It's widely argued that parent involvement in a child's education can help improve that child's success. Studies support this argument, indicating that parent involvement boosts grades and improves the likelihood a student will attend college. Yet, until recently, we have failed to ask important questions about what we mean by parent involvement.
Meanwhile, teachers and school leaders admit they struggle with engaging parents on education issues at their schools. Perhaps our failure to examine what parent involvement means has impeded our ability to successfully harness that involvement.
Public Agenda's recent study, "Ready, Willing and Able? Kansas City Parents Talk About How to Improve Schools and What They Can Do to Help" is a key primer for teachers and school and district leaders across the country as they plan parent engagement initiatives for the fall.
In the study, we found that parent involvement means very different things to different parents. Parents have different, and at times competing, opinions about what kind of involvement helps improve education most. They also have different priorities and capacities when it comes to the parent involvement activities they are or most likely will be interested in.
For instance, many parents are interested primarily in traditional roles at schools—bake sales, volunteering at extracurricular events, attending PTA meetings. Other parents are interested in more politically active roles. These parents say they would be interested in speaking to legislators about improving schools or writing an op-ed for local media. Still other parents seem to be totally maxed out when it comes to their involvement at schools. Yet these parents also say they could be doing more at home to help their children succeed in school and could use some guidance from school leaders.
Education leaders should tailor parent engagement efforts to reach every type of parent, whether they be a potential transformer ready to act on big education policy issues, a school helper willing to get more involved at their own child’s school, or a help-seeker needing more guidance in improving their children’s learning.
It may be more work up front, but, in the long run, well-planned and differentiated plans to bring parents into schools can bolster education and insure that all children have the opportunity to learn and flourish.
Jean Johnson, the main author of the report, discusses the findings more on her blog at the Huffington Post. Check out her post and learn more about distinct groups of parents and what education leaders can be doing to engage them effectively.