Powerful parents transform schools
Parents aren't just sitting on the sidelines anymore. They're actively involved in schools and it's paying off in surprising ways.
By GreatSchools Staff
Schools across the nation are discovering a powerful force for school improvement: parents.
Parents aren't just volunteering to help with teacher luncheons and fund-raising campaigns; they're helping to raise the academic achievement level of children at their schools. An added bonus is that children of involved parents tend to do better in school.
How big a difference can parents make in schools? Here are some examples:
- Padres con Poder (Parents With Power) recently received an "Exemplary Program Award" from the Santa Clara County (California) School Boards Association for increasing involvement by Spanish-speaking parents in their children's education. In the Luther Burbank School District, where 75% of students are Latino, the number of Spanish-speaking honor roll students shot up, discipline referrals dropped from 735 to 107 per year, and the district exceeded its state target of 14 points on the Academic Performance Index by 66 points.
- At Ysleta Elementary School in El Paso, Texas, parents became alarmed when only one in five students passed the state achievement test. Now parents sit on the school's learning standards committees and ask hard questions. One parent, Barbara Silva, said that with her new understanding of the school's academic goals, "I can push my son to a higher level. He was kind of low; now he gets A's and B's."
- In Jefferson Davis County, Mississippi, Parents for Public Schools took advantage of a little-known district policy that permits parents to visit classrooms, and they documented their observations. "We were instrumental in keeping an eye on what was happening in the classroom and in getting administrators not to renew some ineffective teachers," said Clara Hall, chapter president.
Armies of involved parents
Tapping new sources of data and federal funding earmarked for parent involvement, community groups of all stripes are organizing efforts for education reform. The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation estimates that about 150 such groups have formed during the past decade to improve student learning in inner-city districts alone. The foundation has spent $10.6 million on 65 grants targeting school reform since 1999, and it plans to spend $6.4 million more through 2008 to document, evaluate and disseminate information about community-driven school improvement projects.
Parent involvement takes many forms. The Parent Institute for Quality Education (PIQE) has taught more than 325,000 California parents how to navigate the school system and keep their children on track. "We are not asking parents to go in and tell teachers and counselors how to do their job. We emphasize that parents should go to school monthly and work with the teacher to design a plan for their child," explained David Valladolid, president and CEO.
At the other extreme is the Commonwealth Institute for Parent Leadership (CIPL), which trains parents to push schools to higher levels of achievement by all students. More than 1,000 parents in 176 school districts in Kentucky have completed its six-day parent training course, which teaches them how to interpret school data, understand learning standards and initiate school improvement projects. Graduates work with a coach for 18 months following the training.
This army of parents trained by CIPL has championed many projects, including "Science Wizards" family events that caused one school's science scores to rise 14 points on state tests, a booklet that demystifies special education regulations and workshops that improved students' writing.
How children and schools benefit
Parent involvement definitely pays off for the children of those who get involved. In A New Wave of Evidence, a review of 51 studies published between 1995 and 2002, Anne T. Henderson and Karen L. Mapp found that students with involved parents are more likely to:
- Earn high grades and test scores, and enroll in higher-level programs
- Be promoted, pass their classes and earn credits
- Attend school regularly
- Have better social skills, show improved behavior and adapt well to school
- Graduate and go on to postsecondary education
There's also plenty of proof that school-wide parent involvement efforts translate into academic gains. For example:
- A long-term study completed in 2001 by Westat and Policy Studies Associates of 71 high-poverty schools in seven states showed that students' test scores rose 40% from third grade to fifth grade in schools where teachers reported high levels of parent outreach.
- The children of parents who participated in an interactive homework program developed by Johns Hopkins University in 1997 had higher writing scores and better grades in language arts. Approximately 700 sixth and eighth graders and their families took part in the study.
- In 1998 Ann Shaver and Richard Walls studied 335 low-income students in nine schools in a West Virginia district and found that students with highly involved parents were more likely to show gains in both reading and math scores than children with less involved parents. These increases held across all income and education levels.