Parental Involvement in Schools: How Much is Enough?

SRHS wouldn't be the same without its amazing parent volunteers!

In a school near you, an elementary school principal is asked to predict which adults will have the greatest impact on a child’s educational success later in life. Most would place parents very high on that list. It is no surprise, then, that in many elementary schools parental involvement is significant. Most have strong PTA or PTO clubs that organize parent volunteers for work in the classroom, the playground, and on school trips. These groups plan silent auctions, BINGO nights, and pancake breakfasts to help school programs. By middle and high school, parental involvement drops off significantly. With the significance that President Obama and his predecessor President George W. Bush have placed on educational reform initiatives such as Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind programs, it a fair question to ask: When it comes to parental involvement in schools, how much is enough?

According to Keith Robinson and Angel L Harris, in their recent New York Times article Parental Involvement is Overrated, it doesn’t require much. Using longitudinal studies that spanned three decades, Robinson and Harris concluded that parents only needed to do three things to positively impact their child’s education: Expect that they go to college, engage them in conversations about their activities at school, and request particular teachers for them. Robinson and Harris suggest that schools should move away from blanket statements that encourage parents to become more involved in volunteer activities and instead focus parents on specific, creative ways to promote the importance of schooling. “They should set the stage and then leave it,” they argue.

This surprisingly simple suggestion may anger the parent organizations who put thousands of hours into their children’s schools each year. I was angry too. Then I came to realize that my time volunteering with bake sales and pancake breakfasts was having a positive impact on the climate and culture of my children’s school community. It just wasn’t positively impacting my children’s academics. For that, the suggestions Robinson and Harris have may be right. How much parental involvement is enough is the wrong question to ask. The right question is this: What types of parental involvement will make the difference for children in school? Here are some suggestions:

1.      Stay informed on your child’s school activities so that you can engage them in meaningful conversation at home. Florida Social Studies teacher David Cutler offers teachers 8 Tips For Reaching Out to Parents that include everything from posting homework and class news online to calling home to report good news.

2.      Be involved in your child’s college selection process. College admissions counselor Dr. Katherine Cohen offers parents six great ways to do this in her article The Truth About Parental Involvement in the College Admissions Process. Not surprisingly, she emphasizes the importance of parents helping their children foster relationships with their school counselors and teachers.

3.      Support your child’s teachers. Depending on the school, parents may or may not have the ability to request specific teachers for their child, but that doesn’t mean they can’t make every effort to support the ones that they have. The National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) stresses the importance of Building a Good Relationship With Your Child’s Teacher and offers parents ways to do that before the school year starts, during the year, and at the end of the school year.

Parents play a critical role in the educational success of their children. Their involvement, focused on supporting their child and stressing the importance of education, can and will make the difference in how successful their child will be in school. When it comes to the question of how often parents should be involved in this work, the answer is simple: It is never enough.

This article was written originally for MultiBriefs.


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