Parental Involvement in Your Child’s Education
The Key to Student Success, Research Shows
If you could wave a magic wand that would improve the chances of school success for your children as well as their classmates, would you take up that challenge?
For decades, researchers have pointed to one key success factor that transcends nearly all others, such as socioeconomic status, student background or the kind of school a student attends: parental involvement.
The extent to which schools nurture positive relationships with families — and vice versa — makes all the difference, research shows. Students whose parents stay involved in school have better attendance and behavior, get better grades, demonstrate better social skills and adapt better to school.
Parental involvement also more securely sets these students up to develop a lifelong love of learning, which researchers say is key to long-term success.
A generation ago, the National PTA found that three key parent behaviors are the most accurate predictors of student achievement, transcending both family income and social status:
- creating a home environment that encourages learning;
- communicating high, yet reasonable, expectations for achievement; and
- staying involved in a child’s education at school.
What’s more, researchers say when this happens, the motivation, behavior and academic performance of all children at a particular school improve. Simply put, the better the partnership between school and home, the better the school and the higher the student achievement across the board.
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What Is Parental Involvement, and How Is It Different From Parental Engagement?
Parental involvement is the active, ongoing participation of a parent or primary caregiver in the education of a child. Parents can demonstrate involvement at home by:
- reading with children;
- helping with homework;
- discussing school events;
- attending school functions, including parent-teacher meetings; and
- volunteering in classrooms.
While both parental involvement and parental engagement in school support student success, they have important differences.
Involvement is the first step towards engagement. It includes participation in school events or activities, with teachers providing learning resources and information about their student’s grades. With involvement, teachers hold the primary responsibility to set educational goals.
But while teachers can offer advice, families and caregivers have important information about their children that teachers may not know. So a student’s learning experience is enriched when both bring their perspectives to the table.
With engagement, home and school come together as a team. Schools empower parents and caregivers by providing them with ways to actively participate, promoting them as important voices in the school and removing barriers to engagement. Examples include encouraging families to join the family-teacher association or arranging virtual family-teacher meetings for families with transportation issues.
Research has found that the earlier educators establish family engagement, the more effective they are in raising student performance.
Why Is It Important to Involve Parents in School?
It Benefits Students
Children whose families are engaged in their education are more likely to:
- earn higher grades and score higher on tests;
- graduate from high school and college;
- develop self-confidence and motivation in the classroom; and
- have better social skills and classroom behavior.
In one study, researchers looked at longitudinal data on math achievement and found that effectively encouraging families to support students’ math learning at home was associated with higher percentages of students who scored at or above proficiency on standardized math achievement tests.
Students whose parents are involved in school are also less likely to suffer from low self-esteem or develop behavioral issues, researchers say.
And classrooms with engaged families perform better as a whole, meaning that the benefits affect virtually all students in a classroom.
It Positively Influences Children’s Behavior
Decades of research have made one thing clear: parental involvement in education improves student attendance, social skills and behavior. It also helps children adapt better to school.
In one instance, researchers looking at children’s academic and social development across first, third and fifth grade found that improvements in parental involvement are associated with fewer “problem behaviors” in students and improvements in social skills. Researchers also found that children with highly involved parents had “enhanced social functioning” and fewer behavior problems.
It Benefits Teachers
Because it improves classroom culture and conditions, parent involvement also benefits teachers. Knowing more about a student helps teachers prepare better and knowing that they have parents’ support ensures that teachers feel equipped to take academic risks and push for students to learn more.
How Can Parents Get Involved in Their Child’s Education?
- Make learning a priority in your home, establishing routines and schedules that enable children to complete homework, read independently, get enough sleep and have opportunities to get help from you. Talk about what’s going on in school.
- Read to and with your children: Even 10–20 minutes daily makes a difference. And parents can go further by ensuring that they read more each day as well, either as a family or private reading time that sets a good example.
- Ask teachers how they would like to communicate. Many are comfortable with text messages or phone calls, and all teachers want parents to stay up to date, especially if problems arise.
- Attend school events, including parent-teacher conferences, back-to-school nights and others — even if your child is not involved in extracurricular activities.
- Use your commute to connect with your kids; ask them to read to you while you drive and encourage conversations about school.
- Eat meals together: It’s the perfect opportunity to find out more about what’s going on in school.
- Prioritize communication with teachers, especially if demanding work schedules, cultural or language barriers are an issue. Find out what resources are available to help get parents involved.
Parental Involvement Outside the Classroom
Outside of the classroom, engaged parents more often see themselves as advocates for their child’s school — and are more likely to volunteer or take an active role in governance.
Researchers have noted that parent involvement in school governance, for instance, helps parents understand educators’ and other parents’ motivations, attitudes and abilities. It gives them a greater opportunity to serve as resources for their children, often increasing their own skills and confidence. In a few cases, these parents actually further their own education and upgrade their job.
While providing improved role models for their children, these parents also ensure that the larger community views the school positively and supports it. They also provide role models for future parent leaders.
Reading and Homework
Very early in their school career — by fourth grade — children are expected to be able to read to learn other subjects. But recent research shows that about two-thirds of the nation’s public school fourth graders aren’t proficient readers.
To make children successful in reading, and in school more generally, the single most important thing you can do is to read aloud with them.
Youth Sports and Other Extracurricular Activities
Parents can make or break their child’s relationship with sports and other extracurricular activities, so they should think deeply about how to show children the fun of mastering a new skill, working toward a group or individual goal, weathering adversity, being a good sport and winning or losing gracefully.
Beyond this, parents with coaching skills should consider volunteering to get involved. The National Alliance for Youth Sports notes that only about 5% to 10% of youth sports coaches have received any relevant training before coaching, with most coaches stepping up because their child is on the team and no one else volunteered.
Parental Involvement in Juvenile Justice
Parents finding themselves involved in the juvenile justice system on behalf of their kids face a system that offers many challenges and few resources.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative has long sought to sharply reduce reliance on detention, with the aim of decreasing reliance on juvenile incarceration nationwide.
But parents whose children face the judicial system can make a difference. Surveys of corrections officials note that family involvement is one of the most important issues facing the juvenile system, and it is also the most operationally challenging.
One well-respected framework outlines the importance of five “dimensions” that measure parental involvement, including receptivity to receiving help, a belief in positive change, investment in planning and obtaining services and a good working relationship between the parent and the justice system.
What Successful Parental Involvement Looks Like
Experts urge parents to be present at school as much as possible and to show interest in children’s schoolwork.
As noted in the Annie E. Casey Foundation “Parental Involvement in Education Policy” brief, the National PTA lists six key standards for good parent/family involvement programs:
- Schools engage in regular, two-way, meaningful communication with parents.
- Parenting skills are promoted and supported.
- Parents play an integral role in assisting student learning.
- Parents are welcome in the school as volunteers, and their support and assistance are sought.
- Parents are full partners in the decisions that affect children and families.
- Community resources are used to strengthen schools, families and student learning.
How To Avoid Negative Parental Involvement
Teachers may, on occasion, complain of “helicopter parents” whose involvement — sometimes called “hovering” — does more harm than good. One veteran educator recently told the story of an award-winning colleague who quit the profession because of the growing influence of “a group of usually well-intentioned, but over-involved, overprotective and controlling parents who bubble-wrap their children.”
What these parents fail to understand, he said, is that their good intentions “often backfire,” impeding their children’s coping skills and capacity to problem-solve. Such over-involvement can actually increase children’s anxiety and reduce self-esteem.
The colleague’s plea: “Please partner with us rather than persecute us. That will always be in your children’s best interests.”
Resources for Parents, Teachers, School Administrators and Advocates
- Child Trends Families and Parenting Research
- Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Usable Knowledge series
- Parent Institute for Quality Education
- The National Parent Teacher Association
- Johns Hopkins University National Network of Partnership Schools
- The Casey Foundation Parental Involvement in Education policy brief
- The Casey Foundation’s Families as Primary Partners in Their Child’s Development and School Readiness