The Future of High School Success: The Importance of Parent Involvement Programs
Catherine Wehlburg Hickman, Ph.D.
Many studies have shown a strong correlation between parent
involvement and a child's success in school (Ascher, 1988;
Hickman, Greenwood, & Miller, 1995; Rhine, 1981). The authors
of the Coleman Report (Coleman et al., 1966) indicated that about
one-half to two-thirds of the variance in student achievement
could be accounted for by home variables rather than school
variables. Similar evidence was found by Mosteller and Moynihan
(1972) in their reanalysis of the Coleman data. Following up on
this (and other research) this article will focus on the role
that parent involvement programs will play in the high school of
the future and how parent involvement programs can help to meet
the changing needs of high school students and their families.
"Parent involvement" and "parent
participation" are nebulous terms because there is an array
of parent behaviors that these could include. As Carol Ascher
(1986) has stated, "Of all education issues, parent
involvement is one of the vaguest and most shifting in its
meanings. Parent involvement may easily mean quite different
things to different people" (p. 109). To define parent
involvement more operationally, Hoover-Dempsey, Bassler, and
Brissie (1987) theorized a two-way breakdown into home-based
activities (e.g., parent home tutoring) and school based parent
involvement activities (e.g., parent volunteering, attendance at
parent-teacher conferences). Adding to this distinction, Ascher
(1988) finds that "the meaning of parent involvement in this
new era [the 1980's] has shifted from the affairs of the school
to the home site" (p. 120).
Because of the difficulties in operationally defining
"parent involvement," many theorists have concentrated
their efforts more on specific categorization of the different
types of parent involvement. Further breakdowns in the broader
parent involvement models are proposed by Gordon (1977) and Bauch
et al. (1973). Gordon's six types of parent involvement (Gordon
& Breivogel, 1976) are: (a) the traditional type of parent
involvement type (the parent as audience or bystander-observer);
(b) parents as decision makers (as in School Advisory Committees
or Parent Teacher Associations [PTAs] in which parents
participate in school decision making activities); (c) parents
begin as classroom volunteers; (d) parent as a paid
paraprofessional or teacher's aide; (e) parents as learners
(e.g., participate in child development or parenting classes);
and (f) parents as teachers of their own children at home.
Similar typologies have been discussed by Cervone and O'Leary
(1982) and Hester (1989).
Epstein (1988), in a slightly different approach, described
five types of parent involvement: (a) "Basic Obligation of
Parents" includes parents providing for the health and
safety of their children as well as preparing their children for
school; (b) "Basic Obligation of the Schools" includes
the school communicating with parents about school programs and
the progress of children; (c) "Parent Involvement at
School," the volunteering of parents in the classroom and
attendance at school performances or sports events; (d)
"Parent Involvement in Learning Activities in the Home"
parents initiating activities with their child or a child
initiating the help through questions; (e) "Parent
Involvement in Governance and Advocacy" the parents assuming
decision making roles.
Much of this research focuses on the elementary school
program. However, there has been some research focusing on the
secondary school level (Dornbusch and Ritter, 1988; Henderson et
al., 1986; Hickman, Greenwood, & Miller, 1995; Thornburg,
1981). These research findings provide seven types of
parent-involvement: (a) parent as communicator, (b) parent as
supporter of activities, (c) parent as learner, (d) parent as
advocate, (e) parent as decision maker, (f) parent as
volunteer/professional, and (g) parent as home activities
State Mandated Parent Involvement Programs
There have been a number of attempts to mandate parent
involvement programs at the local, state, and national levels.
For example, on a local level, in 1973, a Florida law mandated
that all school districts must form school advisory committees
(SACs) either at the local school or the school district level
that represent the community of the school, have students and
parents as members, and be obligated to participate in the
preparation of the Annual Report of School Progress that is sent
to the parents. In addition, this law mandates that the SACs be
evaluated for their effectiveness by the school board each year
(Greenwood, Breivogel, & Jester, 1977). Florida SACs have
participated in making decisions regarding such problem areas as
the school budget, curriculum issues, desegregation, textbook
selection, and faculty evaluation and selection.
On a state level, Missouri's State Department of Education has
developed several programs in increase parent involvement. The
first is the Parents as Teachers program that helps train parents
so that they can teach their own children at home in skills
learned at home. A second program, Success is Homemade, expands
the parent involvement from kindergarten though the end of high
school (Epstein, 1991).
At the federal level, the Office of Educational Research and
Improvement is developing a Center on Families, Communities,
Schools, and Children's Learning. According to Epstein (1991)
this center will research the relationship between school, home,
and community from birth to adolescence. California has mandated
parent involvement as have Missouri, Illinois, Tennessee,
Minnesota, and Florida. According to Solomon (1991), California
has mandated that
- comprehensive programs of parent involvement require
schools to involve parents at all grade levels in a
variety of roles. These programs should be designed to:
(a) help parents develop skills and foster conditions at
home that support learning, (b) provide parents with the
knowledge of techniques designed to assist children in
learning at home, (c) provide access to and coordinate
community and support services for children and families,
(d) promote clear two-way communication between the
school and the family to the school programs and
children's progress, (e) involve parents, after
appropriated training, in instructional and support roles
at school, and (f) support parents as decision makers and
develop their leadership in governance, advisory, and
advocacy roles (p. 361).
Implications for the Collaboration Between Schools and
Overall, the studies outlined in this article showed parent
involvement to have a positive effect on the achievement of
students. Home-based types of parent involvement were found to
have a significant and positive relationship with achievement
(Hickman, Greenwood, & Miller, 1995). The Coleman report
(Coleman et al., 1966), as well as Mosteller and Moynihan (1972),
and Coleman (1975) also reported that home-based variables were
at least as important as the school-based variables in accounting
for the total amount of student achievement variance. Home-based
type findings agree with the contentions of Bauch (1988).
Examples of this type of direct involvement could include having
the parents monitor the homework of their children or help with
editing school reports. "These are all activities that
appear to have a direct impact on student attitudes, behavior,
and leaning" (p.81-82).
All parents are a vast resource which can be tapped to
increase student learning. The high schools of the future should
work to incorporate these parents into the daily plan (or at
least the weekly plan).
Schools and teachers should develop specific procedures for
encouraging and implementing home-based parent involvement. This
can be done in a number of ways. One of these is to use regular
home-visits by either the teacher or a trained paraprofessional.
Another strategy is to have the students routinely carry home
assignments and material to their parents. This might include
information about the school events, learning opportunities, and
suggestions for helping the students.
Increasing the role of parent as supporter might be
accomplished by simply giving parents more information, for
example, letting parents know that their attendance at school
events can increase school achievement as Dornbusch and Ritter
(1988) have demonstrated. Athletic events, school plays, or
musicals are wonderful opportunities for parents to support their
children at school. Contacting the parents of the average
students, as well as the low-achieving and high-achieving
students makes all parents feel more confident in contacting the
teachers and discussing these conversations with their children.
Regular home visits can also be effective in opening the lines of
communication between parents and schools.
Nancy Berla (1991) states "Clear, welcoming parent
involvement policy [should be] published and posted in a
prominent place" (p. 17). In addition, having a room
specifically designed for the parents may encourage visits. This
room can have reading materials appropriate to the age group of
the students, information about upcoming activities, and other
announcements of interest to the parents.
Flaxman and Inger (1991) point out that parent involvement at
all grade levels is important. "The benefits of parent
involvement are not confined to early childhood or the elementary
grades. There are strong positive effects from involving parents
continuously through high school" (p. 5), not only for
enhancing the educational success of high school parents, but
also because of a number of social changes which are occurring.
Research on parent involvement has indicated that the
activities within the context of the home will play a significant
role in the academic achievement and satisfaction of students. In
order to use this information to create the high schools of the
future, several recommendations are made.
- Parents need to be educated as to the importance of their
role in education. Many parents need to be disabused of
the idea that the school is the domain of the teachers
and that school is the place for education.
Learning is an experience which happens both at school
and at home.
- The training of teachers in general and specific
techniques to invite parents in their children's
education is necessary. This needs to be accomplished at
both the pre-service level as well as during in-service
- The development of parent involvement programs will need
to be funded by the educational community. As society
changes, the needs of our students will change and the
educational system needs to not only keep up with these
changes, but to be on the cutting edge. In order to
prepare students for their future.
- The role of the administration is vital in terms of the
support of teacher and parent collaboration. Graduate
programs in educational administration need to include
information concerning the relevance of parent
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