Engaging Parents in Education: Lessons From Five Parental Information And Resource Centers
June 2007
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The five PIRCs highlighted in this guide were selected through a process that draws on both benchmarking and case study methodologies and is described more fully in Appendix A. An external advisory group comprising researchers and practitioners helped guide the development of the conceptual framework and criteria used to screen programs for inclusion in the guide. From an initial list of 45 centers or other programs that promote and support parent involvement, 27 were chosen for additional screening that included both interviews to confirm preliminary information about initiatives and a review of evidence of impact (e.g., growing numbers of clients served, client satisfaction). From these 27 programs, the five highlighted PIRCs were chosen, based on the range and quality of their practices, coupled with the organizations' locations and the demographics of their target populations, and the quality of their collaborations with other parent involvement organizations or education agencies.

Once the five sites were selected, two-day site visits were conducted to find out more about their practices and their partnerships. The site visits, facilitated by each PIRC director, included interviews and focus groups with students, parents, PIRC staff, school, district, and state staff, as well as with staff from any associated organizations. The methodology also included observing key events, such as trainings, summits, and conferences. In addition, the PIRC director at each site provided artifacts that support the strategies, such as meeting agendas, training materials, and surveys, some of which are featured in the illustrative figures throughout this guide. Over 400 artifacts were collected from across the five sites and these artifacts, along with the site observations and interview and focus group data, were used to develop a case study for each site. this guide is based on the case studies.

Conceptual Framework for Study

Parent involvement in education can mean many things, from parents instilling a strong work ethic in their children to a parent's membership on a state board of education. It can mean parents participating with their toddler in a developmentally appropriate playgroup or taking their high school student on a tour of colleges. This guide, however, focuses on PIRCs' work in the K–12 arena, especially—although not exclusively—as it relates to NCLB's parent involvement requirements (see fig. 1).

Involvement in children's education starts at home, of course, with primary caregivers providing love, a healthy environment, developmentally appropriate learning experiences, and, as children start school, encouragement, a positive attitude about learning, and homework support. But within the formal education system, parent involvement is most effective when viewed as a partnership between parents and educators. The conceptual model developed by WestEd for this study is based on current parent involvement research along with input from parent involvement practitioners (e.g., PIRC and other parent organization directors) on the advisory committee. This model focuses on how both parents and educators can come together to work more effectively in support of children's successful education. (see fig. 2, Partnering Between Parents and Educators to Increase student Achievement: A Conceptual Model for Parent Involvement in Education, on p. 10.) As evident in the figure, the end goal in this model is having successful parent and educator partnerships to increase student achievement.

Figure 2. Partnering Between Parents and Educators to Increase Student Achievement: A Conceptual Model for Parent Involvement in Education

Parents and educators partner
to increase student achievement

Involve parent leaders in policymaking

  • Train parents for site councils and advisory boards
  • Facilitate meaningful two-way involvement
  • Have parents help monitor and evaluate effectiveness of parental involvement policies
Parents and
educators work
together to
create policy
that promotes
increased student

Involve educators in policymaking

  • Train staff for site councils and advisory boards
  • Facilitate meaningful two-way involvement, including in development of plans to increase student achievement
  • Include parent input in evaluating effectiveness of parent involvement policies
  • Monitor compliance with parental
    involvement requirements

Recruit and train parent leaders

  • Identify and recruit strong community candidates that represent the parent base
  • Train parents in advocacy skills
  • Train parents to understand data
  • Train parents to train other parents
Parents and
educators work
to bridge the
divide and
create equitable,

Recruit and train staff to work with parents

  • Identify, recruit, and train staff on value of parent involvement
  • Help educators assess needs and create family- friendly schools
  • Train educators to understand data
  • Train educators to train other educators and parents

Communicate rights, responsibilities, and opportunities to all parents

  • Communicate timely NCLB information, including accountability data, choice and supplemental educational services options, and information on teacher qualifications in core subjects
  • Inform all parents about opportunities for involvement at home and in school
  • Inform about parents' rights and roles in school improvement in appropriate languages and formats
  • Provide materials and training to prepare parents to help their children increase academic achievement
All parents and
educators are
informed and have
an opportunity
to support
increased student

Communicate parent involvement policies and procedures to all educators

  • Communicate NCLB information including accountability data, choice and supplemental educational services options
  • Inform educators about opportunities to involve parents
  • Inform about educators' rights and roles in school improvement


In this model, the first stage in moving toward the end goal of parent-educator partnerships to support student learning entails making sure parents and educators receive and have the same understanding of important education related information. This information includes but is not limited to relevant school and district data, parents' rights and responsibilities in their children's formal education, options available to families under NCLB or state or district programs, and how parents can contribute to improved education outcomes for their own children and other students.

Being fully informed about their children's education enables parents to better decide the degree to which they want to become involved and the type of action they may want to take. Do they want to limit their role to supporting their child's learning at home? Serve as a classroom volunteer? Become active in school governance? Participate in policy decisions? For some parents, having adequate information may suffice as preparation for greater involvement. Others, however, may benefit from training, such as reflected in the conceptual model's second stage (e.g., to help parents become leaders, train them to understand data) and third stage (e.g., to help parents get involved in policymaking, train them to serve on school site councils and advisory boards).

For educators, some types of partnerships with parents may be required, as, for example, when there is a state mandate to have school site councils that include both teacher and parent representatives. Other parent-educator partnerships, such as efforts to create a more family friendly school, may be taken on by choice, because they seem to be a good option at a given school. Either way, educators, too, may benefit from training if they are to engage effectively with parents in pursuit of higher student achievement. As will be evident in this guide, while the five highlighted PIRCs have common goals, objectives, and strategies, all reflecting some aspects of this conceptual model, there are some differences in how they implement various elements. Moreover, given that the model poses an ideal, it is not surprising that some of its elements have been more fully implemented than others. For example, due to the focus of the earlier PIRC grants on training and informing parents, the PIRCs featured here have targeted more of their efforts on the left-hand side of the model and done less with educators. A new Department of Education-established priority for PIRCs in the 2006 funding round to work with state and district Title I offices is intended to shift the focus to parent and educator partnerships and to push more fully into the right-hand side of the model, with educators receiving training and support to become better and more active partners with parents. Once both parents and educators are equipped with the information (first stage) and training (second stage) needed for successful partnership, a push into the third stage, that is, joint policymaking, is a natural next step.

Parts I and II of this guide, starting on pages 13 and 37, respectively, identify and describe some of the key strategies used by these highlighted PIRCs in supporting effective parent involvement. Part I focuses on PIRC efforts to build a common foundation of information and understanding for parents and educators. Part II focuses on readying parents and educators for action and decision-making intended to improve education. Both sections—Parts I and II—include a series of "tips" boxes that have distilled the strategies from each subsection into easily scannable lists of implementation suggestions.

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Last Modified: 06/15/2009