• by Anita M. Foxworth, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • June – July 2000 •
Thirty years of research demonstrates that there is a strong link between parental involvement and increased academic achievement. Henderson and Berla state:
The evidence is now beyond dispute. When schools work together with families to support learning, children tend to succeed, not just in school but throughout life. In fact, the most accurate predictor of a student’s achievement is not income or social status, but the extent to which that student’s family is able to: (1) Create a home environment that encourages learning; (2) Express high (but not unrealistic) expectations for their children’s achievement and future careers; and (3) Become involved in their children’s education at school and in the community (1995).
In addition to the strong research base supporting the importance of family involvement, national legislation and state requirements emphasizes the need for schools to involve parents in their children’s education. Several policies are noteworthy in sounding the call for parental involvement in schools. These include Goals 2000, the Improving America’s Schools Act, Texas Senate Bill 1 and, more recently, Texas legislation that requires that parental involvement be addressed in campus improvement plans.
Despite the research and national and state attention to the issue, family involvement in children’s learning remains a challenge both for schools and families. Families often feel unwelcome in schools. Keith Geiger, NEA president in 1994, substantiates this idea when he says, “The sad fact is that many parents do not feel that we welcome them in school.” A recent survey by the National PTA indicated that many parents still feel that their involvement is not welcome at the school.
Schools of today also encounter challenges in meaningfully involving poor and minority parents. L.B. Liontos stated that more than one teacher has complained: “‘I never see the parents that I need to see. These are the parents of children at risk of failing, of dropping out, of having what in today’s world amounts to no future at all” (1991).
These two worlds – that of not feeling welcome and that of “we are doing everything we can, but parents don’t care” – seem very much opposed to each other. How do we bridge that gap?
In its training materials on Creating Family Friendly Schools, the STAR Center chose to address both the issues of parents not feeling welcome in school and the difficulties of creating meaningful opportunities for parents in high poverty schools to participate in school activities. The STAR Center is the comprehensive regional assistance center funded by the U.S. Department of Education to serve Texas. It is a collaboration of the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA), the Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas at Austin, and RMC Research Corporation. Its Creating Family Friendly Schools training offers 12 modules that address topics that give educators tools to build partnerships with parents and communities.
The STAR Center began its process in 1997 by conducting a meeting with parent involvement specialists from around the state. Staff facilitated discussion through a needs assessment process that resulted in the identification of the topics with which district and campus level staff most needed help. STAR Center staff combined all of the items identified as needs into the category of creating family friendly schools.
Next, STAR Center staff developed the training modules and field-tested them in several education service center regions and school districts throughout the state. The training and the training materials were very well received. Participants taught them much about the willingness of schools to involve parents, dispelling the notions that a lot of schools just do not want parents involved. Joyce Epstein states, “Most schools want to involve parents but they don’t know how” (1995).
STAR Center staff not only gave schools the “how” but also emphasized the importance of family involvement through sharing of critical research, practical experiences, and the use of techniques like dialogue and reflection.
Here are comments from some of our participants:
- “Today I learned, we can do this! (And we will!)”
- “Today I learned that families are essential to our children’s learning experience.”
- “I needed this to get my enthusiasm going.”
- “I’ve learned different ways to help our families succeed.”
- “There is a lot of material with ideas that can be put to use!”
- “Good ideas I’ve never even thought about. Really, I’ve been kind of scared of parent contact.”
- “I’m ready to go back and really do something positive. This is a great workshop!”
The STAR Center’s training in Creating Family Friendly Schools offers a way for schools to strengthen their partnerships with families and communities. When schools, families and communities work together, they help students succeed in school and in life.
Epstein, J.L. “School-Family-Community Partnerships: Caring for the Children We Share,” Phi Delta Kappan (1995) 76, 702.
Henderson, A.T., and Berla, N. A New Generation of Evidence: The Family is Critical to Student Achievement (Washington, D.C.: Center for Law and Education, 1995).
Geiger, K. Strong Families, Strong Schools: Building Community Partnerships for Learning (Washington, DC: US Department of Education, 1994) 13.
Liontos, LB “Involving At-risk Families in their Children’s Education,” ERIC Digest (1991) Number EA 58 ED326925.
National PTA. Parent-Family Involvement Programs Survey Results (1999). Available from pta.org/programs/99pisurvey.htm.
For information on Creating Family Friendly Schools contact the education service center in your region or you call the STAR Center at 1-888-FYI-STAR. Copies are available through RMC Research Corporation for $250 each (1-800-922-3636).
Anita M. Foxworth Ph.D. is a senior research associate at RMC Research Corporation, a partner in the STAR Center. Comments and questions may be directed to her via e-mail at email@example.com.
Comments and questions may also be directed to IDRA via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©2000, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the June – July 2000 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]