Research shows that parental involvement in schools is a reliable predictor of student success. The more extensive the involvement of parents, the greater the gains in student achievement.
So the question for most school boards isn’t whether they should be increasing parental involvement but how they should be doing so. Board members gathered in Washington, D.C., for NSBA’s Federal Relations Network (FRN) meeting heard from several board members talking about research-based methods at a Monday morning breakout session.
Sue Hull, school board member of Alaska’s Fairbanks North Star Borough, emphasized that the research on parental involvement methods was solid. “So often we go on our experiences, but it’s also what the research has shown,” she said.
Hull outlined the six types of parental involvement: Parenting classes, communication, volunteering, learning at home, advocacy and decision making, and community collaboration. She also discussed how school board could avoid some of the traps of trying to increase parental involvement from a school governance standpoint.
One way to tailor the type parental involvement boards want with the kind of results in achievement they want. “Different activities produce different gains,” she said. “Comprehensive approach is for broad gains. A focused approach leads to targeted gains.”
For individual student achievement gains, expand personal communications such as face-to-face and phones calls. Focusing on home learning, such as requiring parental signatures on homework, and engaging parents in decision-making and advocacy also leads to individual gains in achievement.
To improve the overall quality and achievement for an entire school, engage parents in school decision-making and advocacy. Invite parents in for discussions on identifying school needs and enhance volunteer programs “Volunteers are your natural advocate,” said Hull.
“There are principals who would prefer not have parents come in the door. But district leadership can encourage more participation,” said speaker Chuck Saylors, a school board member in Greenville, S.C. Saylors became the National PTA’s first male president in 2007.
To ensure more parental participation in schools and the district, the board should set clear, measurable annual goals. “Get as specific as possible,” said Hull. Also include parent engagement in staff evaluations, starting at the top with the superintendent and going on down to principals and teachers.
Make sure that these efforts are back with “necessary budget support,” said Hull and also that someone is responsible for the parental involvement efforts.
Saylors’ district, like many others, has a full-time staff member who deals with parental involvement issues, including the PTA.
Saylors and Hull encouraged the audience to cultivate parents as advocates of their districts to local and state lawmakers and legislators. “We have seen the power of parents,” said Saylors.