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Education Statistics Quarterly
Vol 3, Issue 4, Topic: Featured Topic: National Household Education Surveys Program
Efforts by Public K-8 Schools to Involve Parents in Children’s Education: Do School and Parent Reports Agree?
By: Xianglei Chen
 
This article was originally published as the Executive Summary of the Statistical Analysis Report of the same name. The sample survey data are from the “Survey on Family and School Partnerships in Public Schools, K-8,” conducted through the NCES Fast Response Survey System (FRSS), and from the NCES National Household Education Surveys Program (NHES).
 
 

The importance of parent involvement in children’s education has long been established. Research over the last 2 decades has demonstrated that children whose parents are involved are more likely than others to have positive educational outcomes such as improved academic performance, better school attendance, higher aspirations, reduced dropout rates, and increased graduation rates (Catsambis 1998; Desimone 1999; Keith et al. 1986; Ma 1999; McNeal 1999; Miedel and Reynolds 1999; Nord and West 2001; Trusty 1999). Given the clear evidence of positive returns to parent involvement, schools nationwide are being called upon to develop policies and practices that encourage parents to become more involved in their children’s education both in school and at home (Partnership for Family Involvement in Education 2000; U.S. Department of Education 1994).

What practices do schools adopt to promote parent involvement? What programs do schools offer parents to encourage them to participate? To what extent do parents attend school-sponsored activities designed to increase their involvement? In 1996, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) conducted two surveys to investigate these issues from two different perspectives.

The first survey, the “Survey on Family and School Partnerships in Public Schools, K-8,” gathered data from public K-8 schools on their efforts to involve parents in their children’s schooling.1 Conducted as part of the Fast Response Survey System (FRSS), this survey was designed to provide information on the ways that schools engage parents in their children’s education and the extent to which parents respond to the opportunities for involvement that schools provide (Carey et al. 1998). Specific questions included the frequency with which schools communicated with parents about various matters relating to the processes and progress of their children’s learning and development, the resources that schools provided to parents to assist them in parenting and participating in their children’s schooling, volunteering opportunities available to parents, and parents’ involvement in school governance.

The second survey, the Parent and Family Involvement in Education/Civic Involvement Survey of the National Household Education Surveys Program, 1996 (PFI/CI-NHES:1996), collected data from parents on several topics similar to those schools were asked about in the FRSS survey: the activities or events involving parents held by their children’s schools, schools’ efforts to recruit parents as volunteers in schools, school-initiated communication with parents and dissemination of information to parents, and schools’ policies or organizations that involve parents in school decisionmaking.2

Using these two data sets, the purpose of this report is to study the level of agreement between parents’ and schools’ views of how schools involve parents in their children’s education and how parents respond to the opportunities for involvement that schools provide. Specifically, this report addresses two major questions: Do children’s parents acknowledge the efforts that schools reportedly are making? and Do schools report the same level of parent participation in school programs as parents do? The findings of this report can assist policymakers, educators, researchers, and school staff in their future efforts to evaluate parents’ involvement in their children’s education and further encourage it. For example, discrepancies between the reports of schools and parents may indicate that despite schools’ efforts, many parents are unaware of what schools do to encourage their involvement. Schools may then use this information to develop better ways to reach parents who may be unaware of school-provided opportunities.

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Discrepancies were apparent between schools’ and parents’ reports on whether schools used various practices to involve parents in their children’s education. For each school practice examined in this study, public K-8 schools were more likely than parents of children in such schools to indicate that schools used that practice to involve parents (figure A).

The investigation into how schools’ and parents’ responses varied by school characteristics further revealed that the discrepancies between the two reports were not consistent across school characteristics. For some practices, the discrepancies were found in some types of schools, but not in others. For example, 81 percent of large schools and 85 percent of schools in cities/urban fringes reported giving parents information about child or adolescent development, whereas lower proportions of parents in large schools (71 percent) and in city/urban fringe schools (73 percent) reported that their children’s schools helped them understand the issue of child development (figure B). However, this school/parent difference was not found in small schools (78 and 75 percent) and rural schools (76 and 72 percent).

For other practices, while the discrepancies were found in all types of schools, the magnitude of the discrepancies increased with school level, size, and minority concentration. For instance, the difference between schools’ and parents’ reports on whether the school provided parents with information about helping children with homework was larger in middle schools than in elementary schools, in large schools than in small schools, and in high-minority enrollment schools than in low-minority enrollment schools (figure C).

There could be several explanations for these inconsistent reports, although none of them can be established empirically by this study. First, the discrepancy pattern suggests that despite schools’ reported efforts, some parents were still not aware of what schools were doing to encourage their involvement. It is possible that schools have not done enough to reach out to every parent in implementing various practices. The varying gaps between schools’ and parents’ reports across school characteristics also suggest that schools might not be equally effective in reaching out to parents and making them aware of school programs. Elementary schools, small schools, and schools with low minority enrollment may have done a better job at this than secondary schools, large schools, and schools with high minority enrollment.

Parents may also share some of the responsibility. Although it is possible that schools are not doing “enough” to involve parents, some parents simply may not set aside enough time to pay attention to the information or opportunities provided by the school because of demanding work schedules and other family and work obligations. It is also likely that some parents, particularly those who are less involved, may have poor information about their children’s schools and thus may be providing less accurate and reliable data about school programs.

Figure A.—Percentage of public K-8 schools that reported using various practices to promote parent involvement in children’s education, and percentage of K-8 public school students whose parents reported that their child’s school used such practices: 1996
Figure A.- Percentage of public K-8 schools that reported using various practices to promote parent involvement in children's education, and percentage of K-8 public school students whose parents reported that their child's school used such practices: 1996

NOTE: Some items may not be strictly comparable between the two surveys. See table 1 of the complete report for the exact wording of the survey items used in this report.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics: Fast Response Survey System, “Survey on Family and School Partnerships in Public Schools, K-8,” FRSS 58, 1996; and the Parent and Family Involvement in Education/Civic Involvement Survey of the National Household Education Surveys Program, 1996 (PFI/CI-NHES:1996).

The second potential explanation for the inconsistent reports may come from inaccuracy of the schools’ and parents’ reports. The pressure to provide socially appropriate responses may affect the responses of both schools and parents. The fact that schools consistently provided more favorable reports than did parents suggests that schools may have overreported their actions to involve parents. The social desirability of outreach practices may lead schools to exaggerate their efforts and report them in a favorable way. The same explanation can also be given for parents’ responses. Responding to interviewers in a socially desirable way may lead parents to overstate their own behaviors and understate the actions of the schools.

Figure B.—Percentage of public K-8 schools that reported providing parents with information about child or adolescent development, and percentage of public K-8 school students whose parents reported that their child’s school helped them understand what children at the child’s age are like, by school size and urbanicity: 1996
Figure B.- Percentage of public K-8 schools that reported providing parents with information about child or adolescent development, and percentage of public K-8 school students whose parents reported that their child's school helped them understand what children at the child's age are like, by school size and urbanicity: 1996

NOTE: Schools that enrolled 600 students or more were defined as large schools and those with fewer than 300 students were defined as small schools.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics: Fast Response Survey System, “Survey on Family and School Partnerships in Public Schools, K-8,” FRSS 58,1996; and the Parent and Family Involvement in Education/Civic Involvement Survey of the National Household Education Surveys Program, 1996 (PFI/CI-NHES:1996).

In addition, schools may have inadvertently provided inaccurate information about certain practices, particularly those that are typically initiated by teachers rather than by the school (e.g., informing parents about their children’s performance). For these practices, teachers’ responses perhaps would be more accurate than the school reports. To remedy overreporting or reporting of inaccurate information, objective data (e.g., data collected by direct observation) or more reliable data (e.g., from teachers) may need to be collected in the future.

A third potential source for the discrepancies between the reports of schools and parents may be related to differences in the way the questions were worded in the two surveys. For example, schools in the FRSS survey were asked whether they provided information to parents about child development. However, the question in PFI/CI-NHES:1996 was posed differently: parents were asked whether their child’s school helped them understand what children at their child’s age are like. It is possible that parents may have received information from the school about child development, but they may not have thought that the school helped them understand the developmental characteristics of children at their child’s age.

In addition, the FRSS survey did not ask schools whether their practices were targeted to all parents or only to specific groups of parents; therefore, detailed examination of schools’ and parents’ behaviors was not possible. This may have contributed to the discrepancies between the reports of schools and parents. For example, schools may provide child-development information only to parents of kindergartners and sixth-graders (i.e., children in “transitional” grades), not to parents of children in all grades. Although these schools may say that they used this practice, parents with children who were not in the targeted group certainly would not agree with this statement. Consequently, parents would be less likely than schools to report such school effort.

Finally, readers should be aware that differences between the surveys in the response rates (i.e., the school response rate in the FRSS was higher than the parent response rate in PFI/CI-NHES:1996) and response bias (e.g., parents in PFI/CI-NHES:1996 underreported the size of their children’s schools) may also have contributed to the school/parent discrepancies. However, it is not possible to investigate how these differences may have affected the results presented in this report.

Figure C.—Percentage of public K-8 schools that reported providing parents with information about helping children with their homework, and percentage of K-8 public school students whose parents reported that they received such information from their child’s school, by school level, size, and percent minority enrollment: 1996
Figure C.- Percentage of public K-8 schools that reported providing parents with information about helping children with their homework, and percentage of K-8 public school students whose parents reported that they received such information from their child's school, by school level, size, and percent minority enrollment: 1996

NOTE: Schools that enrolled 600 students or more were defined as large schools, and those with fewer than 300 students were defined as small schools. Schools with more than 75 percent minority students were defined as high-minority enrollment schools, and those with less than 25 percent minority students were defined as low-minority enrollment schools.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics: Fast Response Survey System, “Survey on Family and School Partnerships in Public Schools, K-8,” FRSS 58,1996; and the Parent and Family Involvement in Education/Civic Involvement Survey of the National Household Education Surveys Program, 1996 (PFI/CI-NHES:1996).

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Comparisons of schools’ and parents’ reports on the extent to which parents attended school-sponsored activities (e.g., an open house or back-to-school night and schoolwide parent-teacher conferences) also revealed discrepancies. The direction of the differences, however, was the opposite of that found for school practices, in which schools gave more favorable reports than parents did. A majority of parents said that they attended various school-sponsored events, whereas lower proportions of schools holding these events said that “most or all” parents attended them (figure D).3 The differences between schools’ and parents’ reports were generally found to increase with school level, size, and the percentage of minority students enrolled (figure E), suggesting that the problem of the inconsistent reports was more pronounced in middle schools, large schools, and schools with high minority enrollment than in elementary schools, small schools, and schools with low minority enrollment.

These findings create uncertainty about the credibility of both schools’ and parents’ reports. Because schools and parents may both have a vested interest in reporting parents’ behavior in a certain light, the reports may be distorted on both sides. The critical question becomes: did parents overreport their participation, did schools underreport parents’ participation, or did both of these problems occur? In the future, more objective data may be needed to verify self-reports and obtain reliable and accurate data on parent participation in school activities. In addition, comparisons between schools’ and parents’ responses using samples of parents whose children attend the surveyed schools may result in more reliable information about schools’ perceptions on parents’ behaviors or vice versa. In other words, to examine the consistency between parents’ and schools’ reports, it would be better to collect parent and school data within the same survey framework rather than from two different survey systems.

Figure D.—Percentage of public K-8 schools that reported that most or all parents attended various school-sponsored activities, and percentage of K-8 public school students whose parents reported that they attended such activities: 1996
Figure D.- Percentage of public K-8 schools that reported that most or all parents attended various school-sponsored activities, and percentage of K-8 public school students whose parents reported that they attended such activities: 1996

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics: Fast Response Survey System, “Survey on Family and School Partnerships in Public Schools, K-8,” FRSS 58, 1996; and the Parent and Family Involvement in Education/Civic Involvement Survey of the National Household Education Surveys Program, 1996 (PFI/CI-NHES:1996).

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Footnotes

1This survey targeted public schools that offered no grade higher than 8. These schools are referred to as “public K-8 schools” in this report.

2This survey targeted parents of 3-year-olds through 12th-graders. For comparability with the FRSS survey, parents of children who were enrolled in grades K-8 in public schools that offered no grade higher than 8 were selected for this study.

3These inconsistent reports may, to an extent, be due to some differences in the question wording in the two surveys. For example, in PFI/CI-NHES:1996, parents were asked whether they attended a school-sponsored event during the school year (“yes” or “no”). In the FRSS survey, schools were asked to report the best representation of typical parent attendance at a school-held event (“most or all,” “more than half,” “about half,” “less than half,” or “few”). A school could hold a particular type of event more than once during the school year. It is possible that many parents attend at least one such event, but not all of them, and the school may just consider the parent attendance at one “typical” event. Thus, the school-reported parent attendance rate is likely to be lower than the rate reported by parents.

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Carey, N., Lewis, L., Farris, E., and Burns, S. (1998). Parent Involvement in Children’s Education: Efforts by Public Elementary Schools (NCES 98-032). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Catsambis, S. (1998). Expanding the Knowledge of Parental Involvement in Secondary Education: Effects on High School Academic Success. Baltimore: Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed At Risk. (ERIC ED426174)

Desimone, L. (1999). Linking Parental Involvement With Student Achievement: Do Race and Income Matter? Journal of Educational Research, 93: 11-30.

Keith, T.Z., Reimers, T.M., Fehrmann, P.G., Pottebaum, S.M., and Aubey, L.W. (1986). Parental Involvement, Homework, and TV Time: Direct and Indirect Effects on High School Achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 78: 373-380.

Ma, X. (1999). Dropping Out of Advanced Mathematics: The Effects of Parental Involvement. Teachers College Record, 101: 60-81.

McNeal, R.B. (1999). Parental Involvement as Social Capital: Differential Effectiveness on Science Achievement, Truancy, and Dropping Out. Social Forces, 78: 117-144.

Miedel, W.T., and Reynolds, A.J. (1999). Parental Involvement in Early Intervention for Disadvantaged Children: Does It Matter? Journal of School Psychology, 37: 379-402.

Nord, C.W., and West, J. (2001). Fathers’ and Mothers’ Involvement in Their Children’s Schools by Family Type and Resident Status (NCES 2001-032). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Partnership for Family Involvement in Education. (2000). The Partnership for Family Involvement in Education: Who We Are and What We Do. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education. Available: http://pfie.ed.gov [May 31, 2001].

Trusty, J. (1999). Effects of Eighth-Grade Parental Involvement on Later Adolescents’ Educational Expectations. Journal of Research and Development in Education, 32: 224-233.

U.S. Department of Education. (1994). Strong Families, Strong Schools: Building Community Partnerships for Learning. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

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Figure E.—Percentage of public K-8 schools that reported that most or all parents attended various school-sponsored activities, and percentage of K-8 public school students whose parents reported that they attended such activities, by school level, size, and percent minority enrollment: 1996
Figure E.- Percentage of public K-8 schools that reported that most or all parents attended various school-sponsored activities, and percentage of K-8 public school students whose parents reported that they attended such activities, by school level, size, and percent minority enrollment: 1996

*The gap between schools’ and parents’ reports was not larger in large schools than in small schools.

NOTE: Schools that enrolled 600 students or more were defined as large schools, and those with fewer than 300 students were defined as small schools. Schools with more than 75 percent minority students were defined as high-minority enrollment schools, and those with less than 25 percent minority students were defined as low-minority enrollment schools.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics: Fast Response Survey System, “Survey on Family and School Partnerships in Public Schools, K-8,” FRSS 58, 1996; and the Parent and Family Involvement in Education/Civic Involvement Survey of the National Household Education Surveys Program, 1996 (PFI/CI-NHES:1996).

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Data sources: The NCES Fast Response Survey System, “Survey on Family and School Partnerships in Public Schools, K-8,” FRSS 58, 1996; and the Parent and Family Involvement in Education/Civic Involvement Survey of the National Household Education Surveys Program, 1996 (PFI/CI-NHES:1996).

For technical information, see the complete report:

Chen, X. (2001). Efforts by Public K-8 Schools to Involve Parents in Children’s Education: Do School and Parent Reports Agree? (NCES 2001–076).

Author affiliation: X. Chen, MPR Associates, Inc.

For questions about content, contact Kathryn Chandler (kathryn.chandler@ed.gov) .

To obtain the complete report (NCES 2001-076), call the toll-free ED Pubs number (877-433-7827), visit the NCES Web Site (http://nces.ed.gov), or contact GPO (202-512-1800).



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