Parental Involvement in Your Child’s Education

The Key to Student Success, Research Shows

Posted December 14, 2022
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Two fathers sit with their young daughter in front of a laptop.

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:

  1. cre­at­ing a home envi­ron­ment that encour­ages learning;
  2. com­mu­ni­cat­ing high, yet rea­son­able, expec­ta­tions for achieve­ment; and 
  3. 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.

Down­load Our Parental Involve­ment in Edu­ca­tion Report

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?

  1. 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. 
  2. Read to and with your chil­dren: Even 1020 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Attend school events, includ­ing par­ent-teacher con­fer­ences, back-to-school nights and oth­ers — even if your child is not involved in extracur­ric­u­lar activities. 
  5. Use your com­mute to con­nect with your kids; ask them to read to you while you dri­ve and encour­age con­ver­sa­tions about school. 
  6. Eat meals togeth­er: It’s the per­fect oppor­tu­ni­ty to find out more about what’s going on in school.
  7. 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:

  1. Schools engage in reg­u­lar, two-way, mean­ing­ful com­mu­ni­ca­tion with parents.
  2. Par­ent­ing skills are pro­mot­ed and supported. 
  3. Par­ents play an inte­gral role in assist­ing stu­dent learning.
  4. Par­ents are wel­come in the school as vol­un­teers, and their sup­port and assis­tance are sought. 
  5. Par­ents are full part­ners in the deci­sions that affect chil­dren and families. 
  6. 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

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