When you look at the strategic plans of school districts around the country, there are a few recurring themes that are all but guaranteed to be key goals. The most common of these is improving family engagement.
And it’s not just the district level that has its eye on engaging parents and families. Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Education released a developer’s guide to highlight opportunities for Ed Tech startups and entrepreneurs to address critical needs through technology innovation. Third on this list of “the most urgent needs that [they] hear from educators, parents, and students across the country” was family engagement.
Involving parents and caregivers in the learning process is a key element to ensuring student success. It is particularly essential for students who need special assistance, such as those who struggle with learning disabilities. Often parents feel left out of the education process, especially those whose work, school, or family responsibilities make it difficult to connect with teachers and school leaders during regular school hours.
Given the importance of parent engagement, and the focus on it from educators as a key opportunity for improving student performance, we wanted to take a deep dive on the topic and put together some of the most important thought leadership, research, and resources available.
The Consensus on Parent Engagement
The relationship between parent involvement and student achievement is, to some degree, common sense. That said, research consistently shows that parental involvement is associated with higher student achievement outcomes (Jeynes 2005).
The results of the meta-analysis indicate that parental involvement is associated with higher student achievement outcomes. These findings emerged consistently whether the outcome measures were grades, standardized test scores, or a variety of other measures, including teacher ratings. This trend holds not only for parental involvement overall but for most components of parental involvement that were examined in the meta-analysis. Moreover, the pattern holds not only for the overall student population but for minority students as well. For the overall population of students, on average, the achievement scores of children with highly involved parents was higher than children with less involved parents.
The positive impact of parent involvement across such a diverse array of measures shows the broad impact achieved by programs that engage parents effectively. The findings of this meta-analysis go on to state:
The results indicate that, on average, parental involvement programs work. As expected, the influence of these programs is not as large as the impact of parental involvement as a whole. This is because parents already enthusiastic about supporting the educational progress of their children will, on average, tend to help their children more than parents whose participation is fostered by the presence of a particular program.
These findings tie in nicely with recent research from Rogers and Kraft that we featured via The Boston Globe in June, which found that a weekly one-sentence message sent by phone, text message, or email made students 41% less likely to fail their summer school courses. The general findings of meta-analyses of parent involvement programs finds that they are generally effective, apply similarly to different ethnic and social groups, and don’t necessarily require specific or intensive programs.
Barriers to Success
The effectiveness of parental involvement (and the prevalence of rhetoric supporting it) is broadly accepted in the world of education. Why, then, do so many schools and districts struggle to implement effective engagement practices?
At a high level, there seem to be two key contributing factors. First, despite a long history of being regarded as best practice, parent involvement is a blanket term for a variety of engagement factors that vary similarly in effectiveness and impact (Hill 2009). Second, the reality of parental involvement practices is varied and can be insensitive to important factors like the developmental stage of the student, learning disabilities, historical and demographic issues, and language and cultural divides, among others (Hornby 2011).
Figure 1. Model of factors acting as barriers to Parental Involvement (PI). Source: Hornby 2011
Schools that are able to align the parent-teacher relationship to share goals, attitudes, and even languages will be more successful than programs that do not. Also, parent engagement programs need to make sense in parents’ life contexts. This means that if the school is able to engage parents with persistent, asynchronous communication, it may provide a tremendous benefit to the relationship between parents and school due to accessibility being less affected by contexts like availability.
An Opportunity to Make a Difference
The reality is that schools and districts realize the value of engaging parents, but many struggle to do it effectively with existing resources.
This is where we saw an opportunity to make a difference, by opening the lines of communication between teachers, administrators, and parents about student behavior, by securely incorporating parent engagement tools into the school’s behavior management platform—Hero.
Now, parents at Hero schools can be kept informed about the behavioral side of the student experience—the good stuff, as well as the bad stuff—increasing visibility across the board. This makes it easier for parents to reinforce positive behavior and help address disciplinary issues at home. These types of interventions that take place in the home, as the research shows, are extremely effective.
Similarly, by giving parents visibility into the realities of student success, the school gives parents an avenue to establish and reinforce their expectations—which correlates most highly with student success (Hill 2009). It also creates opportunities to build a partnership by establishing a unified strategy between school and home that is broadly effective across age groups.
Emphasized partnership program. This type of program produced an effect size of .35 (p < .05), and included any effort that was designed to help parents and teachers collaborate with one another as equal partners in any attempt to improve children’s academic and/or behavior outcomes. It involves parents and teachers working together to develop common strategies, rules, guidelines, and expectations that were thought be necessary, appropriate, and constructive to help the youth live up to their full potential. This was the second largest effect size of the variety of parental involvement school-based orientations examined in this study.
We believe that these parent engagement tools are a great step forward for Hero and will help our schools improve academic and behavioral outcomes by encouraging frequent, directed, lightweight interactions between parents and staff.
If you’re interested in further research on this topic, we’ve included some scholarly works and articles to give you a place to start.
- NEA: Research Spotlight on Parental Involvement in Education
- Parental Involvement: The Missing Link in School Achievement
- Parental Involvement in Predicting School Motivation: Similar and Differential Effects Across Ethnic Groups
- Parental Involvement in Middle School: A Meta-Analytic Assessment of the Strategies That Promote Achievement
- HFRP: The effects of comprehensive parent engagement on student learning outcomes
- CDC: Protective Factors guide for Parent Engagement
- The Washington Post: Is parent involvement in school really useful?
- ACSD: Involvement or Engagement?
Hill, Nancy E., and Diana F. Tyson. “Parental involvement in middle school: a meta-analytic assessment of the strategies that promote achievement.”Developmental psychology 45.3 (2009): 740.
Hornby, Garry, and Rayleen Lafaele. “Barriers to parental involvement in education: An explanatory model.” Educational Review 63.1 (2011): 37-52.
Jeynes William, H. “Parental Involvement and Student Achievement: A Meta-Analysis.” Cambridge (MA): Harvard Family Research Project (2005).