Studies of educational programs seek to explain why, how, and whether programs work. Their designs attempt to "partition out" the effects of a variable, or set of variables, in order to determine the contribution of certain features to overall program outcomes.
Most often the outcomes of educational programs are the result of the interaction of many complex variables. The interactive nature of these variables is elusive and the ability to make definitive statements about their effects on outcomes is problematic. However, considerable research has been done which establishes an associative link, or correlation, between school efforts to create partnerships with parents, families, and community members and outcomes for students, parents, school personnel, and schools and school districts:
The remainder of this chapter focuses on the research related to the outcomes claimed by programs that involve school, parent, family, and community partnerships. As a cautionary note, readers should be aware that the research cited pertains to general outcomes at all levels, not specifically to the middle grades.
In general, the research demonstrates that parents can be powerful contributors to their children's education, both stimulating and reinforcing their children's learning. However, parent involvement should not be viewed as an educational panacea (Ascher, 1987; Brown, 1989).
Student Outcomes. Studies of the effects of parent involvement were almost always measured in terms of student achievement as indicated by grades or even more commonly, by standardized test scores. In most cases, it is difficult to establish causality. It is also impossible to compare results from one study to another to determine which of the activities have had the greatest impact (Zeldin, 1989). Nearly all research reviewed showed that increased parent involvement was consistently associated with positive results (Ascher, l987).
McLaughlin and Shields (1987) reported that there are two facts that are "fairly well settled" in the literature regarding the link between parent involvement and student achievement. First, students, including students from low SES whose parents are involved in their schools, do better in their academic subjects and are less likely to drop out than those students whose parents are less involved (Stevenson and Baker, 1987; Rood, 1988; Henderson, 1987; Jacob, 1983; Comer, 1984; Walberg, 1984; McCormick, 1989). Second, those schools where parents are well informed and highly involved are most likely to be effective schools (Brandt, 1986; Chubb, 1988; Comer, 1984; Henderson, 1988b; Jacob, 1983; Purkey and Smith, 1983; Walberg, 1984).
Parent outcomes. Parents involved in their children's schools acquire new skills, gain confidence, and improve employment opportunities (Comer, 1984). Further, parents are more likely to increase their involvement over time (Herman and Yeh, 1983), spend more time working with their children at home (Becker and Epstein, 1981 and l982b; Dauber and Epstein, l99l) and rate teachers higher. However, Chrispeels (1991b) noted that schools implementing programs to encourage home learning may encounter several dilemmas. Research also indicated that home learning programs should not necessarily be limited to parents helping children with academic tasks.
Teacher outcomes. The more frequently teachers were engaged in parent involvement activities, the more positive their attitudes became about parents and the more likely they included parent input in decisions about curriculum development and instructional strategies (Epstein and Becker, 1987).
Teachers who acknowledge the benefits of parent involvement were found to be more likely to overcome obstacles through the use of a variety of parent involvement strategies. They were also more likely to seek training to improve their skills for involving parents in the schools (Becker and Epstein, 1982b; Purnell and Gotts, 1985). In schools where teachers perceived that they, their colleagues, and parents supported parent involvement, programs and practices were stronger (Dauber and Epstein, 1991).
School and district outcomes. Comer (1984) found that those schools with parent involvement have an improved school climate. Further, he asserted that parent involvement in a well-structured and well-managed program helped to eliminate harmful stereotypes that teachers held about the families of the students they taught. Peterson (1989) noted that parent involvement was associated with reduction in drop out, delinquency and pregnancy rates. Involving parents of Black children was successful but there was not much success with Mexican American parents (Armor, et al., l976).
The positive effects of parent involvement may help to counterbalance the effects of economic disadvantage. As summarized by the U.S. Department of Education (1986), "What parents do to help their children learn is more important to academic success than how well-off the family is."
Long term effects are more difficult to demonstrate. Some researchers suggest a relationship between parent involvement and reduction in dropout, delinquency, and pregnancy rates. Others show a relationship to improved attendance, discipline and long term student achievement. Several researchers caution that the effects of parent involvement may vary based on family socioeconomic status and ethnicity. Much more research is needed in this area to determine exactly what outcomes are produced, under what condition, and what the longer term effects of particular programs and practices are.