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Involvement Matters: What To Tell Parents

Hundreds of research studies show that when parents get involved, children do better in school. We sum up the details that every parent should know—and you should tell them.

Building parent involvement is the single most important thing that parent groups do. Often, it's the most difficult, too. And that's too bad because there are many compelling reasons why parents—all parents—should get involved in their children's education. If you're having trouble building involvement, the problem might be that you're not making the right argument. You simply need better ammunition.

A common way to think about getting people involved is to counter their objections. People say they don't have time, so you make it clear you only need them for an hour or two. People don't feel comfortable at school, so you work to make it more welcoming. Schedules won't allow busy people to come to the school, so you find ways they can contribute from home.

Each time you address the "don't" issues, you open up your group to more people: people with time and schedule issues, those who haven't felt welcome in the past, dads, grandparents, people who don't speak English well.

Involvement Matters video — A great way to get your message to parents!

All of that is important. But don't assume that once you tear down the barriers, people will flock to get involved. They should, sure. But they should go to the dentist more often, too.

It's up to you to make a stronger case for parents to get involved than "It's for the kids." For many people, that's simply not enough to get them energized. The good news is that there are compelling, definitive reasons to get involved, and they are backed up by volumes of research. Plus, they apply to everyone—no matter their bank balance, ethnicity, work schedule, education level, or anything else.

What Every Parent Should Know

Researchers have been studying the effects parent attitudes and actions have on their children's academic success for more than 30 years. The results have been consistent. Anne Henderson and Nancy Berla summed it up in their book A New Generation of Evidence: The Family Is Critical to Student Achievement, which reviewed the existing research: "When parents are involved in their children's education at home, they do better in school. And when parents are involved in school, children go farther in school and the schools they go to are better."

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Much of the information here is taken from publications by Henderson, a consultant at New York University's Institute for Education and Social Policy, and various coauthors that examine parent involvement research; and from publications by Joyce Epstein, director of the National Network of Partnership Schools at Johns Hopkins University; the National Center for Parent Involvement in Education, which Henderson helped found; and summaries of research prepared by the Michigan Department of Education, San Diego Unified School District, and others.

Major Benefits

Research shows that when parents are involved in their children's education, the children are more likely to:

  • earn better grades.
  • score higher on tests.
  • pass their classes.
  • attend school regularly.
  • have better social skills.
  • show improved behavior.
  • be more positive in their attitude toward school.
  • complete homework assignments.
  • graduate and continue their education.

More Is Better

Parents can serve many different roles in the educational process: home teachers, advocates for their children, volunteers, fundraisers, boosters. And they can even serve in decisionmaking and oversight roles for the school. The more parents participate in a sustained way at each of these levels, the better for student achievement.

Start Early

When parents get involved early in their children's education, the results are more pronounced and long-lasting.

At All Levels

Studies indicate that parent involvement in education has a positive effect at all grade levels: elementary, middle, and high school.

Dads Matter

In both two-parent and father-only households where dads are highly involved in their schools, children are more likely to:

  • succeed academically.
  • participate in extracurricular activities.
  • enjoy school.

They are less likely to:

  • have to repeat a grade.
  • be suspended or expelled.

A Significant Difference

One study found that students from families with above-average parent involvement were 30 percent more successful in school than those with below-average involvement. Success was measured by GPA; test scores in math, science, reading, and social studies; promotion and retention rates; and teacher ratings.

Also Significant

Another study found that in schools where teachers reported high levels of outreach to parents, test scores grew at a rate 40 percent higher than in schools that reported low levels of outreach to parents.

Home and School

A three-year study of 12,000 high school student concluded that "When parents come to school regularly, it reinforces the view in the child's mind that school and home are connected and that school is an integral part of the whole family's life."

Reading and the Parent Group

A two-year study of home and school influences on literacy achievement among children from low-income families found that the single variable most positively connected to all literacy skills was formal involvement in parent-school activities such as PTO participation, attending school activities, and serving as a volunteer.

Tell the Principal

Schools with involved parents enjoy:

  • better morale among teachers.
  • higher ratings of teachers by parents.
  • more support from families.
  • a better reputation in the community.

Parents Benefit, Too

When parents become involved in their children's education, the parents are more likely to:

  • be more confident at school.
  • be more confident in themselves as parents and their ability to help their children learn.
  • be held in higher esteem by teachers and have teachers expect more from their children.
  • enroll in continuing education to advance their own schooling.

A Final Note

Why should parents get involved? Because involvement can make a dramatic difference for their children.

Why should school administrators encourage involvement? Because it can make a significant difference, both in school atmosphere and in the success rate of students—especially when parents are included as partners in the educational process.

Parent involvement is a powerful tool. Spread the word.



#18 Beth McCracken-Harness 2012-09-14 18:42
I was going to quote your article in my blog, but you don't list sources on each study you cite, so I cite the information. Please document your sources more than just this:

"Much of the information here is taken from publications by Henderson, a consultant at New York University's Institute for Education and Social Policy, and various coauthors that examine parent involvement research; and from publications by Joyce Epstein, director of the National Network of Partnership Schools at Johns Hopkins University; the National Center for Parent Involvement in Education, which Henderson helped found; and summaries of research prepared by the Michigan Department of Education, San Diego Unified School District, and others."
#17 WorkingMom 2012-02-29 16:41
Have been heavily involved with our elementary PTO, agree with posts noting parents who try to be involved in whatever way they can.
But I need help/feedback on what I am experiencing here at the higher grades - a total disconnect from the PTO experience. At a parent meeting last night, a handful of parents admonished the class advisors (inc me) - their kids are too busy to be involved but those who are shouldn't be rewarded, their kids don't tell them anything & parents are too busy to read the parent website - we need to do more for them. Others demanded we have a major fundraiser (fashion show) in 2 years but none are willing to do more than a little of the work. The air of entitlement filled the room, and made us understand why the administration has advised us to not be nice, make decisions, tell the kids what they're doing, and tell anyone who complains too bad. The most disturbing thing about the whole episode? The two most vocal parents are both teachers at one of our schools.
#16 LaKeshia Rainey 2010-09-02 21:59
My son is in first grade, so I've only had the joy of being involved for one full year and I feel as though people make time for thinks they find important however they can. We have some parents that NEVER make it to the school, however they bake, make phone calls, donate supplies, and ect. It's about doing what you can. I believe when your children see something matters to you it matters to them even more :-)
#15 LaKeshia Rainey 2010-09-02 21:59
The PTO at Joy Elementary in Sioux City, Iowa "fundraises" in creative ways so families don't feel over taxed with over priced catalog items. Here are a few examples (Once a month we have a skating night, $5/child and adults skate free, Once a month we have a SPIRIT night at Chick-fil-a, and we also have 2+ Chuck E. Cheese nights a year.) Each of these events a % of the total sales goes back to the school. Our budget, among other things, supports needed learning material for the staff and an end of the year carnival (FREE). We also plan, provide volunteers, and of course raise the funds for other (FREE) ALL SCHOOL events, ie (Family reading night, Family math night, Pumkin Patch, Holiday Concert, Bake Sales).
#14 Aaron 2009-01-04 07:20
Me parece un excelente artículo.
#13 Mary 2008-10-29 16:42
I am on my school's PTO and, quite frankly, tired of the fundraising. I found a way to give directly to the teacher, on my own time. A teacher registry called goldstarregistr She created the registry of classroom supplies she normally buys out of her pocket. I go online and choose something off her list. I love it because I see what is being taught in the classroom and it makes me feel a bit more connected. This is a great idea for a great teacher gift - for the holidays, or just a "thanks for all you do" kind of a gift. It won't take the place of fundraising, but every little bit helps!
#12 Yvonne Bruman 2008-09-21 00:23
I love this article. This is my 9th year in the elementry school due to the age difference of my two children. They are in 8th and 5th grade. Until this past August, I have owned my own business where I worked almost 7 days a week. I still made time because I cared. I see my son's teacher 2-3 times per week and keep tabs on him. If there's a problem, I want to know right away. I also really love the school and what the PTO does for it. I have been the secretary for three years and the bookfair chairperson for six years. I love it because I can let my creativity run wild. The more outrageous and dramatic and eyecatching, the better. So, as I am writing this, I am searching for ideas for our new PTO bulletin board and how to make it stand out. I want it to pop. I want people to feel, "Hey, I want to be a part of something that does that and cares that much about the students." If anyone has any ideas, let me know. Thanks for listening.
#11 P Barrett 2008-09-16 00:00
I am the PTO President at my son's school. This year, instead of doing our typical fund-raisers and selling a bunch of junk as T Barnes stated, we will have monthly Family Fellowship Dinners at local restaurants. A % of the dinners go back to the PTO. So it's not only a fund-raiser but it's fellowship/fami ly time also. Last year we did it only once and made over $200 in a 2 hour time span and the families that came loved it! :-) Thank you Kathryn for the link to '10 Reasons to Get Involved'
#10 T Barnes 2008-09-05 02:55
I definitely agree that parent involvement is crucial to the success of their children. However, the true involvement is directly with the child, teacher and school, not the PTO. I would rather donate money directly to the school instead of constantly being solicited and even harassed by the PTO to buy a bunch of over priced junk sold in the form fund raisers. Since school started on August 11th, I have purchased from the PTO a membership, t-shirts for both of my children, and snacks ($22.00 for the school year). The PTO just sent home a fund raiser also - the typical catalogs full of junk. The PTO and the school constantly pressure parents into buying all of this stuff. Too much of it pushes people away. I can be just as involved, if not more, with my children by spending time with them discussing school issues and assignments. Teachers also encourage parents to contact them anytime they have questions or concerns.
#9 A Taylor 2008-05-28 12:48
As a teacher, I found some very helpful ideas. Thanks for a great article.

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