The recent Public Education Forums hosted by the West Virginia Department of Education offered four themes for public discussion: Funding Opportunities (increased compensation, enrollment floor, local levy rates, & local share cap); Instructional Quality (teacher leaders, teacher preparation programs, support for math teachers, county salary supplements, & reduction in force (RIF) decisions); School Choice & Innovation (innovation zone expansion, expanded preschool, open enrollment, charter schools, & educational savings accounts); and Social Emotional Supports (communities in schools, student support personnel, increased student support personnel, & training for teachers).
These are great discussion topics, but a key ingredient that has been shown to greatly improve student academic and social/emotional success is missing…family involvement.
Family involvement in their child’s school is a powerful intervention for improving children’s social-emotional, behavioral, and academic competencies. Effective family involvement out performs each of the four factors posed by WV Department of Education. This factor is also missing from West Virginia Senate Education Bill 451.
Effective parent involvement includes parents communicating with and building a relationship with their child’s teacher(s). Parents are also effective when they engage in structured activities with their children such as homework monitoring, offering enrichment activities to their child, and working collaboratively with the teacher on behavioral support strategies.
“It’s not enough to just inform the teachers how to adjust instruction and differentiate for the children,” Nagy-Johnson, Springfield Public School (NJ), said. “We wanted to go a step further and bring the parents in to learn how they can help their child at home with very specific areas of need that we identified using the data.”[i]
Parent involvement is effective in fostering achievement and social-emotional gains at all levels. Schools are encouraged to engage and maintain their involvement throughout the middle school and secondary years. Moreover, research shows that the more intensively parents are involved in their children’s learning the more beneficial the achievement effects. The benefits of parent involvement hold true for all types of parent involvement in children’s learning and for all ages of students. The benefits are also true for significant caregivers such as grandparents, stepparents, foster parents, or extended family members who serve as a child’s parent and are engaged in school-related activities.
Improved parent attitudes toward the school and improved parent self concepts result when parents become involved in their children’s learning. Parents can make a difference regardless of their own levels of education. In fact, disadvantaged children have the most to gain from parent involvement programs. Special education, gifted, limited English proficient, and other student groups also experience achievement and affective benefits when their parents are involved in their learning.
Along similar lines, researchers have found that the more active forms of parent involvement produce greater achievement benefits than the more passive ones. Parents being available to receiving phone calls, read and sign written communications from the school, and attend parent teacher conferences increases student achievement. But considerably greater achievement benefits result when parent involvement is active–when parents work with their children at home, and when they attend and actively support school activities and when they help out in classrooms or on field trips.
Looking more closely at the research, there are strong indications that the most effective forms of parent involvement are those that engage parents in working directly with their children on learning activities in the home. Programs that involve parents in reading with their children, supporting their work on homework assignments, or tutoring them using materials and instructions provided by teachers, show particularly impressive results.
A recent study by Sheridan, Smith, and Kim (2019)[ii]has particular implications for West Virginia school improvement initiatives, “…uncovering the significance of family-school interventions for improving mental health outcomes in nonurban relative to urban settings capitalizes on the strengths of rural communities in an area in dire need of support.”
What does meaningful parental involvement in school look like?
Investigators have identified lack of planning and lack of mutual understanding as the two greatest barriers to effective parent involvement. School staff wishing to institute effective programs will need to be both open minded and well organized in their approach to engaging parent participation.
Research has established that the most successful parent participation efforts are those which offer parents a variety of roles in the context of a well-organized and long-lasting program. Parents will need to be able to choose from a range of activities, which accommodate different schedules, preferences, and capabilities. As part of the planning process, teachers and administrators will need to assess their own readiness for involving parents and determine how they wish to engage and utilize them.
What should school administrators and teachers do to promote greater parent involvement?
- Promote awareness of the importance of family involvement in student learning for all grades levels and all parents—regardless parent education level.
- Provide training on methods and best practices for family outreach through workshops and collaborations.
- Offer a variety of types of parental involvement such as:
- Encourage collaboration planning between parent and teacher for behavior support for a child when needed.
- Foster two-way communications from school to parents and from parents to school
- Encourage teachers to offer learning at home enrichment activities as part of their lesson planning
- Create lists of volunteer opportunities that allow participation from parents in a variety of ways and times
- Whenever possible include parents in decision making at school that impacts student learning opportunities and scheduling.
- Collaborate with the community to broaden opportunities for new academic offerings and expanded partnerships for emerging career training.
Additional guidelines for Parental Involvementinclude:
- Communicate to parents that their involvement and support makes a great deal of difference in their children’s school performance, and that they need not be highly educated or have large amounts of free time for their involvement to be beneficial. This point should be mentioned repeatedly.
- Encourage parent involvement from the time children first enter school.
- Teach parents that activities such as modeling reading behavior and reading to their children increase children’s interest in learning.
- Develop parent involvement programs that include a focus on parent involvement in instruction–conducting learning activities with children in the home, assisting with homework, and monitoring and encouraging the learning activities of older students.
- Provide orientation and training for parents,but remember that intensive, long- lasting training is neither necessary nor feasible.
- Make a special effort to engage the involvement of parents of disadvantaged students, who stand to benefit the most from parent participation in their learning, but whose parents are often initially reluctant to become involved.
- Continue to emphasize that parents are partners of the school and that their involvement is needed and valued.
Examples of different strategies schools used to engage parents in meaningful ways
- Springfield Public Schools (NJ) spent last year analyzing test score data over a four-year period to see which students struggled and what types of questions were most difficult for students. Based on this analysis, the school district started a parent-student program in the evenings that offered dinner, provided an opportunity for parents and students to learn together, and identified strategies that parents could use at home to help students in particular areas. As a result of the program, teachers noticed positive changes in their students’ work.
- As students worked through Rosetta Stone software after school, their parents listened as well, and they could access the software at home to go through it themselves. That’s helping both parents and students learn English better and communicate with the school more.
[i]Roscorla, T. (Mar 29, 2016). 2016 Digital School Districts Winners Use Data Analytics, Digital Literacy Curriculum to Help Students Succeed.Center for Digital Education. Downloaded from: https://www.govtech.com/education/k-12/2016-Digital-School-District-Winners-Use-Data-Analytics-Digital-Literacy-Curriculum-to-Help-Students-Succeed.html
[ii]Sheridan, S. M., Smith, T. E., & Kim, E. M. (2019). A meta-analysis of family-school interventions and children’s social-emotional functioning: Moderators and components of efficacy. Review of Educational Research 80,(2), pp. 296-332.