Missouri Youth Initiative - Step by Step

Volume 16, No.2, May 2006

Parent Involvement

Martha Markward, Associate Professor
UMC School of Social Work
Tanna L. Klein, Research Associate
University of Missouri Extension,
Office of Social and Economic Data Analysis

Most experts agree that parent involvement is of paramount importance to parents/caretakers, students, and teachers. Epstein (1987) identified the following types of parent involvement: parenting; communicating; volunteering; learning at home; decision making; and collaborating with the community. Henderson (1987) and Epstein (1997) suggest that schools need to reach out to parents/caregivers in as many ways as possible to make them feel like partners in the education of their children. The evidence shows that parent involvement is associated with benefits for students, parents, teachers, and school/district outcomes (Becker & Epstein, 1982; Comer, 1986).

The greatest benefit is to students. The effects of parent involvement on students have been measured largely in terms of student achievement based on grades and/or standardized test scores. Based on the findings, McLaughlin and Shield (1987) reported that students, including those from low socioeconomic status (SES) whose parents were involved in their education, do better academically than students whose parents are not involved (Henderson, 1987; Rood, 1988; Stevenson & Baker, 1987).

Comer (1986) also noted that parents who are involved in their children's education learn in terms of acquiring new skills, gaining confidence, and improving employment opportunities (Moles, 1987). More important, parents are more likely to increase involvement over time (Herman & Yeh, 1983) and spend more time with their children (Becker & Epstein, 1982). Learning programs that involve parents teaching at home should include functional, as well as academic, tasks (Chrispeels, 1997).

The more often teachers engage in parent involvement activities, the more positive they are toward parents and the more likely they are to include parents in instructional planning (Ames, Watkins and Sheldon, 1995; Becker & Epstein, 1982). If this occurs, teachers are also more likely to seek more training to involve parents in their children's education. Comer (1986) found that when parents are involved in schools, it improves school climate and reduces the possibilities of stereotyping particular children and families.

In 1993, the results of a national Parent-Teacher Association survey showed that parents understand the importance of parent involvement as well. Ninety-five percent of parents who responded to the survey indicated that they favor written plans for parent involvement because they believe involvement of parents in the education of their children is crucial to school success. Recently, the 2004-2005 Missouri School Improvement Program Parent Questionnaire asked parents how involved they are in their child's school.

More than 88,000 parents of students in grades K-12 responded to questions about the frequency with which, during the past year, they participated in six kinds of school activities. These activities included: talking to their child's teacher; going to an open house; attending parent/teacher meetings; visiting the child's school on their own; helping with after-school activities; and helping with classroom learning.

The survey results show that parent involvement follows a fairly normal distribution (See Figure 1). The survey results also show some variation. There is a strong relation between family education and reported levels of participation. Students from higher SES families tend to have higher test scores and lower dropout rates. One contributing factor may be the level of parent involvement in the school. As the level of parents' education increases, so too does the level of reported parent participation (see Figure 2).

A general assumption might be that two-parent families are more likely to be involved than one-parent families, due to time constraints. However, family structure does not seem to affect levels of parental involvement. Single parents generally are involved in schools at about the same level as two-parent families.

Parent Involvement
Figure 1

Parents with very low involvement are more than twice as likely to disagree that they can talk with their child's teachers or principal whenever the need arises. In addition, parents with low involvement are more likely to say their child will be working after high school and parents with high involvement are more likely to say their child will attend a 4-year college (see Figure 3). This would tend to support the notion that parents who are more involved in their children's education have higher academic expectations for them. Parents who are highly involved are more likely to report that their child earns good grades in school (see Figure 4).

The results show parents with high involvement in their children's education tend to be more involved in their children's lives in other areas. They are more likely to know who their children's friends are. Close to a 100 percent (97.3%) report they know the first names of five of their child's friends (see Figure 5).

The Missouri survey of parents suggests that the SES of parents is associated with parent involvement in schools, and in turn, higher grades, and higher aspirations of parents for children. In this context, Missouri schools are challenged to involve low SES parents in the education of their children.

Parent Involvement by Education Level
Figure 2

After-School Plans
Figure 3

Grades in School
Figure 4

I know the first name of 5 or more of my child’s closest friends.
Figure 5

Missouri parents participating in the 2004-2005 School Improvement Program Parent Survey conducted by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in more than 120 districts answered questions about how involved they were in their children's schools.

Parents were asked how often during the past year they participated in each of the following activities, and their responses follow.

  • Talk to your child's teacher:
    12.8 percent - More than 10 times
    13.2 percent - 5-10 times
    32.9 percent - 3-5 times
    35.4 percent - Once or twice
    5.6 percent - Never

  • Go to an open house
    1.3 percent - More than 10 times
    2.0 percent - 5-10 times
    15.6 percent - 3-5 times
    67.4 percent - Once or twice
    11.7 percent - Never
  • Attend parent /teacher meetings:
    2.2 percent - More than 10 times
    3.6 percent - 5-10 times
    27.5 percent - 3-5 times
    53.6 percent - Once or twice
    13.1 percent - Never
  • Visited the school on your own:
    14.7 percent - More than 10 times
    8.9 percent - 5-10 times
    20.9 percent - 3-5 times
    34.6 percent - Once or twice
    21.0 percent - Never
  • Helped with after-school activities:
    5.9 percent - More than 10 times
    3.5 percent - 5-10 times
    9.3 percent - 3-5 times
    22.5 percent - Once or twice
    58.9 percent - Never
  • Helped with classroom learning:
    4.5 percent - More than 10 times
    1.8 percent - 5-10 times
    4.7 percent - 3-5 times
    15.6 percent - Once or twice
    73.4 percent - Never

Demographics of Respondents

  • Grade of student
    Elementary 45.3 percent
    Middle School 20.0 percent
    Jr. High 16.0 percent
    High School 18.7 percent
  • Household description
    Single-parent 19.5 percent
    (mother/father) 63.0 percent
    (step-family) 14.1 percent
    Other 3.4 percent
  • Age of parent
    Under 30 11.4 percent
    30-39 45.8 percent
    40-49 35.9 percent
    50-59 5.8 percent
    60 & older 1.2 percent
  • Parent education
    Elementary 1.5 percent
    Some high school 8.5 percent
    High School graduate 27.2 percent
    Some college 29.9 percent
    College graduate 22.7 percent
    Graduate school 10.6 percent
  • Parent race
    White 82.5 percent
    African Amer. 11.8 percent
    Asian 1.4 percent
    Am. Ind. 0.8 percent
    Hispanic 2.3 percent
    Multi-racial 1.4 percent


Ames, C., De Stefano, L., Watkins, T., & Sheldon, S. (1995, April).Teachers school-to-home communications and parent involvement [Report No. 28]. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University, Center of Families, Communities, Schools, & Children's Learning.

Becker, H., & Epstein, J. (1982). Parent involvement: A survey of teacher practices.Elementary School Journal, 83, (2), 85-102.

Chrispeels, J. (1997). Effective schools and home-school-community partnerships. School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 7, (4), 297-323.

Comer, J. (1986). Parent participation in schools. Phi Delta Kappan, 67, 442-446.

Epstein, J. (1997). School, family, and community partnerships: Your handbook for action. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Henderson, A.(1987a). Parents are a school's best friend. Phi Delta Kappan, 70, (2), 145- 147.

Henderson, A. (1987). The evidence continues to grow: Parent involvement improves student achievement: An annotated Bibliography. Columbia, MD: National Committee for Citizens in Education.

Herman, J. & Yeh, J. 1983). Some effects of parent involvement in schools. The Urban Review, 15, 11-17.

Lewis, A., & Henderson, A. (1997). Urgent message: Families crucial to school reform. Washington, DC: Center for Law and Education, Inc.

Moles, O. (1987). Who wants parent involvement? Interest, skills, and opportunities among parents and educators. Education and Urban Society, 19, 137-145.

McLaughlin, M., & Shields, P. (1987). Involving low income parents in the schools: A role for policy? Phi Delta Kappan, 69(2), 156-160.

Rood, M. (1988). A new look at student achievement: Critical issues in student achievement. Paper 2. Austin, TX: Southwestern Educational Laboratories.

Stevenson, D. & Baker, D. (1987). The family-school relation and the child's school performance. Child Development, 58, 1348-1357.

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OSEDA Tanna Klein
Page last modified March 1, 2006
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