The impact of parent/family involvement on student outcomes - Susanne Carter
“When parents become involved, children do better in school, and they go to better schools.”
- Anne T. Henderson Author of The Evidence Continues to Grow
Three decades of research have demonstrated that parent/family involvement significantly contributes, in a variety of ways, to improved student outcomes related to learning and school success. These findings have remained fairly consistent despite the fact that families have undergone significant changes during that time, and schools “operate in very different times than those of a decade or two ago” (Drake, 2000, p. 34). One of the eight goals included in the 1994 Goals 2000 legislation was dedicated to this critical area: “Every school will promote partnerships that will increase parental involvement and participation in promoting the social, emotional, and academic growth of children” (U. S. Department of Education, 1994). The importance of parent/family involvement was reaffirmed in 1997 when the National PTA, in cooperation with education and parent involvement professionals, developed six National Standards for Parent/Family Involvement Programs (White, 1998).
Although family involvement has reached a "new level of acceptance" today as one of many factors that can help improve the quality of schools, “acceptance does not always translate into implementation, commitment, or creativity” (Drake, 2000, p. 34). Much remains to be done. “Our society has simply become too complex for support entities to continue to function individually” (Buttery & Anderson, 1999).
Schools, communities, and parents/families must cooperate and work collaboratively to improve the learning experience of all children.
The challenges that students in America’s public schools face cannot be solved by educators alone; nor can these problems be solved by parents or families alone. Students in schools across this nation are confronted by critical social, emotional, and environmental problems.
More collaboration between the school and home will need to be focused on dealing with these problems. (Drake, 2000, p. 34). Schools that recognize the “interdependent nature of the relationship” between families and schools and value parents as “essential partners” in the education process will realize the full value of this collaboration.
Such an approach recognizes the “significance of families” and the “contributions of schools” as a “necessary framework” for working together in “complementary efforts toward common goals” to maximize success for students as learners (Christenson & Sheridan, 2001).
In this bibliography of research published during the past decade, we have grouped studies into three related areas: studies that evaluate the effectiveness of school-based programs and interventions intended to promote parent/family involvement on student outcomes; studies that evaluate family behaviors and characteristics and their effect on student outcomes; and studies that analyze parent/family involvement research. From this research, we have distilled the following twelve key findings:
1. Parent/family involvement has a significant positive impact on student outcomes throughout the elementary, middle school, and secondary years.
Several of these studies indicate that parent/family involvement has a lasting effect throughout the K-12 educational careers of students (Kellaghan, Sloane, Alvarez, & Bloom, 1993; Trusty, 1999). Simon (1999) found that although study habits, attitudes, and behavior patterns may be set by a student’s senior year, an adolescent’s success is influenced by his or her family even through the last year of high school.
2. While in general parent/family involvement improves student outcomes, variations have been found according to students’ family cultures, ethnicity, and/or socioeconomic backgrounds.
Several studies during the past decade have examined the relationship between student outcomes and factors such as family culture, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. Griffith (1996) and Kellaghan, Sloane, Alvarez, and Bloom (1993) reported that student outcomes were largely unaffected by these factors.
Shaver and Walls’ (1998) study of Title I students found that outcomes in mathematics and reading achievement for students of all socioeconomic levels were significantly affected by parent/family involvement, although students from higher socioeconomic families experienced the greatest improvement.
Desimone’s (1999) study found that the effectiveness of particular parent-involvement practices does differ according to race/ethnicity and family income. This author recommends that these differences be considered by educators and policy makers if parent involvement is to be utilized as a resource to help schools respond more effectively to the nation’s growing income and educational disparities. Studies by Keith, Keith, Quirk, Sperduto, Santillo, and Killings (1998) and Shaver and Walls (1998) researched the effect of student gender on parent/family involvement and indicated no significant difference in parent/family involvement between boys and girls who participated.
3. Parent/family involvement at home has a more significant impact on children than parent/family involvement in school activities.
The ways in which parents/families can be involved in their children’s education have broadened considerably over the past three decades beyond the traditional “big three”— volunteer, homework helper, and fund-raiser (Christenson and Sheridan, 2001). What parents/families do in the home environment, however, remains significantly more important to student outcomes than what parents/families do in the school setting (Christenson and Sheridan, 2001; Hickman, Greenwood, and Miller, 1995; Izzo, Weissberg, Kasprow, and Fendrich, 1999; Trusty, 1999).
4. The nature of the parent/family involvement that is most beneficial to children changes as they reach adolescence.
In their interviews with students, teachers, and parents in four high schools, Sanders and Epstein (2000) found that although adolescents need more independence than younger children, the need for guidance and support of caring adults in the home, school, and community during this time in their lives is very important. Other studies reinforce the value of parents/families expressing confidence in adolescents and supporting autonomy as significant contributors to achievement among high school students (Christenson and Christenson, 1998; Deslandes, Royer, Turcotte, and Bertrand, 1997; and Kellaghan, Sloane, Alvarez, and Bloom,1993).
5. Parent/family involvement in early childhood programs helps children succeed in their transition to kindergarten and elementary school.
Numerous early childhood programs that include parent/family involvement have shown significant positive results in helping children transition to kindergarten and succeed during the primary grades, especially among disadvantaged children and those at risk of school failure (Kreider, 2002; Marcon, 1999; Miedel and Reynolds, 1999; Starkey and Klein, 2000).
6. Parent/family assistance with homework can be beneficial; however, parents may need guidance and assistance in order to work effectively with their children.
Many studies have documented the significance of parent/family involvement in homework (Balli, Demo, and Wedman, 1998; Callahan, Rademacher, and Hildreth, 1998; Cooper, Lindsay, and Nye, 2000). The nature of that involvement, however, determines the value of the assistance. Cooper, Lindsay, and Nye (2000) found that an active teaching role for parents may be most appropriate for elementary children experiencing difficulty in school. But with older students doing well in school, it is best to reinforce autonomy and not directly intervene so that students learn time-management and study skills. Other studies (Balli, 1998; Balli, Demo, and Wedman, 1998) indicate that educators need to help parents understand homework concepts and developmentally appropriate practices in order to best help their children.
7. The ways in which culturally diverse families are involved in their children’s education may be different from those of other families. These family practices are nonetheless valuable and should be respected and capitalized on when planning parent/family involvement programs.
Several researchers (Espinosa, 1995; Lopez, 2001; Scribner, Young, and Pedroza, 1999) have found that Hispanic parents and families may be very involved in their children’s educational lives, although they may not participate in their children’s schooling in ways expected by school personnel. Educators must identify new ways of partnering with families that respect and validate the cultures of their homes.
8. Promising outcomes have been documented in both mathematics and literacy when children’s parents/families are involved in the educational process.
Several studies have documented the significant impact of parent/family involvement on student achievement in literacy (Faires, Nichols, and Rickeman, 2000; Hara and Burke, 1998; Quigley, 2000; West, 2000) and mathematics (Balli, Demo, and Wedman, 1998; Epstein, 2001; Galloway and Sheridan, 1994). These interventions ranged from teachers’ notes home to formal trainings offered to parents on how to implement the program at home and work effectively with their children. The positive impact of parent/family involvement has also been documented in the areas of music (Zdzinski, 1996), art (Epstein, 2001), and writing (Chavkin, Gonzalez, & Rader, 2002; Epstein, 2001).
9. The most promising opportunity for student achievement occurs when families, schools, and community organizations work together.
The effectiveness of families, schools, and communities working together has been documented in several studies (Christenson & Christenson, 1998; Jordan, Orozco, & Averett, 2001; Sanders & Epstein, 2000). To promote these comprehensive partnerships, schools must provide a variety of opportunities for schools, families, and communities to work together (Rutherford & Billing, 1995). These programs must be based upon “mutual respect and interdependence of home, school, and community” (McAfee, 1993).
10. To be effective, school programs must be individualized to fit the needs of the students, parents, and community.
There is no one model that has proven effective in building parent/family involvement programs in schools. Researchers document evidence that programs must be based upon the individualized needs of the families, teachers, students, and community members involved (Brough & Irvin, 2001; Christenson & Sheridan, 2001).
11. Effective programs assist parents in learning how to create a home environment that fosters learning and how to provide support and encouragement for their children’s success.
It cannot be assumed that parents instinctively know how to involve themselves in their children’s education. In fact, many parents feel inadequate in teaching roles. Effective programs have taught parents how to create a home environment that encourages learning and how to provide support and encouragement that is appropriate for their children’s development level (National Council of Jewish Women, 1996; Quigley, 2000; Simmons, Stevenson, & Strnad, 1993).
12. Teachers must be trained to promote effective parent/family involvement in children’s education.
It cannot be assumed that teachers will naturally know how to promote effective parent/family involvement. Professional and in-service training for teachers that focuses on working with families is not yet widely available; nor do many preservice programs across the country offer training for future teachers in the development of school-family relationships (Kessler-Sklar & Baker, 2000; National Council of Jewish Women, 1996). This component is also critical for the development of effective school, family, and community partnerships.