Parent Involvement in the Schools
In 2002, President George W. Bush signed into legislation the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB). The goal of the legislation is to improve the academic achievement of students, with an emphasis on shrinking the gap of achievement between disadvantaged students and their peers. One of the ways schools are asked to increase student performance is to involve parents more in both student learning and school policy. While some schools (private and public) receive grant funding to support parental involvement, many do not. Regardless, teachers and administrators recognize the value of parent involvement and try to include parents in various education initiatives. However, many parents know little about school policy or scholastic requirements, and many more feel ill-equipped to assist in policy change or home-learning opportunities.
Keywords: Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP); At-risk; Collaborative Approach; Literacy; No Child Left Behind (NCLB); Parent Advisory Councils (PACs); Parent Teacher Association (PTA); Parental Information and Resource Centers (PIRCs); Socioeconomic Status (SES); Title I
When another school year begins, many parents experience anxiety rather than relief. Clothes and supply shopping can break a budget, as can after school care and the cost of snacks, lunches, and various fees. Another concern facing every parent is time. Many dinner hours are spent figuring out who will drop off and who will pick up, who will take the kids to practice and why school breaks always occur at the worst time to be out of the office. In addition, there are the time demands of parent-teacher meetings, fundraisers, and other school functions that add one more thing to an already busy schedule. While many parents find the time to participate in various events, few offer to organize them and fewer initiate a parent-teacher conference before a teacher does; parents simply don't know they are encouraged to do these things.
NCLB requires that schools increase parental involvement as one way to improve student performance. While educators worldwide voice opposition toward NCLB's assessment measures (i.e. standardized tests), it is unlikely that any oppose a collaborative approach between parents and school officials. Parents who are involved in their children's school show their kids that education is important. Further, parents who think their opinion doesn't matter can quickly become catalysts for change; something they once may have considered impossible. Finally, any school that encourages parental involvement tells parents that the needs of their family are important to the operation of the institution. In 2012 President Barack Obama began granting waivers from some NCLB requirements to states—thirty-four states, plus the District of Columbia—that demonstrated flexibility and set their own higher goals and standards to improve achievement and meet expectations. These waivers were set to expire at the end of the 2013–2014 school year.
Title I is a grant funded through the Department of Education as part of the No Child Left Behind Act. The grant supplies funding to schools with large percentages of low-income students so the schools can create educational programming to increase students' academic achievement. In 2008, for example, the U.S. Department of Education funded almost 14 billion dollars to schools nation-wide, assisting more than 12 million students in both private and public schools (U.S. Department of Education, 2009). Any school that received more than $500,000 in funding had to use at least 1% of its grant to implement programs that increase parental involvement (U.S. Department of Education, 2007, p. 3). Schools can use their funding in various ways:
Individual public schools with poverty rates above 40 percent may use Title I funds, along with other Federal, State, and local funds, to operate a "schoolwide program" to upgrade the instructional program for the whole school. Schools with poverty rates below 40 percent, or those choosing not to operate a schoolwide program, offer a "targeted assistance program" in which the school identifies students who are failing, or most at risk of failing, to meet the State's challenging performance standards, then designs, in consultation with parents, staff, and district staff, an instructional program to meet the needs of those students. Both schoolwide and targeted assistance programs must be based on effective means of improving student achievement and include strategies to support parental involvement (U.S. Department of Education, 2009, par. 4).
Of course the phrase, "parental involvement" can be defined differently by schools. Technically, parents going to a school, picking up a child's report card, and speaking to a teacher about the child is considered parental involvement, as is purchasing cookies at a fundraiser or attending a sporting event. However, Title I funding is meant to include parents in a more comprehensive manner. Schools receiving funds from the grant are supposed to include parents in three areas:
- The decision-making process
- Choice of a different school
- Assisting in learning initiatives
If schools are going to create programs to include parents, parents need to actively assist in the decisions involved in that process. In addition, parents need to be included in school improvement plans as well. The second area in which schools are required to include parents is in providing them choice. Any school receiving Title I funding is required to make progress toward academic achievement goals or Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). Schools that do not meet their goals two years in a row are required to provide parents with that information and to give parents the option of choosing a different school to send their child. Schools are also required to provide information about the progress of other schools, so parents have a complete picture of what options will best meet their needs. The third area of involvement revolves around academic achievement goals. Title I requires that parents not only receive a report regarding how students are achieving but also that parents assist in learning initiatives to increase academic achievement levels.
Owens & Peltier (2002) conducted a survey in Nevada in 2000 to determine if parents actually wanted school accountability reports (those that report Adequate Yearly Progress). With a pool of almost 5,000 responses, the researchers were able to conclude that parents put a high value on data "regarding reporting categories of student to teacher ratio (81%), test score summary (80.4%), progress toward goals (79%), teacher experience (77.3%), and number of incidents of violence (75%)" (Owens & Peltier, 2002, p. 597). The survey asked open ended questions, so responses were not guided by the limitations of choosing the better — rather than the best — response. Parents want to know how their children's schools are performing, and they should be getting that information.
Why Parental Involvement is Important
Federal legislation has been instituted requiring parental involvement in schools because research points to positive results when parental involvement is increased. Parents become empowered, teachers and schools receive valuable assistance, and students achieve academically. In addition, parents who are involved with their children's academics create an environment of learning, which is essential to life-long success. According to Lynn Gilbert, Director of Admissions and International Students at a private Catholic high school in upstate New York, "parents who are more involved have children who are more conscientious of their study habits and maintain higher goals, thereby achieving higher grades and as a result are accepted into more prestigious colleges" (personal communication, September 7, 2009).
In 1988, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES, a division of the U.S. Department of Education) gathered data from over 21,000 8th grade students and their parents across the United States. Researchers Keith & Keith (1993) used that data to determine the effect of parental involvement on the academic achievement of the students. To determine "the extent of the influence" parents had on the learning of their children, Keith & Keith evaluated survey responses from parents and students and assessed the scores of standardized tests taken during the initial data collection by NCES (1993). They found that,
Parental involvement had a very strong effect on time spent on homework … children of involved parents spent considerably more time doing homework and at-home reading. It also appears that homework displaces TV viewing … so students who spend time on homework watch less TV during the week … part of the effect found for parental involvement on achievement is because involved parents influence their children to spend more time in academic pursuits. This time spent on homework and at-home reading, in turn, increases achievement (Keith & Keith, 1993, "How Does Parental Involvement Affect").
In order to check for reliability (whether survey responses were consistent), Keith & Keith (1993) looked at parent responses and compared them to the responses of their children. As a result, the researchers concluded that parents had answered honestly; those who reported that they limited television time and required homework time actually did, as their children reported the same information. Another finding was that the parents in this study became more involved in the education of their children when the children were performing well, compared to when children were performing poorly. In addition, parents with higher socioeconomic (SES) status were more involved than parents with lower SES, and parents of at risk children were more involved than parents of children who were not considered at risk (Keith & Keith, 1993).
The ability to read is essential to the success of any student. Those who do not become proficient readers tend to have behavior problems in school and lack self-confidence; additionally, they are more likely to behave in delinquent ways and drop out of school more often than strong readers (Musti-Rao & Cartledge, 2004). Because reading is so important to a child's future, any assistance parents can give their children in developing the skill is invaluable.
Padak & Rasinski (2006) created a literacy development program that is designed to be used at home. Fast Start (FS) was created for primary school aged children and their parents to practice reading skills. The program allows for bonding between parents and children as they need to sit together to practice it. It is simple and doesn't require a great deal of time for completion.
First, a parent reads a given passage from a nursery rhyme, a poem, or a song several times, pointing to specific words as they are read. Next, the parent and child read the same passage together several times. When the child feels he is familiar with the passage, he then reads independently to his parent. The last step is for the parent and child to play word games using words...
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