Forty years of research have shown that family involvement in education is one of the most powerful predictors of student success in school. Yet many high-poverty schools still have low levels of parent involvement and experience little success in their efforts to increase it. Students from high-poverty families are also less likely to spend time at home on learning-related activities that reinforce their schoolwork.
Federal Support for Parent Involvement
To address the less-than-optimal level of parent involvement, especially in high-poverty schools, federal legislation designed to support systemic and comprehensive reform efforts has included parent involvement strategies as a mechanism to increase the achievement of all students. Many states and districts have taken advantage of this support to build their parent involvement strategies. Title I schoolwide reforms include parent and community involvement as a key component of efforts to increase student achievement. The federal government's program requires the grantee to nurture meaningful parent and community involvement.
The new regulations delineate guidelines for states, district, and schools in developing parent involvement initiatives. The legislation supports multiyear funding for school-family-community partnerships that allows flexibility and time for implementation and encourages the coherence of parent involvement programs across groups of children and helps foster parental involvement by authorizing grants nonprofit organizations to develop and implement parent centers that provide information, training, and support to parents. According to a recent survey, 85% of the states use funding to support their family involvement activities.
Parent Involvement That Effects High Student Achievement
Parent and community involvement has focused more on community inclusion than in developing partnerships with parents to aid in the child's learning. States have used their funds to sponsor meetings, conferences, and discussion groups to increase the community's understanding of education reform and standards-based reform. Since the 1990s, when parent involvement became the focus of efforts to increase the achievement of disadvantaged students, there has been a wide range of parent involvement initiatives advocated by schools, districts, states, and the federal government. These activities include participating in parent advisory roles, volunteering at school and in the classroom, providing learning activities to do with their child at home, attending parent training, and visiting resource centers. Recent research has shown that the parent involvement strategies that have the strongest direct relationship with student success are ones in which the parents participate in learning activities in the home with their child; have a supportive, nurturing, authoritative parenting style; and have high expectations and aspirations for them. Several studies have shown that these parental practices are better predictors of student achievement than parents' socioeconomic status.
Using School-Parent Compacts to Foster Parent Involvement
Research has also shown that the school can play an important role in supporting parent involvement and in developing shared goals between the teacher and parent for the student by means of family-school compacts. Ideally, the compacts are written agreements specifying the shared responsibilities of families and schools to undertake together with the common aim of attaining high student achievement to high standards. Responsibilities focus on student learning and school quality and often include expectations about attendance, instruction at home and at school, communication between teacher and parent, monitoring of student progress, and parent volunteering. For these compacts to work, there must be mutual trust and respect between parents and schools, an ongoing exchange of information, agreement on goals and strategies, and a sharing of rights and responsibilities. Title I legislation requires the use of school-parent compacts for learning. About 84% of Title I schools use school-parent compacts. A national survey found that schools with a high concentration of poverty and/or minority enrollments were much more likely to prepare compacts for all parents than were schools with lower concentrations of poverty. Of the schools that reported preparing voluntary written agreements for only some of their students, 53% prepared them for parents of Title I students and 79% prepared them for various other special-needs groups of students.
Most schools using compacts report that these arrangements positively influence parent involvement and are related indirectly to higher student achievement. Research shows that parents in schools that implemented comprehensive parent involvement initiatives that included engaging parents in learning compacts, asking parents to sign homework completion sheets, encouraging parents to attend school and classroom open houses as well as parent-teacher conferences, and providing learning resources in the home, were more involved with their child's learning at home. Not all reports of the effects of parent compacts are positive. The compact may conflict with parents' support for their children in ways not defined by the compact. Therefore, it is important to ensure that the compact allows flexibility and responsiveness to a diversity of family cultures, values, and beliefs. Compliance with the compacts can be used as a way of attracting only the most involved parents to charter schools, which may in turn be related to socioeconomic status, race, and ethnic background. One study indicated that charter schools with high-poverty, low-achieving students were more likely to have contracts with "fail-to-comply" clauses, indicating that the student could be transferred if the parent does not fulfill the contract. In some schools, the compacts represent a limited view of family-school relationships in that they view the compacts more as a vehicle for obtaining parental compliance rather than encouraging inclusion and shared goals.
The Implications of Compacts for Comprehensive School Reform Efforts
Nearly every comprehensive school model includes parent involvement as one of its components; however, the implementation research on comprehensive school reform generally does not pay much attention to the role of parents in model adoption and implementation. Research suggests the following lessons regarding the use of parent compacts in comprehensive school reform efforts:
- Using the school-parent compact along with a set of comprehensive parent involvement strategies is effective in fostering parenting practices associated with increased student achievement.
- Compacts can serve as mechanisms to provide details about at-home learning activities for parents and can inform parents about how they can work with the school to meet the demands of a particular comprehensive reform effort.
- School-family compacts should be developed as a collaborative effort between parents and schools to foster a true partnership between school and family.
- Since active teacher involvement facilitates the effectiveness of the compacts, teachers need training to develop and implement these compacts effectively.
- Compacts can operate as a fundamental mechanism to change power relationships between parents, teachers, and administrators, which is at the heart of school reform efforts.
Challenges To Implementing Compacts
Efforts focused on using family involvement as a mechanism to improve student learning must acknowledge and address several challenges:
- Differences by race and class affect the development, implementation, and effects of compacts and other parent involvement initiatives.
- Local politics can affect the success of parent involvement efforts so it is vital to have strong parent and community support when implementing parent compact efforts.
- Parents and teachers are busy and it is often challenging to find time to engage in communication and collaborative efforts.It is important to integrate parent involvement mechanisms into the operation of the school and prioritize them.
- Teachers, parents and principals sometimes lack the knowledge and support necessary to successfully implement compacts and other parent involvement strategies. The availability of information about how to use the compact correctly is helpful.
Future Research Directions
Much work needs to be done to increase our understanding of what mechanisms are most effective in fostering the type of parent-teacher collaboration that works to increase student achievement. Rigorous research that investigates the effect of the compacts on parent involvement and student achievement, especially in low-income populations, would contribute greatly to our knowledge about how the compacts work. The federal government, states, and districts might encourage schools to institute more formal mechanisms for both implementation and evaluation of the school-parent compacts. Pre-service teacher education might focus more on how to develop and implement successful compacts and other mechanisms for fostering parent involvement in the student's learning. Finally, more research is needed on the features that make compacts effective, such as sequential activities linked to school lessons and activities that are slightly too complex for the child to accomplish without assistance from an adult, giving parents the opportunity to support and listen to the child. Studies of the effectiveness of the school-parent compacts for learning and their implementation would go a long way in helping us understand how the compacts operate as well as providing guidelines for teachers and parents who would like to work together to improve student achievement.
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