A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

Family Involvement in Children's Education - October 1997

Resources for Involving Families in Education

Thirty years of research confirms that family involvement is a powerful influence on children's achievement in school (Eagle, 1989; Henderson & Berla, 1994; U.S. Department of Education, 1994; Ziegler, 1987). When families are involved in their children's education, children earn higher grades and receive higher scores on tests, attend school more regularly, complete more homework, demonstrate more positive attitudes and behaviors, graduate from high school at higher rates, and are more likely to enroll in higher education than students with less involved families. For these reasons, increasing family involvement in the education of their children is an important goal for schools, particularly those serving low-income and other students at risk of failure.

Achieving effective school-family partnerships is not always easy, however. Barriers to family involvement in schools arise from many sources, some related to the constraints facing teachers and other school staff, some related to the challenges and pressures that families face, and others related to language, cultural, and socioeconomic differences between families and school staff. For many schools across the nation, these barriers are formidable obstacles to increasing parents' involvement in their children's education. Experience in other schools and communities, however, demonstrates that schools and families can work together to overcome these barriers in productive and mutually satisfying ways.

Building Successful Partnerships

Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was created to bridge the achievement gap between economically disadvantaged children and other children. It is designed to enable schools to provide opportunities for disadvantaged children to acquire knowledge and skills contained in challenging standards developed for all children. Title I is the largest federal program supporting elementary and secondary education. Increasing family involvement in children's education is an important goal of Title I. This Idea Book is intended to help Title I and other schools build effective partnerships with families to support student learning. It suggests a range of strategies and activities for educators, parents, and policy makers to consider.

The 20 schools and districts included in this Idea Book span all grade levels (K-2) as well as urban, suburban, and rural areas across the country. They were selected based on a review of research on promising parent involvement practices and the recommendations of several experts. The experts include researchers, education practitioners, and parent representatives. Findings from focus group interviews with parents of children attending five of the schools are also included in this Idea Book. These interviews elicited parents' perspectives on the most effective ways to engage families in their children's education, barriers to parent involvement in Title I schools, and the steps schools can take to overcome barriers and reach out to parents. The Idea Book also includes in-depth profiles of 10 local programs, selected to highlight a variety of approaches to building strong partnerships. 1

Successful partnerships are those that involve the sustained mutual collaboration, support, and participation of school staffs and families at home and at school in activities and efforts that can directly and positively affect the success of children's learning and progress in school. Schools that have developed successful partnerships with parents view student achievement as a shared responsibility, and all stakeholders including parents, administrators, teachers, and community leaders play important roles in supporting children's learning.

Research Supports Partnerships

A sizeable body of research addresses programs or reforms that stress parent involvement as a means to improve student academic achievement and restructure public schools (see, for example, Epstein, 1995; Fruchter, Galletta, & White, 1992; Rioux & Berla, 1993; Turnbull & Turnbull, 1990; U.S. Department of Education, 1994). Fruchter, Galletta, and White (1992) analyze 18 recently developed programs or reforms that stress parental involvement as a strategy to improve student academic performance, restructure schools, and reform public education, especially in schools serving low-income and disadvantaged students. Rioux and Berla (1993) highlight innovative parental involvement programs for diverse populations of students enrolled in pre-kindergarten through high school and suggest strategies for creating successful programs. In Strong Families, Strong Schools: Building Community Partnerships for Learning, the U.S. Department of Education (1994) describes how schools, community-based organizations, businesses, states, and federal programs can help parents take more active roles in their children's learning. For families of children with disabilities, Turnbull and Turnbull (1990) provide a review of research and practice on partnerships between families and professionals, including school personnel. Of particular relevance to families' involvement in their children's education is the discussion of barriers to family participation in developing an individualized education plan (IEP).2 Additionally, Epstein (1995) has summarized the theory, framework, and guidelines that can assist schools in building partnerships. To add to the body of evidence on strategies to build and strengthen school-family partnerships, we selected schools to include in this Idea Book that had not, for the most part, been featured in other national publications.

After scanning the research and receiving experts' recommendations about Title I schools and districts with successful parent involvement programs, we telephoned potential sites to collect information about parent involvement activities and strategies, demographic information, and evidence of success, including data on the level of parent involvement in particular activities as well as any improvements in student achievement. This information for the 20 programs appears in appendix B. Most of these sites demonstrate a wide variety of parent involvement strategies and present strong evidence of success in increasing the numbers of parents participating in activities. A few also provide some evidence of improvements in student performance. However, in selecting the 20 programs, priority was given to those that had high or improved parent participation levels, since in most cases it is not possible to attribute improved student achievement directly to particular parent involvement strategies or activities. (Gains in student academic achievement depend on many factors that include parent involvement as well as curriculum, instruction, and effective teaching.)

Title I Encourages Partnerships

Title I, as reauthorized by the Improving America's Schools Act (IASA) of 1994, places a greater emphasis on parent involvement than did its predecessor, chapter 1. Chapter 1 defined parent involvement as the building of ``partnerships between home and school,'' but left the development of strategies for building these partnerships up to local schools and districts. Under IASA, Title I requires that local schools and districts adopt specific strategies for developing school-family partnerships. Title I parent involvement provisions emphasize: policy involvement by parents at the school and district level; shared school-family responsibility for high academic performance, as expressed in school-parent compacts; and the development of school and parent capacity for productive mutual collaboration. These Title I requirements might serve as useful guidelines for all schools as they strengthen school-family partnerships.

Title I requires that parents receive information and training in a variety of areas related to their children's education, including the state's standards for what all children are expected to know and be able to do. Parents must also be informed about the state's assessment procedures for measuring performance and progress. In addition, parents must be involved in Title I planning and decision-making, including the development of the school plan. The law requires that they receive assistance and support, including literacy assistance if necessary, to assume these roles and to work with their children at home.

Title I requires schools to develop a written parent involvement policy and to develop, with parents, school-parent compacts that describe the responsibilities of both the school and parents as they work together to help students achieve high standards. These compacts--and progress in meeting the responsibilities they describe--are to be discussed during parent-teacher conferences. Title I encourages compacts that recognize the full range of roles that parents can play in their children's education as well as the need for parents and schools to develop and maintain partnerships and ongoing dialogue around children's achievement.

Finally, Title I requires local education agencies (LEAs) to reserve funds from their Part A (basic programs operated by LEAs) allocations to fund parent involvement, including such activities as family literacy and parenting skills education. Nearly all of the schools featured in this Idea Book have implemented schoolwide programs,3 and their Title I and other federal and local funds support a wide variety of parent involvement activities. In addition, as indicated in appendix B, both schools and districts often draw from other funding sources at the federal, state, and local levels to contribute to their education programs and activities including parent involvement.

Overcoming Common Barriers to Family Involvement

Recent data from two U.S. Department of Education (ED)-sponsored nationally representative surveys (a survey of principals on Family and School Partnerships in Public Schools, K--8, and the Parent/Family Involvement Component of the 1996 National Household Educational Survey) suggest that many of the barriers addressed in this Idea Book have significant, measurable effects on parent involvement in schools. Further, data from both surveys show that lower-income parents and parents with less education participate less often in school-based parent involvement activities than do higher-income parents with higher education levels. In addition, parents of older children participate less often than parents of younger children.

When school-related, family-related, or community-related barriers deter parents from becoming involved, the consequences for students can be serious. This Idea Book is organized around strategies for overcoming a common set of barriers to family involvement in schools. These strategies, drawn from the literature and advice of experts, include:

Key aspects of each strategy and related activities used by the 20 schools and districts studied are discussed in the following sections.


  1. The Idea Book is a companion publication to a recent report to Congress (U.S. Department of Education, 1997) that identifies and describes: (1) common barriers to effective parental involvement in education of Title I participating children; and (2) successful local policies and programs that improve parental involvement and the performance of participating children.

  2. Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, as amended (P.L. 105-17), requires that children and youth with disabilities have an IEP. The IEP is a written document developed in a team meeting. A representative of the school who is qualified to provide (or supervise the provision of special education and the student's teacher(s) must attend. Parents must be invited and may attend. The student may also attend, at the discretion of the parents.

  3. A schoolwide program may use its Title I Part A funds, combined with other federal education funds, to upgrade the school's entire educational program rather than to deliver federally supported services only to identified children. By affecting the entire program of instruction, the overall education of children in high poverty schools can be improved. Beginning with the 1996-97 school year, Title I participating schools with a poverty level of at least 50 percent can choose to become a schoolwide program.

[Executive Summary] [Table of Contents] [Successful Local Approaches to Family Involvement in Education]