The influence of parental involvement cannot be argued. There is significant research that supports the notion that parental involvement helps students succeed. Students with parents that frequently volunteer and interact with their teachers, faculty, and principals perform better in schools, are less likely to drop out, and reap the benefits of a community effort to improve their schools programs (to learn more about the benefits of parental involvement, check out: Getting Involved: The Importance of Parent Involvement in Students’ Education). The information is practically conclusive. So why are parents not turning up in droves, begging to participate on the next field trip to the science museum? Turns out, things are a little more complicated than they seem. Research shows there are many reasons why parents are reluctant or even afraid to get involved. Many factors including income, ethnicity, and past experiences influence parents’ behavior within schools. However, luckily, there is also a wealth of resources to assist schools meet parents exactly where they are.
What are the Barriers in Parent Involvement?
Identifying and Decreasing Barriers to Parent Involvement for Inner City Parents explores these barriers in-depth, specifically in disadvantaged communities. Researchers Terrinieka Williams and Bernadette Sánchez performed a study where they interviewed the students’ guardians at a predominantly African American inner-city school to understand their relationship to the child’s school. After compiling their qualitative data, four major barriers emerged: time poverty, lack of financial resources, lack of awareness and lack of access. Time poverty refers to “the activities at home or away from school that consume parents’ time.” Most parents admitted that their job expectations barred them from spending more time at their childrens’ school and involved in their academic life. This information underpins the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Economic News Release, which found that the average parent spends a mere 1.39 hours a day both caring for and helping their children. Of that 1.39 hours a day, 0.11 hours are spent engaging in activities related to their child’s education. In line with time poverty, many parents addressed the inconvenience of school event times. They noted that many events occured while they were still at work. Parents also acknowledged their fear of going to their child’s school if they had delinquent fees they were struggling to pay. They feared faculty may confront them about their overdue payments. Finally, parents noted a lack of awareness about the events occuring at their child’s school despite emails, messages, and circulating flyers.
Engaging Latino Families for Student Success: How Parent Education Can Reshape Parents’ Sense of Place in the Education of their Children notes another increasingly relevant barrier: language. For many students, English is not the primary language spoken at home. Therefore, their parents may be fearful or reluctant to attend events where they may need to speak or understand English. Deriving information from Engaging Latino Families, Identifying Barriers: Creating Solutions to Improve Family Engagement posits that previous negative experience in a school setting could decrease parental involvement. These unpleasant experiences could have come from an older child or from their parents’ own childhood experiences. Whatever the root, these types of negative encounters “may cause parents to feel inferior to school personnel”.
Another article published by the NAESP highlights a few other reasons parents may be reluctant to get more involved in their student’s academic life. After a certain age, students’ workload becomes more advanced and parents may feel students no longer need their help or they may not be able to help their children the way they would like to. As homework and projects become more specialized, parents may feel ill equipped to help their children work through difficult assignments.
Breaking Down these Barriers
While there are many obstacles that prevent parents from involving themselves in their child’s education, there are also many solutions. ASCD’s article Rethinking Parent Involvement discusses the notion of meeting parents where they are. Writers Judith Vandegrift and Andrea Greene discuss the implementation of a program in the “red light district” in Arizona to better engage the parents in the community. They found that many of the parents in the community were unsupportive and inactive in the children’s education. To alleviate the issue, the school hosted a “Good Parenting Skills” workshop in both English and Spanish. The event was poorly attended. In their second attempt, program leaders listened to the people in their community; they learned that many of the parents simply wanted to learn English, so the community started hosting English Language classes at night for the parents. As a result, the parents grew more and more excited to read with their children.
Identifying Barriers: Creating Solutions to Improve Family Engagement cites a study by Johnson, Pugach and Hugh titled School-family collaboration: A partnership, which found that when schools eliminate the barriers, themselves, parents are more likely to get involved. For example, “providing school-arranged transportation and childcare for school meetings reduced logistical barriers for parents’ attendance”.
Identifying and Decreasing Barriers to Parent Involvement for Inner City Parents suggests that schools adopt a more inclusive environment so parents feel welcome on their campus. The parents in the focus groups expressed wanting to feel more comfortable with sitting in on their child’s class and developing a rapport with their student’s teachers through an increased effort to communicate with parents. Environments where parents feel safe to express themselves and socialize with their teachers could also potentially alleviate any negative experiences they once held with the school. “Overcoming barriers to family involvement in low-income area schools” by Olivia Moles suggests “developing a repertoire of parent involvement activities that emphasize personalized attention and interaction with parents” as it may reach those “hard to reach parents.” She also suggests providing workshops to help parents understand how to properly assist their children in their more advanced courses. In this way, the work becomes less intimidating and parents have the tools to actually help their kids.
The work may seem tiresome. Many parents need a great deal of support. As Moles states, “Schools, under the leadership of principals, possess the primary responsibility for initiating family-school partnerships; the experience of hundreds of schools across the country demonstrates that it can be done.” Students need their parents to encourage and support them on their educational journey. But to do this correctly, parents need schools. The connection between the three is not quite circular and is, in many ways, complex. But one thing remains the same: it takes a village to educate a child and everyone has to be onboard.