Theories on Parental Involvement

Mother Assisting Her Children With Homework in a Kitchen
A mother helping kids with their homework. (Image: Digital Vision./Photodisc/Getty Images)

"Parent involvement," a term researchers use to describe the interest family takes in a child's education, is of special interest to educators who encourage parents to help kids at home with homework and projects. School districts also focus on methods to encourage parents to view the school as an important part of family life as children grow. Theories on parent involvement explore the links between family and school interaction and attempt to identify the reasons for high and low parent participation.

Involvement Measures

Studies on parent involvement use several measures, including the type and amount of parent-school communication. This involves tracking the number of calls made to the student's home, participation in returning notes or surveys, and recording the number of parents receiving and reading district or school newsletters. Studies also monitor the time parents spend at the school as volunteers, attendance at open houses and the number of times parents visit school during the year. Involvement measures also survey how parents support the school in the home such as offering assistance with homework and projects, and encouragement for sports and activities. Measures also evaluate the voluntary actions of parents to enhance school lessons with special trips to museums or travel that incorporates education.

Education Level

Parents have greater involvement at the elementary level, according to "Education Week" published by Editorial Projects in Education, an independent, nonprofit publisher of products on K-12 education. As children grow, parents of students involved in extracurricular activities continue to show interest in school activities, but many parents reduce the amount of time spent volunteering at school and attending parent activities sponsored by the district or school. The level of parent education also plays a role in parental involvement. Parents with college and professional degrees also typically have greater involvement in school activities and understand the importance of encouraging children to do well academically.

Income and Economics

Income frequently pays an important role in parent involvement in education, according to the University of Michigan. Time off from work to attend open houses means less income for food in some households. Jung-Sook Lee and Natasha K. Bowen, social work researchers reporting in the "American Educational Research Journal," note parents earning a higher income also feel the influence of "cultural capital" more compared with low-income families. The culture of higher-income families promotes education and social interaction with other parents, teachers and administrators at the school. Middle- and high-income families set achievement standards for children and judge success using a standard that frequently includes comparing child achievement with the level achieved by other children.

Geography and Demographics

Education plays an important part of life in rural areas where entertainment and sports focus on a central school that serves as a community meeting place, public sports venue and place to see kids perform in the school auditorium. Parent participation diminishes in areas with schools for different grade levels. Rural areas have higher levels of parent interaction compared with urban families, according to educational researchers Peter McDermott and Julia Rothenberg in an article appearing in "The Qualitative Report" in 2000. Schools with extremely large student populations discourage personal interaction due to the high student-teacher ratio with limited time for staff to meet with individual parents.

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