Parent Involvement in Urban Charter Schools: New Strategies for Increasing Participation

By Smith, Joanna; Wohlstetter, Priscilla et al. | School Community Journal, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

Parent Involvement in Urban Charter Schools: New Strategies for Increasing Participation


Smith, Joanna, Wohlstetter, Priscilla, Kuzin, Chuan Ally, De Pedro, Kris, School Community Journal


Abstract

Decades of research point to the benefits of parent involvement in education. However, research has also shown that White, middle-class parents are disproportionately involved. Charter schools, as schools of choice, have been assumed to have fewer involvement barriers for minority and low-income parents, but a 2007 survey of charter leaders found that parent involvement remains a significant challenge. This qualitative study utilizes Epstein's model of family involvement to examine parent involvement programs at twelve charter schools across six U.S. states. Findings suggest that parent involvement activities in the study sample of urban charter schools fit Epstein's typology fairly well. However, the strategies used to implement these activities and to attract hard-to-reach parents are fairly innovative: Study schools offered wrap-around services, incentives, and contracts to enhance and ensure participation; utilized technology for advertising parent volunteer opportunities; and involved parents in the decision-making and governance of the school. Overall, these strategies were linked with increasing parents' self-efficacy and comfort level in participating in their children's education.

Key Words: parents, involvement, urban, charter schools, charters, education, parental, choice, family, families, activities, strategies, innovation, contracts, technology, decision-making, governance, self-efficacy, contracts

Prior Research on Parent Involvement in Education

Before turning to our qualitative study of parent involvement in urban charter schools, the following sections outline the prior research on the benefits of parent involvement, the barriers to involvement that exist, and the potential of the charter school context to reduce these barriers.

Benefits of Parent Involvement

Decades of research point to the numerous benefits of parent involvement in education for not only students but also for the parents involved, the school, and the wider community (Barnard, 2004; Epstein, 2001; Fan & Chen, 2001; Henderson & Mapp, 2002; Jeynes, 2003, 2007; Lee & Bowen, 2006). Despite the challenges in establishing a causal link between parent involvement and student achievement, studies utilizing large databases have shown positive and significant effects of parent involvement on both academic and behavioral outcomes (Fan & Chen, 2001; Jeynes, 2003, 2007). For example, research has found that parent involvement is related to a host of student achievement indicators, including better grades, attendance, attitudes, expectations, homework completion, and state test results (Astone & McLanahan, 1991; Cancio, West, & Young, 2004; Dearing, McCartney, Weiss, Kreider, & Simpkins, 2004; Gutman & Midgley, 2000; Izzo, Weissberg, Kasprow, & Fendrich, 1999; Senechal & LeFevre, 2002; Sheldon, 2003). Additional academic outcomes such as lower dropout rates (Rumberger, 1995), fewer retentions, and fewer special education placements (Miedel & Reynolds, 1999) have been found as well.

In addition to academic outcomes, parent involvement also appears to have positive effects on students' behavior. Brody, Flor, and Gibson (1999) found that parenting practices contributed to an increase in students' ability to self-regulate behavior. Higher levels of social skills and improved overall behavior were also documented. In a study of American Indian students, researchers found that a parent intervention approach reduced students' disruptive behavior in the classroom; students were less aggressive and withdrawn after parent participation in the program (Kratochwill, McDonald, Levin, Bear-Tibbetts, & Demaray, 2004). Other studies have documented the ways in which parent involvement supports children's social competencies in school (Hill et al., 2004; McWayne, Hampton, Fantuzzo, Cohen, & Sekino, 2004). Some researchers have found that only specific types of parent involvement appear to correlate with student achievement. …

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