a continuum (Comer, 2005; Epstein & Jansorn, 2004). Understanding where parents stand along the continuum can serve as a springboard for expanding parent involvement. Raffaele and Knoff (1999) categorized parents according to four groups that included

  1. positive-high involvement parents,
  2. positive-low involvement parents,
  3. negative-low involvement parents, and
  4. negative-high involvement parents.

Raffaele and Knoff described positive-high involvement parents as the most active and energized members of the school community who make excellent advocates for the school with other parents, the community, and the media. Raffaele and Knoff advised that the key to working with these parents lies in sustaining their motivation and drive by providing them with interesting and rewarding activities.

Raffaele and Knoff (1999) contended that positive-low involvement parents are no less interested in their children’s education and give it high value. However, their efforts are mainly concentrated on providing their children with home learning experiences. Raffaele and Knoff interpreted these parents’ lack of participation at school as due to competing responsibilities and demands on their time and that these parents respond positively to teachers’ requests to work with their children at home because they are eager to learn new strategies and techniques to help them advance their children’s academic development.

Raffaele and Knoff (1999) believed that most parents are best described as positive-low involvement. Raffaele and Knoff contended that one of the major strengths of Hoover-Dempsey and Sandler (2005) model is that it elucidates the unique mechanisms underlying parents’ involvement at home and at school and thus it can be used to make teachers aware of the various learning experiences parents provide for their children at home. Raffaele and Knoff posited that the Hoover-Dempsey and Sandler model highlights the importance of teachers’ invitations that are key to expanding the participation of positive-low involvement parents.

Many researchers posited that most parents, especially those who have limited formal education or are unacquainted with American schools, desire clear and accurate information on how they can maximize their children’s home learning experiences Additionally, the practical barriers that prevent many parents from being more active participants at school can be overcome by educators who are attuned to the realities of the lives of school families.

Schools have been notoriously slow to recognize that working parents comprise the majority of school families. A simple accommodation like flexible scheduling can be pivotal to creating positive working relationships between parents and teachers (Carlisle et al., 2005; Chen, Kyle, & McIntyre, 2008; Elish-Piper, 2008a; Epstein, 2001; Hardy, 2007; Keyes, 2002; Quiocho & Daoud, 2006; Risko & Walker-Dalhouse, 2009;Van Velsor & Orozco, 2007; Zarate, 2007). Some innovative school initiatives offer parents transportation and childcare.

At the same time, eradicating structural barriers will not engage all parents. Attitudinal barriers to participation are more firmly entrenched. Raffaele and Knoff (1999) defined two groups of parents with negative attitudes. Negative-low involvement parents generally mistrust or dislike the school and may subtly or explicitly convey attitudes toward their children that are damaging to their educational aspirations. Raffaele and Knoff warned that once these parents are identified, teachers and principals need to work to discover the cause of their cynicism and focus efforts on altering their beliefs.

Van Velsor and Orozco (2007) commented that in many cases, these beliefs stem from parents’ own negative school experiences. Koonce and Harper (2005) routinely encountered parents who are disillusioned and alienated by failed advocacy attempts. Both Van Velsor and Orozco and Koonce and Harper recommended an approach that links parents with school and community resources.

The final group described by Raffaele and Knoff (1999) are the negative-high involvement parents who are very vocal about their dislike for the school, often expressing their hostility to school staff and administrators, local school boards, the community, and in some cases, the media. Raffaele and Knoff (1999) claim that gaining support from these parents can be extremely difficult but deemed it essential that the reasons for their adversity be recognized and addressed. If the parents and school reach a point of mutual understanding, the intensity of these parents can become a force for positive change. Comer (2005) recognized that this has been the case with some parents at the SDP schools.

Raffaele and Knoff (1999) also identified a fifth group of parents who are either unaware of the importance of education or are generally isolated from the community. Hardy (2007) recognized that the reason for this isolation may be because some parents are overwhelmed by stresses resulting from poverty. The consultation model described by Koonce and Harper (2005) successfully empowered low-income single mothers to assume an active role in their children’s education.

However, these parents are not indifferent to the value of education but rather are disheartened by earlier futile efforts. Raffaele and Knoff called on schools to bolster their efforts to engage alienated parents. Should these prove unsuccessful, Raffaele and Knoff recommended that teachers work closely with the children to reinforce and sustain their involvement with school.

Sheldon and VanVoorhis (2004) described a study of 332 K-12 schools, 69% elementary schools, associated with the National Network of Partnership Schools (NNPS) that reveals certain school features are linked with higher quality home-school collaborative programs and consequently, higher levels of parent involvement. Elementary schools are more active in involving parents, and schools that give higher ratings to their partnership programs report that more parents volunteer for school activities, more classes routinely give interactive homework assignments designed to facilitate students’ engaging their parents in working with them, and more parents are involved in school governance committees.

A finding was that in urban schools, smaller proportions of parents receive a regular newsletter or volunteerto work with the school and a fewer parents serve on school governance committees. Sheldon and VanVoorhis advocated future research into how this might affect students’ academic performance.

Large urban schools have higher enrollments of economically disadvantaged and minority students. According to the Parent and Family Involvement in Education Survey of the 2007 National Household Education Surveys Program, a smaller proportion of minority parents than White parents describe themselves as very satisfied with their children’s school (NCES, 2007). Close to two thirds of White parents, 64%, are very satisfied with the school versus 59% of Latino parents, 54% of Asian parents, and 47% of African American parents (Herrold & O’Donnell, 2008).

Perkins-Gough (2008) reported the results of What We Think: Parental Perceptions of Urban School Climate, a survey of more than 10,000 parents from 112 schools. There are generally high levels of parent involvement but with some differences based on ethnicity. Approximately three quarters of the parents say they frequently visit their child’s school, with the highest rates reported for White parents, 83%, and the lowest for Asian parents, 68%.

Despite this, Asian parents express the highest trust in teachers, 91%, followed by Whites, 88%; Latinos, 87%; Native Americans, 83%; and African Americans, 79%. Perkins-Gough found that the most marked distinction is the discrepancy between Latino parents and parents of other ethnicities in terms of feeling comfortable at the school. While most parents overall report feeling at ease, 26% of Latino parents say they feel unwelcome, a much higher proportion than any other ethnic group.

This response is especially common among Latino parents with limited English fluency. Latino parents who are active in school activities and local governance councils are the best advocates for sensitizing teachers and administrators to cultural issues and recruiting other parents. Parent liaisons play a key role in school outreach efforts (Marschall, 2006; Quiocho & Daoud, 2006; Sanders, 2008; Zarate, 2007).

Patterns of Parent Involvement Based on Race

African American parents

Overstreet, Devine, Bevans, and Efreom (2005) explored the parent involvement practices of 159 African American parents residing in an urban public housing project. Reflecting the vital importance of a welcoming atmosphere, “the degree to which parents felt that the school listened to and sponsored activities for them significantly predicted the level of school involvement” (p. 109).

The educational aspirations the parents had for their children also predicted parent involvement regardless of children’s ages and grade levels. Overstreet et al. emphasized that overall the parents had high aspirations for their children’s futures and desired to see them pursue a college degree. In addition, most of the parents expressed a desire for occupational training to advance their own and their families’ status. Comer (2005) stipulated that the SDP schools support parents in this endeavor.

Overstreet et al. (2005) found in the study that the relationship between parent involvement with the community and with the schools is contingent upon the children’s grade level. For parents of elementary school children, involvement with the local community center is significantly linked with school involvement. The interaction is more complex for parents of older children and the study is not designed to examine the mechanisms in detail.

The findings are consistent with the emphasis on forging partnerships between families, schools, and communities (Epstein, 2001; Epstein & Jansorn, 2004). Overstreet et al. (2005) are among the authors who argued that school psychologists play a critical role in engaging families who have historically been marginalized by the educational system. Many favor an ecological approach that links families with school and community resources (Koonce & Harper, 2005; Raffaele & Knoff, 1999; Van Velsor & Orozco, 2007).

Latino parents

In a study of 28 Mexican American parents of Texas elementary school children, Pena (2000) found language to be a major influence on parents’ involvement with the school. At the time the study is undertaken, the school staff is working on a bilingual model to facilitate the active participation of Spanish-speaking parents. The main barriers are the low literacy levels of many parents and the assumption of school personnel that these parents could read to their children and involve them in home learning activities without help. Although parents who request assistance from school staff receive it, most parents are too reticent to approach school personnel and feel that the teachers disparage their ability to help their children.

The teachers’ attitudes vary tremendously. Some are very supportive and empathetic whereas, others openly express negative cultural stereotypes. Analogous to the African American parents surveyed by Overstreet et al. (2005), Pena (2000) found that the Latina parents desire to feel welcomed by school staff and receive explicit information about the school and how they could best help their children at home.

Zarate (2007) conducted focus groups with Latino parents in Miami, New York, and Los Angeles to explore their concepts of parent involvement. Reflecting the demographics of the three cities, the participants are primarily Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Mexican. The study also includes focus groups with college-bound Latino high school students and interviews with teachers, counselors, principals, and coordinators of parent involvement associations. Zarate found that most of the parents are born outside the United States, 85%, and 59% have not finished high school. Since most have children in schools with bilingual programs or staff, language is not an obstacle to involvement.

However, most communication between parents and schools is brief and impersonal as opposed to the communication that facilitates genuine partnerships as recommended by Epstein and Jansorn (2004). The brief communication has some advantage. Zarate surmised that language might be more of an issue in more informal and intimate interactions. Employment demands and rigid school schedules are the main impediments to participation at school.

Zarate (2007) found that, in general, the parents fulfill teachers’ expectations to help their children with homework. However, many have unanswered questions, which Zarate interpreted as hesitance to request assistance from teachers. The issue is not that teachers are indifferent or insensitive, but rather the absence of formal school policies for parent involvement. The teachers and counselors develop strategies for involving parents but are limited by an absence of organizational support.

Plevyak (2003) regarded a formal, written policy as prerequisite for effective parent involvement. Zarate noted one important finding highlighting cultural differences is that the parents view all aspects of involvement in their children’s lives as a way of promoting their learning and academic achievement while the teachers, counselors, and principals refer to the same behaviors as “parenting.”

Zarate (2007) considered particularly significant that the majority of the students credit their parents’ involvement in their elementary education with their academic success. Students in the study report their parents express high expectations for their achievement, ensure that they attend school, foster prosocial behavior, attend school conferences, and help them with homework. Zarate observed that a key factor in assuring their children’s access to college is the parents’ choice of a middle and high school with a rigorous college preparatory curriculum.

Zarate (2007) made recommendations for formal parent involvement efforts that include organized strategic planning, incentives for parents’ participation, parent leadership committees and associations, compensation for teachers with excellent records of parent involvement, and professional development activities for teachers and staff built on best practices in parent involvement. The Sheltered Instruction and Family Involvement project and Parent Partnership for Achieving Literacy are examples of two model programs that promote parents’ English proficiency and participation in learning and include a strong professional development component (Chen et al., 2008; Colombo, 2006).

Quiocho and Daoud (2006) interviewed teachers and Latino parents in two California elementary schools, finding strikingly different viewpoints between the two groups. The teachers claim that parents refuse to visit the school, volunteer in classrooms, or ensure their children complete their homework. Teachers view speaking Spanish as a deficit and insist that the parents simply do not care about their children’s education. On the other side, the parents are concerned that their children are receiving a diluted curriculum where English as second language classes take precedence over science, social studies, and mathematics.

Parents want parent workshops that would enable them to acquire the knowledge and skills they need to work with their children, along with communication between home and school, invitations from teachers, and respect from teachers for their children and themselves. Quiocho and Daoud found that the parents’ primary concern is that their children are receiving an inferior education.

Both schools in the Quiocho and Daoud (2006) study had been cited as underperforming and were carrying out extensive school improvement efforts. The researchers reported that ultimately, the Latino parents join school planning groups where they express their frustrations and articulate exactly what they desire from the school. Their presence and eloquent statements bely stereotypical misconceptions and prove decisive in enlisting the support of school staff.

Quiocho and Daoud posited that the data-driven approach to school improvement works to the parents’ advantage by providing evidence that “strong, consistent parental leadership and participation was necessary to support students who speak languages other than English at school” (p. 265). From an ecological perspective, Quiocho and Daoud (2006) showed that collective action by parents is a powerful for making schools responsive to the needs of cultural and linguistic minority families.

Immigrant families

Turney and Kao (2009) used data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Cohort to explore differences in barriers to parent involvement on the basis of race and immigrant status. Demographically, native-born, White mothers represent close to two thirds of the sample, 63%. Native-born Blacks and Latinos accounted for 12% and 6% of the sample, respectively. Foreign-born Whites and Asians represented 4% each and foreign-born Latinos comprised roughly 10% of the sample. Most respondents engage in some form of participation. The overwhelming majority attend a parent-teacher conference, 86%, or an open house, 75%. Far fewer parents attend a PTA or PTO meeting, 36%, and only a small proportion have gone to a meeting of a parents’ advisory group, 9%.

Turney and Kao (2009) found that there is a need for schools to accommodate parents’ work schedules because roughly half the parents, 51%, say their employment schedules interfere with their school involvement. Problems with transportation or safety are unusual, 4% and 2%, respectively. The largest segment of parents, 55%, report having one or two obstacles that inhibit involvement.

Analyses by Turney and Kao (2009) disclosed disparities in the obstacles faced by parents of different cultural groups. Asian immigrant parents report the highest number of obstacles although immigrant Black and Latino parents also report obstacles to participating in activities at their children’s schools. Turney and Kao found that even after controlling for the obstacles reported by parents, minority immigrant parents are still less involved at school than their White, native-born counterparts. Turney and Kao concluded that two factors explain a substantial part of the disparity between immigrant and native-born parents that include language and the duration of time spent in the United States.

Adjusting for these factors diminishes the disparities between Asian and White immigrant parents and Black and White immigrant parents and even suggests that Latino parents are more likely than White immigrant parents to participate at their children’s school. Turney and Kao noted that the time spent residing in the United States has the strongest effect on the school involvement of Latino parents. Among immigrants, having a primary language other than English has a weaker effect on Asian and Latino parents than Whites.

Turney and Kao (2009) reiterated the point that teachers may equate parent involvement with parents’ appearance at school thus construing a lack of participation at school by minority immigrant parents as a sign of indifference. Turney and Kao found it especially troubling that even English fluency and longer residence in the United States do not neutralize disparities in school participation for cultural minority families.

Parent Liaisons

One of the recommendations by the parents surveyed by Quiocho and Daoud (2006) is hiring a community liaison. As part of a longitudinal project undertaken by the NNPS, Sanders (2008) conducted case study analyses of parent liaison practices in four school districts selected to represent a broad range of sociodemographic characteristics and levels of home, family, and community collaborative partnerships. Sanders noted that the investigation showed that parent liaison performs four key roles including

  1. directly providing services to families defined as at risk,
  2. supporting teachers’ outreach efforts,
  3. supporting school-based partnership teams, and
  4. gathering data for improving existing programs.

In the first role, the parent liaisons provide resources to families who match Raffaele and Knoff’s (1999) portrayal of disengaged or alienated families. Children in these families have high rates of absenteeism and are lax in completing their homework assignments. Sanders (2008) contended that the parent liaisons help them in various practical ways, most importantly by opening communication channels between families and school personnel. The families in the study assisted by parent liaisons report that the liaisons provide them with academic help, moral support and encouragement, assistance in connecting with school and community resources, and material support. Many said the liaisons enable them to understand how they could enrich and support their children’s learning.

Sanders (2008) believed a pivotal role carried out by the parent liaisons is helping teachers reach out to culturally diverse families. Teachers accomplish this by “acting as cultural interpreters and by modeling outreach strategies that helped to build teachers’ capacity for partnerships” (p. 292). Exemplifying Raffaele and Knoff’s (1999) concept of high positive-high involvement parents, the parent liaisons are highly attuned to the perspectives of both families and teachers. Sanders concluded that by bridging the cultural gap between schools and families, they successfully engage parents who might otherwise have been left out of the school community. Many teachers state that the parent liaisons “really made a difference” (p. 293).

Sanders (2008) explained that as members of partnership teams, the parent liaisons work on school-wide initiatives collaborating with teachers, principals, and other parents. One liaison reports that the team uses the Epstein model as the basis for choosing a particular theme to work on each school year. The parent liaison and the Title I teacher are the team leaders and provide support for the efforts of other teams. In some schools, the parent liaisons are the force fueling the development of school partnership teams. All parent liaisons are required to compile a weekly activity report detailing family and school outreach activities organized according to the six types of parent involvement.

Sanders (2008) reported that the liaisons gather data on the academic achievement and attendance of students in the targeted at-risk families along with assessment data at the beginning and the end of each grading period to keep track of the students’ progress over the course of the academic year. The complete data collection process is carried out under the direction and supervision of a district specialist.

Under the NCLB Act, schools are adopting a data-driven approach to raising student achievement. Sanders (2008) posited that one advantage to the meticulous data gathering is that it elucidates the lives of students and families for the teachers and this sensitizes the teachers to the realities faced by school families and motivates them to work to overcome biases and negative stereotypes. Sanders concluded that by connecting schools and families, the liaisons make major contributions at the individual, school, and district level. Sanders stressed that the selection and training of parent liaisons must be based on respect for the vital role of families in education and “build the capacity of liaisons to cross racial, ethnic, income, or experiential differences to build relationships that support their professional goals and responsibilities” (p. 294).

Home and School Learning Activities


In reviewing research on homework, Hoover-Dempsey et al. (2001) discerned that parents’ main reason for being involved with their children’s homework is the belief that they should be involved, the belief that working with their children on homework would boost their achievement, and the assumption that teachers seek and expect their involvement in homework activities. Hoover-Dempsey et al. concluded that the benefits of homework stem from the three mechanisms outlined by their model of parent involvement that are modeling, reinforcement, and instruction.

Herrold and O’Donnell (2008) found that the National Center for Educational Statistics reported in 2007 that virtually all teachers assign homework and most families, 85%, check to see that their children complete their assignments. Markow, Kim, and Liebman (2007) found similar findings in the MetLife Survey, The Homework Experience. The Metlife Survey showed that the vast majority of parents consider homework important to students’ learning and in spite of critics who view homework as an intrusion on family life, the parents surveyed view it as a good opportunity to devote time to their children.

Herrold and O’Donnell reported that the Metlife Survey showed African American and Latino parents award especially high importance to homework, which they see as a mechanism for enhancing their children’s learning and helping them achieve educational goals beyond high school. Although roughly half the parents think students should be able to finish their homework without help, most parents actually do help, particularly parents of elementary school students.

Students who do not perceive homework important or complete their assignments tend to be lower achievers. Parents who see homework as unimportant appear to fit the profile of parents who are alienated from school. In addition to viewing homework as irrelevant or intrusive, they are more likely to be critical of the quality of the child’s school and to be reluctant to contact teachers regarding their child’s progress (Markow et al., 2007; McWayne et al., 2004; Raffaele & Knoff, 1999).

Many parents want clear, accurate information and feedback from teachers so they can maximize their effectiveness in helping their children with homework. In some cases, parents who genuinely want to help their children are unable to navigate the schoolwork. Although this is less common in elementary education, even parents of elementary school children can find helping with mathematics and science homework can be a challenging if not daunting endeavor. The problem is intensified for parents with limited education or English (Mapp, 2003; Markow et al., 2007; Quiocho & Daoud, 2006; Wong & Hughes, 2006; Zarate, 2006).

Literacy Learning

Problems with reading are especially common among urban low-income cultural and linguistic minority students. Drawing from case studies, Musti-Rao and Cartledge (2004) described how most parents desire to help their children succeed in school but need specific techniques. Musti-Rao and Cartledge noted that the parents of struggling readers report reading aloud to the child, participating in shared reading activities, and buying commercial reading programs. However, without precise and consistent support from the teacher, these activities are insufficient to bring the child up to grade level reading fluency. In a review of home learning activities, Fishel and Ramirez (2005) observed the strongest support for the effectiveness of home tutoring interventions for children with reading difficulties.

Outcomes of Parent Involvement

Early childhood influences

McWayne et al. (2004) examined the effects of parent involvement on the social and academic development of urban low-income, minority kindergarten students. The researchers considered most popular measures of parent involvement inadequate for capturing the interrelationship of home and school factors that shape early childhood development. The study by McWayne et al. built on an earlier project investigating the effects of different aspects of parent involvement on the academic and social competencies of children enrolled in Head Start.

The kindergarten student study is designed to assess the validity of three dimensions of the scale that evolve from the Head Start study, the Parent Involvement in Children’s Education Scale (PICES). The three dimensions were Supportive Home Environment, Direct School Contact, and Inhibited Involvement.

McWayne et al. (2004) noted that the sample consisted of 307 children and their primary caregivers. The PICES dimensions observed for the kindergarten students parallel those for preschool children from similar sociodemographic backgrounds. The three dimensions are significantly related to the children’s social and academic competence at home and at school. McWayne et al. found two distinctive patterns of parent involvement.

Involved parents create a stimulating home learning environment by providing their children with a variety of activities, talking to them about the importance of school, and supporting them in practicing the skills they learn at school. Consequently, the children of these parents exhibit greater cooperation, self-control, and prosocial behavior in both home and school environments. In addition, these children are more motivated to learn and outperform children with less involved parents in mathematics and reading.

In sharp contrast, McWayne et al. (2004) found that children whose parents display inhibited involvement and have limited contact with the school are predisposed toward externalizing and internalizing behavior problems in the classroom. Parents in this group encounter more obstacles to school involvement including family stress and work responsibilities. McWayne et al. recommended that schools and communities assist parents in advancing their children’s cognitive development through home learning activities.

Emphasizing the importance of a collaborative relationship between schools and families, McWayne et al. declared, “This partnership must include reciprocal communication between both parents and educators to find a common ground and common language in which to discuss involvement strategies” (p. 374). McWayne et al. also emphasized that educators must assess how realistic their expectations are for parents who are dealing with numerous stresses. Koonce and Harper (2005) warned that unrealistic expectations could have the counterproductive effective of disempowering parents, a phenomenon observed among the single mothers who form the bulk of their clientele. Schools and communities can provide further assistance in helping families overcome structural impediments to attending their children’s school (Carlisle et al., 2005; Van Velsor & Orozco, 2007).

McWayne et al. (2005) recommended that schools and families need to work together to create a “workable operationalization of involvement” (p. 374). Noting that educators will probably have to reevaluate traditional notions of parent involvement, McWayne et al. proposed, “By formulating alternatives with parents in a collaborative dialogue, as opposed to dictating strategies for parents, families who are isolated from the school environment may feel more confident making a contribution to their child’s learning at home” (p. 374).

Koonce and Harper (2005) observed that as parents become more confident in navigating the school environment, school personnel feel more comfortable working with them. Comer (2005) found that in the most favorable circumstances, parents build on the confidence they gain from school involvement to take steps to improve their families’ socioeconomic status.

Englund, Luckner, Whaley, and Egeland (2004) drew participants from an ongoing longitudinal exploration of low-income children and families to investigate the relationships between parents’ behaviors and expectations and their young children’s academic achievement. The participants are mothers recruited from Minneapolis public health clinics during their pregnancy and monitored with their first-born children through the elementary school grades. The sample consists of 187 pairs of mothers and children.

According to the model proposed by Englund et al. (2004), the parents’ educational level would be related to the quality of instruction they provide at home, the children’s IQ, the parents’ involvement with school, and their educational expectations for the child. Englund et al. also theorized that the quality of home instruction the parents provide for their children before they enter school would directly affect the children’s IQ and early school performance. Additionally, Englund et al. envisioned a cumulative process in which

  1. parents’ expectations would directly impact their involvement and their children’s academic performance,
  2. parents’ involvement would directly impact the children’s academic performance, and
  3. the children’s academic development would directly impact parents’ involvement and expectations.

Englund et al. (2004) noted the analyses revealed that the proposed model explains 41% of the variance in the children’s Grade 3 academic performance. The findings confirm the powerful influence of parents’ educational level, involvement, and expectations reported by previous research. Specifically, more educated mothers provide greater support for their children in problem-solving activities in preschool, convey higher expectations for their children’s academic growth in Grade 1, and are more engaged with their children’s Grade 1 education.

Englund et al. found that as a result of their efforts in structuring learning activities for their children even before they begin school, the children of these more involved mothers have higher IQs, which lead to higher achievement in Grade 1. Higher Grade 1 achievement, in turn, generates higher expectations and greater involvement in children’s learning, resulting in higher Grade 3 achievement. Englund et al. (2004) acknowledged that their study focused solely on parent involvement influences, thereby ignoring factors such as relationships between parents and teachers or environmental stresses that impede parent involvement in learning. The model also concentrated solely on the quality of the instruction provided by parents.

Turney and Kao (2009) noted that achievement gaps begin early in children’s education and tend to expand over time. Hardy (2007) posited that the most powerful influence on children’s academic progress is the quality of teachers’ classroom instruction. As Epstein observed, parents can do a great deal to promote their children’s literacy development but they are not a substitute for a reading specialist. The most effective programs for promoting young children’s academic development are collaborative projects including family literacy or mathematics programs (Caspe et al., 2007; Cox, 2005).

Sociodemographic influences

Desimone (1999) explored the effects of race and income on student outcomes related to parent involvement and found that parent involvement has a stronger association with grades than with standardized test scores for students of all sociodemographic groups. Desimone proposed that in view of the fact that grades are more subjective than standardized test scores, parent involvement, which affects students’ attendance and homework completion, might influence teachers’ perceptions of students but not necessarily their academic progress captured by standardized tests.

Second, Desimone (1999) found that parents’ participation in the school PTO has a more powerful influence on the grades of African American students than any other student group. Parents’ PTO participation is also linked with the test scores of African American and Latino students to a greater degree than the parent and child discussions that exert a strong effect on the test scores of more affluent students. Desimone (1999) suggested that for minority parents, PTO involvement might act as a cultural bridge between home and school. At the organizational level, participation in the PTO enables socially and economically disadvantaged families to take an active role in decisions and policies that affect their children’s educational futures (Comer, 2005; Feuerstein, 2000; Raffaele & Knoff, 1999).

Davis-Kean and Sexton (2009) turned to the ECLS-K for an exploration of the dynamic interactions of parents’ educational level, beliefs, and behaviors related to education, and of race and ethnicity on the academic achievement of children in Grades 1-3. Analogous to Turney and Kao (2009), Davis-Kean and Sexton (2009) regarded the ECLS-K as an excellent representation of the sociodemographic diversity of the U.S. school population. The outcome variables selected for study are the item response theory (IRT) achievement scores of the students in reading and mathematics. The study includes

  1. family background characteristics, although these are not the primary focus;
  2. parents’ education;
  3. parents’ educational expectations; and
  4. parenting behaviors that facilitate learning.

Davis-Kean and Sexton (2009) noted that the study is driven by the predominance of White, European heritage families in research examining the processes that promote student achievement. Desimone (1999) demonstrated that specific aspects of parent involvement have different effects on the academic achievement of White, Latino, and African American students. The ECLS-K data show that regardless of race or ethnicity, parents’ educational attainment is strongly related to their expectations for their children’s education, reading at home, and school involvement.

These findings affirm earlier research conducted by Davis-Kean and Sexton. Parents’ income also affects the children’s academic achievement although to a lesser degree. Davis-Kean and Sexton noted that the impact of family income tends to decline over time, which accounts for its influence on the children ages 5-8 who are under study. Davis-Kean and Sexton surmised that for older children, parents’ support and encouragement are more important.

Hoover-Dempsey and Sandler (2005) believed that parents effectively adapt their support to their children’s academic needs. Green et al. (2007) found the psychosocial aspects of parents’ involvement to be much more important than family income. Davis-Kean and Sexton (2009) invoked Hoover-Dempsey and Sandler in proposing that financial difficulties “do not necessarily constrain academic development if children have a stimulating home environment and parents who are active participants in their children’s education” (p. 310).

Davis-Kean and Sexton observed that home reading activities and parents’ involvement at school are two of the most powerful mechanisms in the relationship between parents’ educational level and children’s academic performance. Davis-Kean and Sexton noted, “Thus, although poverty certainly is a major and universal threat for child development in general, a closer look at the underlying mechanisms can explain why so many children perform well in school despite restricted material resources” (p. 311).

Davis-Kean and Sexton (2009) found that parents’ expectations for their children’s academic growth prove a powerful influence on the achievement of White, African American, and Asian children, but the same effect is not observed for Latino children. In the analysis of the ECLS-K data, SES is a major factor in parents’ expectations. However, studies focused on Latino families find that parents’ have high expectations for their children’s success regardless of their own educational levels (Quiocho & Daoud, 2006; Zarate, 2007).

Davis-Kean and Sexton acknowledged that there is substantial diversity within each ethnic and racial group and the interactions of factors including SES, cultural heritage, and immigrant status can be highly complex. The complex dynamics of parent involvement are further illustrated by findings that factors related to the home educational environment are significant contributors to academic achievement for all groups with the exception of African American families.

Davis-Kean and Sexton recognized that this finding contrasts with other studies and proposed that some of the effects of parent involvement found for White families might be due to their two-thirds predominance in the sample. Several effects of parenting are small, thus their significance is magnified or diminished according to the sample size of the particular group.

Quantitative analysis using large, national samples is limited in illuminating the numerous pathways by which parent involvement influences the academic achievement of children from diverse cultural groups. Davis-Kean and Sexton (2009) found the way race and ethnicity are defined too generic to detect important within-group differences. Furthermore, the learning activities that take place in many Latino families may not be adequately captured by measures based on the practices of White, middle-class families (Civil & Bernier, 2006; Zarate, 2007).

Davis-Kean and Sexton (2009) found conventional path models of the relationship between parent involvement and student achievement to be limited in explaining the effects of parent involvement on the achievement of Latino, African American, and Asian American children. The path models do not account for factors such as discrimination or English language fluency that affect parents’ involvement with school. Davis-Kean and Sexton recommended the development of new models specifically tailored to the unique situations of different cultural groups. Hoover-Dempsey and Sandler (2005) conducted research applying their model to cultural and linguistic minority families. Their model uniquely targets the psychosocial factors that influence parent involvement and, by extension, their children’s academic performance.

The experiences of parents who are highly involved with their children’s schools demonstrate socially and economically disadvantaged parents can have a decisive impact on the quality of their children’s education (Comer, 2005; Raffaele & Knoff, 1999). Latino families are increasing not only in numbers but also in visibility and influence within the public school system. Schools and districts with high Latino enrollment often have bilingual teachers, administrators, and paraprofessionals in addition to Latinos serving on local school boards and councils (Marschall, 2006; Pena, 2000; Zarate, 2007).

Marschall (2006) noted that in districts where Latinos are a strong presence on local school councils

  1. teachers are more aware of cultural and community issues,
  2. parent involvement is higher, and
  3. students achieve superior academic performance.

Marschall observed these effects in a detailed analysis of parent participation and student outcomes in Chicago. The city was selected due to its high concentration of immigrants and first generation children, especially Latinos. Marschall found that decentralized governance, particularly since school restructuring effects in the late 1980s, provide Latino parents with unprecedented opportunities for being involved with their children’s schools.

As more parents take advantage of this, they become more involved with local school councils, whose efforts contribute to parent involvement directly and indirectly. Indirectly, the councils influence the attitudes and behaviors of teachers, who become more responsive to school parents. In addition, the councils reach out directly to parents and communities, fostering greater involvement with schools. These endeavors lead to greater parent participation and higher student achievement.

Feuerstein (2000) noted characteristics of the school environment have a significant impact on parents’ participation at the school including volunteering for school-related activities and attending PTA or PTO meetings. The movement toward site-based school governance in the 1970s set the stage for more active participation by parents in many urban schools. Lee and Bowen (2006) used Bordieu’s theory of cultural capital as a framework for exploring the effects of three types of parent involvement including

  1. discussing educational issues,
  2. helping children with homework, and
  3. managing children’s time based on the academic achievement of students from diverse sociodemographic groups.

The most pronounced differences between groups are observed for parents’ participation at school, a finding that consistently emerges in research. Parents with higher incomes, higher educational levels, and whose sociodemographic profiles are closest to those of the teachers of White, middle-class parents are the most active participants at school. This pattern disadvantages students from lower income and culturally diverse backgrounds given that the analysis reveals a strong link between parents’ involvement at school and students’ academic performance. Researchers noted that teachers interpret parents’ presence at the school as a symbol of interest in their children’s involvement (Desimone, 1999; Lee & Bowen, 2006).

Lee and Bowen (2006) noted helping with homework exerts a positive impact on the academic performance of African American and Latino students and a negative impact on the performance of White students. A plausible explanation is that the White parents tend to assist their children when they have problems with schoolwork. Additionally, lower achievement by African American and Latino students might have motivated parents to provide more intensive help.

Hoover-Dempsey and Sandler (2005) observed that parents tend to offer more help with homework when their children are performing less well at school. Lee and Bowen found there are no group distinctions in the extent that parents assist with homework or manage their children’s time, but White and more affluent parents engage in more frequent discussions with children on topics related to education. Desimone (1999) found these discussions to be more productive for students from middle and upper income families. To Lee and Bowen, the pattern suggested that White and more affluent parents are more optimistic about their children’s educational futures although across sociodemographic distinctions, parents universally have high aspirations for their children’s education.

Meta-Analyses and Research Reviews on Parent Involvement

Jeynes (2005) conducted a meta-analysis of studies investigating the impact of parent involvement on student achievement. A total of 77 studies encompassing more than 300,000 students across grade levels formed the basis for the analysis. The results demonstrate that parent involvement is consistently linked with higher academic performance regardless of whether the outcomes selected are grades, standardized test scores, or other indicators academic performance such as teachers’ appraisals.

This pattern holds for students of all sociodemographic groups. The two most powerful influences on achievement are parents’ investment in home learning activities, which encompasses discussing the importance of school with children and sharing reading which universally fosters children’s intellectual growth. Expectations and parenting style are also major contributors to students’ achievement.

Jeynes (2005) observed that while the benefits of parent involvement are important for children of all racial and ethnic minorities, the effect is especially strong for African American and Latino children. The findings of the studies selected by Jeynes, which varies substantially in the sample sizes and populations examined, contrasted with the Davis-Kean and Sexton (2009) findings from the ECLS-K dataset. Jeynes emphasized the importance of subtle displays of parent support and involvement, which includes expectations for high academic achievement that might not be captured by the indices utilized in large, quantitative analyses.

Caspe et al. (2007) addressed parent values concerning achievement:

Students’ perceptions of their parents’ values about achievement are strongly related to motivation and competence. In other words, when students perceive that parents place an importance on effort and academic success, students have higher academic competence and place a higher priority on their academic ability, effort, and grades. (p. 5)

Jeynes (2005) found that, in general, parent involvement programs are effective. However, formal programs have a lesser effect that the full range of parent involvement behaviors. Jeynes attributed this to differences in motivation between parents who are already eager to support their children’s learning and those whose participation is driven by a specific program. In effect, parents who are intrinsically motivated will tend to be more involved in their children’s education than those who respond to a formal program. While this may be true in general, a well-designed, targeted program can be key to engaging parents who are uncertain about the specific ways they can advance their children’s intellectual growth.

Cox (2005) undertook an extensive and detailed review of research tracing the evolution of parent involvement activities over the last few decades. Research on the importance of parent involvement in education and the barriers that prohibit more active participation began to proliferate in the 1970s. The next decade marked the emergence of models of home-school collaboration, strategies for building collaborative partnerships, and discussions of issues related to education policy and reform. Most researchers still perceived home and school as distinctively different realms. Nonetheless, a review of 28 urban home-school partnership programs initiated during the 1980 school year reported that the programs produce

  1. higher academic performance,
  2. improvements in students’ behavior,
  3. decreases in absenteeism, and
  4. consistency with the programs’ primary goals which is to increase parents’ participation.

Cox (2005) focused review on studies of collaborative programs in U. S. schools published between 1980 and 2002. Eighteen studies met the inclusion criteria. The overall finding by Cox is that home-school collaborative partnership programs successfully help schools achieve the desired outcomes, specifically, improvements in students’ academic performance and prosocial behavior at school. Cox noted that in the most effective programs, “parents and school personnel worked together to implement an intervention and had a two-way exchange of information” (p. 491).

Cox (2005) concluded that of all the programs reviewed, a family literacy intervention described by Morrow and Young had the most overarching impact. This is not surprising since reading to children is consistently linked with higher academic achievement (Davis-Kean & Sexton, 2009; Jeynes, 2005). Furthermore, structured home literacy learning activities can be key to involving linguistic minority parents with limited educational attainment (Caspe et al., 2007; Nistler & Maiers, 2000; Risko & Walker-Dalhouse, 2009). The programs not only familiarize parents with the school curriculum, but as they work with their children on literacy learning, the parents enhance their own English language fluency, which enables them to work with their children more effectively and efficiently.

In reviewing research on home literacy activities, McCarthey (2000) noted that numerous studies “conducted in the home environments of families from diverse backgrounds challenged the myth that children from low-income backgrounds are not exposed to literacy materials and that parents are not concerned with their children’s education” (p. 151). McCarthy noted that overall, the studies showed that the amount of time parents devote to engaging their children in home literacy activities and the quality of their interactions are key factors in children’s future academic achievement. These factors transcend income, race, and ethnicity.

McCarthey implicated the deficit lens through which many teachers view sociocultural minority families as a major impediment to successful collaboration between home and school and recommended home visits as a strategy for helping teachers become more attuned to their students’ family backgrounds.

Cox (2005) posited that next to the family literacy program, a Parent-Teacher Action Research Team intervention elaborated by McConaughy and colleagues demonstrated great promise for helping children at risk for emotional problems. According to Cox, both the family literacy program and the Action Research Team had shared one defining feature that is the “schools not only collaborated with families, but also treated them as equals” (p. 491).

As a result, the families feel more comfortable interacting with school personnel as well as more confident in promoting their children’s academic development. The most successful collaborative programs rely upon bidirectional communication, equal partnerships between parents and schools, and specific strategies for engaging parents, all of which are embedded in the framework for six types of parent involvement (Cox, 2005; Epstein & Jansorn, 2004).


Studies consistently showed that regardless of SES or sociocultural heritage, the vast majority of parents desire to be involved in their children’s learning and have high aspirations for their educational futures. There is evidence that children from economically disadvantaged and minority backgrounds derive the greatest benefits from parent involvement (Jeynes, 2005; Marschall, 2006; McWayne et al., 2004).

However, obstacles still impede parents’ full participation ranging from structural barriers that include inflexible work schedules to teachers’ biased and negative attitudes. Epstein and Jansorn (2004) found that to surmount these barriers, schools need strategic and organized efforts, typically using a framework such as the six types of parent involvement. In many cases, highly involved parents are the most persuasive forces for positive change, eliciting support and participation from parents and teachers alike (Marschall; Raffaele & Knoff, 1999; Sanders, 2008).

Davis-Kean and Sexton (2009) noted a problem with conventional models for understanding parent involvement is that they are based on White middle-class parents and fail to capture the nuances that influence the participation of the increasingly diverse public school population. Bad experiences with schools, discrimination, and limited English fluency are among the barriers to minority parents’ more active involvement with schools. Most of these parents engage their children in learning activities at home yet teachers often equate involvement with visibility thus failing to recognize and appreciate their valuable contribution to their children’s academic and social development.

Hoover-Dempsey and Sandler (2005) found that the models show tremendous promise for understanding parent involvement because they encompass parent participation at home and at school, include psychosocial dimensions, and appear to be applicable to students of all sociodemographic backgrounds. Research invariably reveals parent involvement as a complex and multidimensional construct. Although findings vary regarding the precise mechanisms, the overwhelming conclusion of most studies is that involving parents has a definite positive impact on students’ academic achievement.

Research Questions

The researcher will examine the relationship between parent involvement and student achievement using the following research questions:

  1. Are there differences in student achievement among students in Grades 3, 4, and 5 at the elementary school under study?
  2. To what extent are the differences in student achievement in Grades 3, 4, and 5 correlated with parent involvement indicators as measured by parenting practices?
  3. Do Epstein’s six typologies offer a conceptual framework for explaining parent involvement in the school under study?
  4. Does parent involvement influence a student’s ability to achieve academically?


Introduction to Methodology

This section aims to provide information on how the study will be conducted and the rationale behind employing the discussed methodologies and techniques towards augmenting the study’s validity. In addition to describing the research design, theoretical framework, and population and sample size that will be used in this study, the section will also elaborate on instrumentation and data collection techniques, validity and reliability, data analysis, and pertinent ethical issues that may emerge in the course of undertaking this study.

Research Design

The present study will utilize a quantitative research design to explore the impact of parental involvement on student performance as measured by parenting practices. This methodological approach will objectively answer the key research questions. Hopkins (2000) noted most quantitative research designs are concerned with determining the relationship between independent variables and dependent variables in a study framework. In this study, understanding the correlation between parental involvement within the context of parenting practices and student outcomes will be instrumental in designing and implementing effective methodologies aimed at improved parental involvement for positive student outcomes.

Sekaran (2006) observed most quantitative studies are either descriptive or experimental. The study will utilize a descriptive correlational approach because participants will be measured once. Further, it is imperative to note that the study will employ a survey technique for purposes of collecting participant data from the elementary school located in the southern part of the United States.

According to Sekaran, a survey technique is used when the researcher is principally interested in descriptive, explanatory or exploratory appraisal, as is the case in this study. The justification for choosing a survey approach for this particular study is grounded on the fact that participants will have the ability to respond to the data collection tool by way of self-report. This project will utilize a self-administered questionnaire schedule for purposes of data collection.

An analysis of related literature will be used to compare the study findings with other research on parental involvement and student achievement to explain the nature and scope of the associations between parental involvement and student educational and social outcomes. Such analysis, according to Sekaran (2006), is important in identifying the actual constructs that determine parental involvement because “it goes beyond mere description of variables in a situation to an understanding of the relationships among factors of interest” (p. 119).

Theoretical Framework

Sekaran (2006) noted that a theoretical framework “is a conceptual model of how one theorizes and makes logical sense of the relationships among several factors that have been identified as important to the problem” (p. 87). The elementary function of a theoretical framework is to outline and assess the varied interrelationships that exist between phenomena or variables thought to form a critical constituent of the situational dynamics under study. Sekaran shared that the theoretical framework is modeled around the interrelationship between the independent variables and the dependent variables, in this case considered to be instrumental in informing parental involvement practices and how these variables or constructs influences student achievement.

The study takes the assumption that parenting practices directly influence parental involvement on student achievement. In consequence, parenting practices will become the independent variable while both parental involvement and student achievement becomes dependent variables. Sekaran (2006) posited that a dependent variable is directly influenced by the independent variable, and is altered either positively or negatively depending on the effect of the self-regulating variable. Based on this description, the study will be guided by the following theoretical schema.

Theoretical Schema Used to Guide the Study
Figure: Theoretical Schema Used to Guide the Study.


Participants for this study will be recruited from parents and teachers of the Title I school serving 534 students of whom 94.1% are Black, 2.65% are non-Hispanic, 2.48% are Hispanic, and 0.35% are White. The researcher intends to use cluster sampling to develop a sample of 80 parents of school children in Grades 3-5. The cluster sampling will entail dividing the entire population of students in Grade 3-5 into groups then using random sampling technique to select the participant parents based on ethnic and racial composition. According to Sekaran (2006), each cluster must be reciprocally exclusive and together the clusters must represent the whole population.

The parents will be selected based on several unique characteristics identified by the researcher including

  1. shared commonalities related to race and culture, such as Africa Americans, White, Hispanics, and non-Hispanics;
  2. residing in the school district; and
  3. being parents of school-age children in the selected grades.

The parents residing in the same school district will be selected in line with the school proximity benchmark to ensure transportation challenges do not artificially curtail parent school involvement. Parents from diverse socioeconomic status and family structure can take part in the survey. Random sampling technique will be used to select a set of three teachers in each grade, implying that the study will survey nine teachers.


The study will adopt Epstein and Salinas (1993) school and family partnerships questionnaires for the purpose of collecting data from the selected participants. The questionnaires to be employed will provide a profile of the level of involvement in the school from the perspectives of parents. It is imperative to note that the Maccoby and Martin model of parenting styles, comprising authoritative, neglectful, authoritative, and indulgent parents, will be adopted to assist in evaluating parental involvement.

This model had been adopted from the works of Baumrind, who found what was believed to be the four basic components that assisted in shaping successful parenting including responsiveness versus unresponsiveness and demanding versus undemanding (Blondal & Adalbjarnardottir, 2009). From these, Baumrind had earlier acknowledged three general parenting styles including authoritative, controlling, and accommodating.

The survey will be composed of two independent questionnaires that include

  • survey of teachers in the target elementary grades, and
  • survey of parents in the selected elementary grades.

The teacher questionnaires will generally ask for

  • professional judgments and perceived constructs about parent involvement,
  • teacher practices and interventions intended to improve parental involvement, and
  • teacher-parent-community partnership programs teachers would like to see implemented or improved in their schools and classrooms.

This set of questions will generally use a 4-point Likert-type response scale with 1 = not important, 2 = somewhat important, 3 = very important, or 4 = extremely important. The survey for teachers will also include an open-ended section for their comments.

Epstein and Salinas (1993) determined that school and family partnership questionnaires, the survey of parents with children in the selected elementary grades, will include

  1. 10 sections with 79 items to collect data on family attitudes about the school;
  2. parenting and family practices of involvement;
  3. programs, workshops and community services needed by parents and families;
  4. homework practices;
  5. family structure and experiences; and
  6. open-ended questions for comments and suggestions (Gianzero, 1999). For measuring responses 4- and 5-point Likert scales will be used.

For purposes of this study, only Section 3 of the adopted school and family partnership questionnaire will be surveyed with parents because of the extensive survey questions. In Section 3, the family practices for involvement include 18 survey items on which the selected parents will be requested to identify the level of achievement or involvement achieved using a 5-point Likert measurement scale. Other data will be collected using a 4-point response scale as deemed appropriate by the researcher. It should also be noted that the survey items for this study will be linked to Epstein’s 1986 typologies of parent involvement which is widely proffered as an objective guide to assist educators in developing all-inclusive family school partnerships. Gianzero (1999) determined the typologies include

  • parenting – assisting parents with child-rearing and parenting skills;
  • communicating – developing and implementing effective home-school communication;
  • volunteering – developing ways through which parents and families can get involved in school activities;
  • learning at home – encouraging learning activities in home that strengthen school curricula;
  • decision-making – including parents as critical decision makers through PTA conferences, councils, teams; and
  • collaborating with the community and matching the community services with individual and mutually-inclusive family needs.

Reliability and Validity

Handley (2005) noted reliability in any research process implies that the same set of data would have been collected each time in repeat examinations of the same variable or phenomenon, otherwise referred to as consistency of measurement. To realize reliability of the study findings, the researcher will certify that items adopted from Epstein and Salinas (1993) school and family partnership questionnaires and incorporated in the survey schedule will only capture data that are of interest to the broader objectives of the study. The range of measurement of the two sets of the survey schedules will also be adjusted upwards to enhance internal consistency of the study findings. In addition, the researcher will utilize multiple indicators to ensure the collection of objective unabridged data.

Handley (2005) determined validity is a measurement that is used to describe a measure or instrument that correctly reflects the variable or phenomena it is intended to evaluate, thus reinforcing the conclusions, assumptions, and propositions made from the analysis of data. Internal validity, which denotes the soundness of a study or investigation, will be achieved through the establishment of a framework for the application of effective sampling techniques and employing a validated and reliable survey schedule for the propose of data collection. The same procedures in combination with the recruitment of a representative sample size will be used to achieve external validity, thus ensuring that the study findings can be generalized to other settings.

Data Analysis

The data analysis program known as SPSS for Windows will be used for purposes of analyzing the quantitative data. The basic initial steps will include data coding, entry, cleaning, analyses, and interpretation. Univariate analyses aimed at generating frequency distributions and descriptive analyses will be used to evaluate the impact of parental involvement practices on student achievement. The data resulting from the frequency distributions will be further harnessed and presented using pie-charts, tables, and bar-graphs to capture parental involvement practices. Epstein (1987) determined typologies of parent involvement and will be used in line with the other constructs forming the basis of this study, such as socioeconomic status, family structure, parenting practices, and racial composition.

Comparisons between student achievement and parental outcomes will be analyzed using t-test and MANOVA. Hierarchical multiple regression analysis will also be conducted using parental involvement practices to envisage academic performance with the student’s grade as the moderator. Sekaran (2006) determined that qualitative data arising from the open-ended questions in the questionnaire schedule are used to analyze content analysis technique, whereby data will be reduced, presented, and finally, conclusion drawing and verification made.

Ethical Considerations

According to Saunders et al. (2000), “Ethics refers to the appropriateness of your behavior in relation to the rights of those who become the subject of your work, or are affected by it” (p. 130). In addition to seeking approval from the district education board, a letter of consent will be sent to the head of the study school to request individual indulgence and approval in conducting the study. Mailings will be sent to parents and teachers explaining the main objective of the study and requesting their consent for participation.

Further communication will proceed between those who agree to take part in the survey and the researcher via email to ensure that all individuals understand the requirements for the study. The researcher will also take time to elaborate the rights of participants during the study process, including the right to informed consent and the right to confidentiality.


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