Testing the Waters: Facilitating Parents' Participation in Their Children's Education

Article excerpt

Abstract

Parent participation in the schooling and education of children is an essential ingredient for achieving academic success. This paper, using a model proposed in 1995, reports on a pilot, hands-on study aimed at facilitating increased parent involvement in a multi-ethnic elementary school in California. The participatory research process included two interventions designed to increase parents' involvement and surveys and interviews of the teaching staff and a selection of parents. Research was conducted in the three languages common to the school: English, Spanish, and Urdu. It is argued that to achieve success and excellence in such work the perspectives of parents and teachers must be considered, and the development of appropriate and acceptable participation strategies, as challenging as this may be, must be undertaken. Finally, the factors of language and culture in various forms must also be considered.

Introduction

Typically, the family is viewed as critical to the development and education of all children (see Bronfenbrenner, 1986). The family is not only the institution in which children have their earliest education (Cremin, 1991), but also the institution in which they develop their educative styles (Leichter, 1973). Moreover, the family tends to be the most important mediating agency for all other educative institutions, including the schools. If schools are to be their most effective as measured by academic achievement and excellence, then the connections of schools to families must be addressed. However, increasing parent (or family) participation in schools, like achieving excellence, is neither easy nor guaranteed.

In the past two decades this issue of parent participation and academic outcomes has rightfully garnered increased attention. The issue has been the subject for debate, research, policy, and a goal of practice. Common to the debates, research, policy, and practice is the belief that parents' involvement benefits their children's achievement in the schools (Eccles & Harold, 1993; Epstein, 1992; Izzo, Weissberg, Kasprow, & Fendrich, 1999). In general, the view is that the quality of the connections between parents and schools influences children's and adolescent's school achievements and that "good" parent-school links have positive benefits for everyone involved. Earlier, Schorr (1988) argued that the most meaningful efforts to improve schooling (and outcomes) should be based on the view that children are parts of families, and families are parts of communities. Thus, families and communities have to be connected to the schools for children to achieve the outcomes expected of them. In a more recent study based on the National Education Longitudinal Survey, it was found that both structural and process attributes of family (and community) social capital were key factors affecting high school students' achievement (Israel, Beaulie, & Hartless, 2001). That is, family related structural factors, such as family size, number of siblings, etc., and family process factors, including the quality of the parent's involvement in their child's learning, enhanced achievement. Recently Park (2001) found that parental involvement had both direct and indirect effects on achievement of students of different ethnic backgrounds. In other cases, arguments are presented as practical strategies for enhancing parent involvement (Davis, 1995; U.S. Department of Education, 1994).

In this debate, others challenge the basic assertion, claiming that academic outcomes are not a direct effect of parent's involvement. For example, Griffith (1996) tested the belief that the climate of schools impacts parent involvement and the very success of the schools. He goes on to argue that concepts integral to the understanding of parent involvement are the expectations of parents, teachers, and administrators for the level of inclusion of parents and the desired effects of such involvement (Griffith, 1996). …