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The Parent Trap:
Luring elusive parents to school


 Parents are an essential component to a successful educational program. Often overwhelmed by work and family needs, their "free time" is also in demand. So how can schools do more to encourage busy parents to get more involved in their children's school activities? Find out on the Internet! Included: Ten online resources with information and advice to grow parent involvement in your school!

"My teaching team attempts to convince parents that their children's education is a committed partnership between home and school," Max W. Fischer, told Education World. "From the first-week-of-school's parent orientation to the end of the year, we stress to parents that although we, the faculty, may be academic specialists, the parents are the ultimate authority on their individual sons and daughters."

During the third week of school, Fischer, a seventh-grade social studies teacher, and his colleagues at Edgewood Middle School in Wooster, Ohio, call the parents of their students. The teachers ask the parents how they think their children are adjusting to a middle school setting, the students' first secondary school experience.

Parent Involvement at a Glance

In 1999, the U.S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics conducted a study of parental involvement. The findings the center reported includes information about parents who attended

A general meeting:
  K-5       85 %
  6-8        81%
  9-12      68%
  K-12     79%

A scheduled meeting with a teacher:
  K-5       87%
  6-8        71%
  9-12      52%
  K-12     73%

A school event:
  K-5       66%
  6-8        70%
  9-12      67%
  K-12     59%

Volunteered or served on a committee:
  K-5       38%
  6-8        48%
  9-12      31%
  K-12     27%

"For the majority of parents, the phone call in mid-September to reintroduce ourselves and field concerns or comments about their son's or daughter's initial weeks in middle school sends a powerful message that our team is open to parents, wants parental input, and will strive to involve parents in the educational process," says Fischer. "This phone call is a critical link in our overall strategy of proving to parents that they are welcomed in our building."

One parent stated after receiving a call from Fischer, "This is quite a surprise. It's like a business trying to win my patronage. I'm not used to this from a school."

Ten resources for encouraging parental involvement

Educators who want to increase the presence of parents in their schools need not rely exclusively on the telephone -- they may turn to the Net! The following ten resources provide guidance and new perspective along with some wonderful ideas to put into practice today.

Public Agenda surveyed teachers and parents to learn more about their beliefs about the role of parents in the public school. Homework was found to be a critical issue. In Playing Their Parts, you can read the results of the survey and see how parents and teachers view the dreaded homework!

The National Parent Information Network offers a Virtual Library of documents that are considered "parenting resources." Among the papers are many of interest to educators, including The Five Types of Parental Involvement.

By asking parents to assess their involvement in their children's learning and inviting them to renew their commitment to it, Project Appleseed seeks to promote collaboration between school and home. The program's checklist can help you determine the health of your current parent partnership.

Want to know what the parents of children in your school really think of their relationship with it? Create an online survey that parents can respond to with Questionnaire Server. This resource includes sample questionnaires for all grade levels.

In Partnerships, the Laboratory for Student Success provides guidelines for parents and teachers who want to create a positive working partnership. Guides for teachers address creating positive communication, sharing report cards, and building healthy homework habits. Learn how teachers might frame a fabulous first conference!

If you want to hold an informational event for parents that focuses on curriculum standards and don't know where to begin, Engaging Parents (archived copy) can help. Download materials for a back-to-school night, a scavenger hunt, an open house, a standards forum, or a literacy fair.

The North Central Regional Educational Laboratory discusses the critical issues of parents' working with schools through clear and concise articles in Parent and Family Involvement. Visit this resource to read more about building and supporting parent partnerships and creating a welcoming school climate. You will even discover how to set up a "parent center" in your school.

Additional resources

Education World Archive: Parent Involvement
Parent involvement in schools is much more than parent conferences and PTOs... In the resources below, learn about practical ways in which schools are involving parents. Read about parent involvement strategies that are working for others -- and that could work for you.

A Virtual Backpack for Parents
This site contains materials that will help parents stay informed and involved in their children's academic lives, including The Keys to Literacy, an explanation of good reading instruction.

Lessons of Parent and Family Involvement in the Middle Grades
Parent involvement seems to wane as students become older and enter secondary schools. The authors of this study developed eight lessons of parent, family, and community involvement and summarized their implications for schools.


Sharing the Good News: A Success Story

About one-third of the parents whose children Max Fischer's teaching team serves do not attend conferences or connect with the faculty. Fischer believes that the school's best way to get those parents involved is to express sincere appreciation for individual students and their efforts. The team sends home "Good News" postcards and congratulatory letters and places phone calls to recognize the good work of the students.

"Last year, I had a seventh grader whose first quarter in my class was horrendous," recalls Fischer. "He failed in large part because he wasn't adhering to the medication regimen his doctor had prescribed. His mother had been unable to make conferences because of her work schedule. However, upon receiving his first report, she reinstituted the medication. This boy's progress in previous years, even with medication, had been minimal in social studies. Yet at mid-term his D- was 20 percentage points higher than where his grade had stood at the end of the first quarter. I sent the boy a "Good News" postcard for that fact alone.

"The mother contacted me a week later, tearfully thanking me," Fischer continues. "No teacher had ever before openly praised her son for the effort he had produced in school. Although the mother could not make conferences because of her work schedule, we stayed in contact. I kept praising the young man's efforts, and he fed off it. Before the year was over, he had reached a B- in my class."

Fischer says the irony in parental involvement is that the children of "disenfranchised" parents are often the ones who could benefit most from a close school-home relationship.

Article written by Cara Bafile
Education World®
Copyright © 2010, 2015 Education World

Originally published 2001
Last updated 9/13/2015