October 2009

Elementary students love it when their parents volunteer at school during the day. Middle schoolers, not so much. That leaves middle school PTOs—and parents—trying to figure out how to support kids in school as they get older. A new report by Duke University researchers may help parents looking for the best way to stay involved.

In an article in the May 2009 issue of the journal Developmental Psychology, the authors reviewed 50 studies on parent involvement and academic achievement. In elementary school, parents are more likely to visit the classroom and talk with their child's teacher. But in middle school, involvement tends to shift to attending school activities, which doesn't give parents the same opportunities to interact with teachers. At the same time, middle schoolers are becoming more independent and are able to make more decisions for themselves.

At this stage, parents can have the greatest positive effect on their child's achievement by talking with students about their academic expectations and encouraging them to make good decisions about school. School-based involvement, such as volunteering or going to PTO meetings, also has a positive effect on grades, the authors say.

Overall, the most effective types of middle school involvement were seen as those that help parents understand the curriculum, clearly communicate expectations for parent involvement, and share strategies kids can use in school.