Parental Involvement and School Success

Postsecondary education in the U.S. is no longer holding its own internationally in regard to the quality of baccalaureate and postgraduate degrees. However, the difficulties start much sooner–in pre-school–and the critical and vital link to student success is parental involvement. Research over several decades has shown how important it is to involve parents in their children’s education throughout pre-school to high school. This research relates most strongly to public schools. Unfortunately, it seems that the only place where parents feel comfortable is in their living rooms while they home-school their children. Interestingly, popular news media are showing that home-schooled children do very well, often surpassing achievement test scores of their public school peers.

Last evening, I missed an online forum I very much wanted to attend. It was a panel about what can be done to fix American Education. The discussion, Education Nation Panel Live Stream held on Facebook, was posted as starting at 8:00PM, but it did not state that the time was given as Eastern Time. Oh, well. I got my two cents’ worth into the comment stream, and will not share them here. If you have a Facebook account, you should be able to easily link to the comments.

While reading the comments, I realized two things: No teachers were involved in the discussion, and no parents of school-age children had been invited (not counting any panel member who happened to have children). In addition, most discussion post commentary was contributed by educators, so parents were underrepresented here, as well. This made me wonder, Why not?

The importance of parental involvement in a child’s education process is stressed by every college and university in the country that offers teacher training programs. Yet, beyond scheduled conferences and PTA meetings, how often does the school reach out to parents and invite their participation. Do educators look down at parents because they are not professionals? Do parents feel they are not qualified? What is going on?

Although I have not seen it yet, the documentary movie “Waiting for Superman” supposedly addresses the ills of public schools. From what I am reading about it, however, there is a lot of one-sided argument, and parental involvement is glossed over: Parents are allowed to air their complaints, but not discuss their suggestions for improvement. Just those things–especially not addressing adequately the importance of parents (other than complaining), and not showing the good things educators in the public schools are doing–makes me think this is just another attempt to incite without offering manageable solutions.

But here is the bottom line: Education research has convincingly shown that the single most important aspect of a child’s success is the involvement of at least one parent or custodial adult in the educational process from Kindergarten through 12th grade.

Unfortunately, during the past two years parental involvement seems to have lost its importance to the U.S. Department of Education. I blame Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education. The parent websites had managed to survive through numerous presidencies, so I can only surmise that Dr. Duncan does not feel parental involvement in education is an important topic. Again, this is DESPITE RESEARCH FINDINGS.

Too many people do not understand educational research. Indeed, much of what is written up and published include professional jargon and descriptions that are difficult for non-professionals to follow. Clearly, more solid information written in ordinary English needs to be available to the general public. Government sites, such as the Institute for Education Sciences (IES), offer links to specific government education sites, including links for parents, as well as explanation of research findings written in plain English. Other links include several to both the home page and specific survey sites for the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Another important site is the home page of the U.S. Department of Education, where information is available to the general public regarding long- and short-range college planning, student loan updates, and other sources related to postsecondary education. There used to be a segment of IES that specifically aimed at parents, but that seems to have fallen to the wayside during the past year, perhaps because education is the province of the state, and most states already made parent-related education materials available (not just for home-schooling), or perhaps due to federal budget cuts. Among publications, the most recent downloadable information related to parental involvement seem to be contained in a regional study, Parent involvement strategies in urban middle and high schools in the Northeast and Islands Region (published in 2009), and a program study A Study of Classroom Literacy Interventions and Outcomes in Even Start (published in 2008).

Interestingly, an event local to me (West: Leading Successful School Turnarounds: Learning from Research and Practice) is open only to very targeted individuals, with education union representative, but without any representation of parents (unless “external partners supporting turnaround efforts” counts–which I doubt). Here is the intended audience and location information, for any SoCal parents interested in finding out why they were omitted:

Date: September 30 – October 1, 2010
District and school leaders receiving School Improvements Grants (SIGs), state education agency staff, union representatives, and external partners supporting turnaround efforts in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, and Utah.
Expected number of participants: 200

Hilton Los Angeles Airport Hotel; Los Angeles, CA

Contact: Meg Livingston Asensio 415.615.3196

Parents and teachers, it is time to unite and put the facts before the eyes of government leaders like Dr. Duncan. Dr. Duncan seems to me to be just another pretty boy who takes advice without considering or reviewing sources, as he is too busy to keep abreast of research aimed at education. Although postsecondary education is important and the U.S. is no longer holding its own in regard to the quality of baccalaureate and postgraduate degrees, the difficulties start much sooner–in pre-school–and increase through the 12th grade. Parental involvement is a critical aspect of success, and it is time parents were spot-lighted and helped.