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.
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."
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.
We created a 2-minute video summarizing these benefits for parent group leaders to share with families. Play it at your back-to-school night or put it on your PTO website (Spanish-language version also available).
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.
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.
In both two-parent and father-only households where dads are highly involved in their schools, children are more likely to:
participate in extracurricular activities.
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.
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.
Mikaela J. Dufur, Toby L. Parcel, and Kelly P. Troutman (2013): Does capital at home matter more than capital at school? Social capital effects on academic achievement. Research in Social Stratification and Mobility 31, pages 1-21.
Joyce L. Epstein and Associates (2008): School, Family, and Community Partnerships: Your Handbook for Action. Third Edition. Corwin Press. Thousand Oaks, Calif.
Anne T. Henderson, Ed; Nancy Berla, Ed. (1994): A New Generation of Evidence: The Family is Critical to Student Achievement. National Committee for Citizens in Education, Washington, D.C.
Anne T. Henderson and Karen L. Mapp (2002): A New Wave of Evidence: The Impact of School, Family, and Community Connections on Student Achievement. National Center for Family and Community Connections with Schools. Austin, Texas.
Originally posted in 2006 and updated regularly.