What's All the Fuss about Involving Parents in Mathematics Education?

Article excerpt

Recent reform recommendations for education have become more inclusive as they call for parents, families, and the community at large to become involved in efforts to improve schools (e.g., National Parent-Teacher Association [1994]; U. S. Department of Education [U. S. DOE] [1994]). Indeed, the national education goals for the year 2000 suggest that educators foster partnerships among schools and parents:

Every school will promote partnerships that will increase parental involvement and participation in promoting the social, emotional, and academic growth of children (U. S. DOE 1994, 2).

Accordingly, the school mathematics community has also begun to acknowledge the importance of including parents and the community in efforts to reform mathematics education (Burrill 1996; Price 1996). These calls for parental and community involvement, however, are often couched in vague terms that remain at an abstract level. Consequently, no clear role is identified for parents in their children's mathematics education. The purpose of this article is to delineate the possible roles of parents in school mathematics as we continue to implement the vision of reform-based mathematics education embodied in the NCTM's three Standards documents (1989, 1991, 1995). In particular, I examine the rationale that undergirds efforts to involve parents in the process of education and the different types of parental involvement in mathematics education. I use the terms parents and parental involvement throughout this article. I recognize, however, that other adults may carry the primary responsibility for a child's health, development, and education. Therefore, all references to parents and parental involvement are meant to include all adults who play an important caretaker role in a child's home life.

Why Involve Parents in School Mathematics?

The attention being paid to increasing parental participation is grounded in a number of positive consequences that are thought to coincide with family involvement in a child's education. Much of the interest regarding parents' involvement in their children's education centers on the argument that such involvement benefits students by increasing their academic achievement (Chavkin 1993; Henderson and Berla 1994). A significant body of research regarding parental involvement in education has been directed at the relationship between involvement and achievement. Many studies conclude that parental involvement is a key factor in a child's academic success. Others argue, however, that the positive relationship between parental involvement and student achievement has not been established quite yet (Madigan 1994). This argument is based on the notion that many studies examining the correlation between parental involvement and student achievement have neither carefully controlled for the different types of parental involvement that may take place nor used consistent definitions of student achievement - various studies have used grades, scores on standardized tests, homework completion, and a variety of other measures (Henderson and Berla 1994).

It is certain, however, that different forms of parental involvement do affect factors that may in turn affect student achievement or lead to a more enriched educational experience. A number of studies have suggested that parents' involvement in their children's education assists in improving levels of student health (Chavkin 1993), reducing student dropout rates (Rich 1985), fostering positive attitudes toward learning and school (Sattes 1985), increasing parent-child communication (Clark 1983; Scott-Jones 1984), promoting productive student behaviors (Comer and Haynes 1992; Swap 1993), enhancing the educational experiences of "disadvantaged" students (Liontos 1992; Moles 1993), and changing schools and curricula so that they better reflect diverse student populations and are more multicultural (Comer 1980; Delgado-Gaitan 1990; Ogbu 1990; Filmore 1990). …