Parental Involvement May Improve Children's Educational Attainment

Parental Involvement

The Parent and Family Involvement in Education survey, released in August, compiled the responses of more than 17,000 parents of K-12 students in an effort to study parental engagement in learning at school and home. According to the survey, a large majority of parents (87 percent) are involved in their child's education, or at least receiving important correspondence and updates on their child's progress. Furthermore, 87 percent of parents reported attending a parent-teacher conference or organization meeting, and a fairly large percentage of parents (47 percent) report volunteering in their child's classroom. But, along with this good news comes a report of striking disparities between average-income and low-income families. As the new survey points out, only 48 percent of low-income or non-English speaking parents report getting specific updates about their child's school, compared to 57 percent of parents from average-income households.

Indicators of parental involvement

According to a recent paper by Mikaela J. Dufur, Toby L. Parcel, and Kelly P. Troutman, "Research in Social Stratification and Mobility," parental engagement may be dictated by social class as well as income. "Middle class parents use concerted cultivation, creating a full schedule of activities for their children to encourage academic development through intense parent-child interaction and activities coordinated with schools. In contrast, working class and poor parents schedule far fewer activities and instead view child development as accomplishment of natural growth," wrote the authors of the paper.

According to Dufur, Parcel, and Troutman, levels of parental involvement may also be indicative of the parent's culture, passed on from one generation of similar socioeconomic status to the next. The authors also argue that, in most cases, social capital is needed to produce high levels of academic achievement. "Adult investment in children is more than supervision; it creates the mechanisms via which children are socialized and educated. Family and school environments characterized by low levels of social capital will be insufficient to transmit necessary information and knowledge to children, leading to lower levels of achievement."

An experiment in social capital

An article in the Oxford University Press details how one school district directly measured the impact of parental involvement through intervention. At the beginning of the 2008-2009 school year, a school district in Creitel, France, embarked on an experiment to determine whether parental involvement could improve their worrisome truancy rate. Since many parents spoke limited French and worked far away from the school, their interactions with teachers and administrators were few and far between. So was their involvement with their child's education.

In an effort to get to the root of the problem, the school district invited parents from about 200 6th grade classes to participate in group discussions on their child's transition to middle school. Around 1,000 parents volunteered for the program with about half chosen to participate. As the talks commenced, school administrators remained hopeful that a positive transformation might take place.

Fortunately, parents who participated began to take an interest in their child's school and its activities. They began to schedule individual appointments, participate in school events, and volunteer. Students also showed markedly improved behavior, even among those whose parents did not participate in the initial school meetings. Absenteeism decreased by 25 percent and behavioral issues by 15 percent, all within a short amount of time after the initiative began. Meanwhile, children who received honors increased by ten percent. In this case, the school district proved that schools may have some power when it comes to cultivating parental engagement and involvement, if only as a means to spur an initial interest.

The evolution of parental involvement

With parents participating in their child's education at varying levels, it's important to note how each level of participation affects children's educational attainment and success. A growing body of research indicates that a healthy dose of parental involvement can make a positive impact on children's academic achievement, personal fulfillment, and behavior.

Amy Rex, co-principal of Harwood Union High School in Duxbury, Vermont, believes that additional challenges may arise as children transition from childhood to pre-teens and young adults. However, Rex believes that middle and high school students rely on parental involvement more for the social aspects of school as they mature. "Students believe they can do better if they know their parents and other caring adults are interested in their performance and hold them to high expectations," says Rex.

What can be done?

Rex's home state, Vermont, passed the Vermont Act 77 in an effort to ensure that all students in grades seven to 12 have a personal learning plan by 2015. At Rex's school, the personal learning plan "will be designed to support students in their individual academic, career and personal/social development, allowing and guiding them to make informed choices about their goals and manage their own learning options," said Rex. Much like the school district in Creitel, France, schools in Vermont have chosen to intervene in a way they hope can benefit students, parents, and educators.

Research shows that schools can and do make a difference when they take specific measures to improve parental engagement in children's academic achievement and activities. And, when steps are taken to ensure an appropriate amount of investment is made in children's education, society as a whole stands to benefit.


  1. "Federal Survey Examines Parent Engagement in Education," Karla Scoon Reid, Education Week, September 3, 2013, http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/parentsandthepublic/2013/09/national_survey_examines_parent_engagement_in_education.html
  2. "Getting parents involved in education," Francesco Avvisati, Marc Gurgand, Nina Guyon, and Éric Maurin, Oxford University Press Blog, October 17, 2013, http://blog.oup.com/2013/10/getting-parents-involved-in-education/
  3. "Parent and Family Involvement in Education, from the National Household Education Surveys Program of 2012," National Center for Education Statistics, August 2013, http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2013/2013028.pdf
  4. "Personal learning plans boost parent involvement," Amy Rex, Waterbury Record, October 24, 2013, http://www.stowetoday.com/waterbury_record/opinion/weekly_editorial/article_4fd0287a-3c03-11e3-8385-0019bb2963f4.html
  5. "Research in Social Stratification and Mobility," Mikaela J. Dufur, Toby L. Parcel, Kelly P. Troutman, Science Direct, March 2013, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S027656241200042X

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