Fathers' Involvement in Their Children's Schools

Introduction

Policymakers and educators agree that family involvement in children's lives is closely linked to children's school success (Riley, 1994; U.S. Department of Education, 1994). Indeed, two of the National Education Goals stress the important role of parents in their children's education. Goal 1 states that "By the year 2000, all children in America will start school ready to learn." The second objective under this goal expands upon it by stating that parents are to be their children's first teachers, devoting time each day to helping their preschool children learn. Goal 8, although aimed at schools and not directly at parents, highlights the widespread belief that parental involvement in schools is important. This goal states that "By the year 2000, every school will promote partnerships that will increase parental involvement and participation in promoting the social, emotional, and academic growth of children."

Extensive research exists on the importance of parental involvement in children's education (see Henderson and Berla, 1994, and Henderson, 1987, for reviews of the research), yet relatively few studies have discussed the individual contributions that mothers and fathers make to their children's schooling. Psychologists, however, are increasingly reaching the conclusion that fathers, as well as mothers, influence children's social, emotional, and cognitive development. The contribution of fathers to children's development over and above that of mothers is not yet well documented (Parke, 1995), but it is known that the roles that fathers and mothers assume in the family are not identical, nor are the ways in which they interact with their children (Parke, 1995; Lamb, 1997; Lamb, 1981). The impact that these differences have on children's development and well-being needs further examination.

Why Focus on Fathers?

Although information on the involvement of both fathers and mothers will be presented in this report, the primary focus will be on the involvement of fathers. For several decades, researchers in children's issues have tended to focus on mothers and children. In a similar vein, many federal agencies and programs have also focused almost exclusively on mothers and their children. In 1995, President Clinton issued a memorandum requesting that all executive departments and agencies make a concerted effort to include fathers in their programs, policies, and research programs where appropriate and feasible (Clinton, 1995). The new attention devoted to fathers is not intended to lessen the focus on the important role that mothers play in their children's lives, but rather to highlight the fact that fathers are important, too.

One set of fathers has received a large amount of research attention: nonresident fathers (Nord and Zill, 1996; Furstenberg, 1988). Such research has tended to focus primarily on their payment or lack of payment of child support and on the extent to which they see their children. Much less is known about the types of activities that nonresident fathers share with their children and about their involvement in their children's schools.

This report describes in greater detail than heretofore has been possible fathers' involvement in their children's schools and examines the relationship between their involvement and each of five measures of how children are doing in school using a nationally representative data setthe 1996 National Household Education Survey (NHES:96). Two main areas of research questions are addressed: resident fathers' involvement and nonresident fathers' involvement.

Resident Fathers' Involvement

Nonresident Fathers' Involvement

Appendix A to this report contains detailed tables on the involvement of both mothers and fathers in their children's schools. These tables are intended to serve as a resource for persons interested in learning more about the extent of involvement of parents in their children's schools and the factors that are associated with such involvement for different grade levels. The tables provide data for all children in kindergarten through 12th grade as a group and by kindergarten through 5th grade, 6th through 8th grade, and 9th through 12th grade.

The Role of Fathers in Children's Lives

The role of fathers in children's lives varies over time and across cultures (Lamb, 1997). During the colonial period, fathers were the primary parent and had ultimate say in matters of the child; in the rare case of divorce, the law awarded custody to the father (Demos, 1986). As the primary parent, fathers had multiple roles: provider, moral overseer, disciplinarian, companion, and teacher, to name a few. Although mothers were responsible for the day-to-day care of children, especially young children, they were assumed to be too emotional and too indulgent to properly raise children (Demos, 1986). The advent of urbanization and industrialization in the 19th century redefined the roles of mothers and fathers. The role of fathers became predominantly that of "provider," while the role of mothers expanded in some respects and narrowed in others. Mothers became the parent with primary responsibility for children, including their moral development, and for ensuring the smooth operation of the household (Demos, 1986). As "homemaker" she became increasingly isolated from life outside the family. The contributions that she had previously made to the economic well-being of the family through such activities as assisting in the raising of crops, weaving, and the production of household goods decreased (Scott and Tilly, 1975). This pattern survived through much of this century and was particularly evident during the 1950s (Cherlin, 1992).

In recent decades, shifts in our society are once again transforming the roles of fathers and mothers. Important forces in altering the roles have been the increasing labor force participation of mothers, including mothers with young children, and the high levels of divorce and nonmarital childbearing (Demos, 1986). The entry of a large number of mothers into the labor force has contributed to a marked decline in the strict gender division of labor within a family to an arrangement where the roles of mothers and fathers overlap to a great extent (Furstenberg, 1988). Nowadays, fathers, like mothers, have multiple roles: provider, protector, nurturer, companion, disciplinarian, teacher, and instiller of societal norms to name just a few (Lamb, 1997; Marsiglio, 1993). The term "co-parents" is often used to describe the situation where mothers and fathers share equally the responsibilities of maintaining a family. In reality, however, most families do not divide all household and child rearing tasks equally between mothers and fathers, but rather work out their own acceptable divisions of labor within the family (Pleck and Pleck, 1997). More often than not, this division of labor falls along traditional lines with mothers assuming more responsibility for raising the children and fathers taking primary responsibility for providing for the economic well-being of the family (Lamb, 1997; Parke, 1995; Becker, 1981). This division of labor may be due in large part to the fact that men continue to earn more than women in the labor force (U.S. Department of Commerce, 1996). It may also be due, in part, to societal pressures to conform to expected roles. Society in many ways dictates the roles that mothers play and has clear expectations about the appropriate behavior of mothers. Societal expectations of how fathers are supposed to behave, beyond being a good provider, are not as clear (Parke, 1995), and thus the pressure to behave in specific ways is not as strong.

The rise in divorce and nonmarital childbearing has meant that more and more children are spending at least part of their childhoods living with only one parent. Estimates are that at least half of all children today will spend some time in a single-parent family before they reach age 18 (Furstenberg and Cherlin, 1991). In most cases this parent is the mother, though the proportion of custodial fathers has increased over the last several decades (Meyer and Garasky, 1993). In 1994, 3.4 percent of all children under 18 lived in father-only families and 24.5 percent lived in mother-only families (Saluter, 1996), up from 1.1 percent and 10.7 percent, respectively, in 1970 (U.S. House of Representatives, 1983). The lone parent, of necessity, must often fill all roles within the family.\1\ It has been suggested that the structural constraints of being the sole parent in the household diminishes traditional gender role differences, making single fathers and single mothers more similar when it comes to parenting than mothers and fathers in two-parent families (Thomson, McLanahan, and Curtin, 1992; Risman, 1987). Even with the need to assume aspects of the other parent's role, however, at least one study has found evidence that single fathers and single mothers behave differently in at least one respect: the types of resources that they invest in their children (Downey, 1994). Single fathers are more likely to provide economic resources, which may in part reflect their greater economic well-being compared to single mothers, while single mothers are more likely to provide what Downey termed "interpersonal" resources, including being involved in their children's schools, sharing in-home activities, and knowing their children's friends.

Because many divorced parents remarry, a large proportion of children also experience step families (Cherlin, 1992). Step families have an economic advantage over single-parent families, but it is not clear that the children in such families enjoy other advantages. Like children in single-parent families, children in step families show elevated risks of maladjustment and school failure compared to children living with both their biological parents (Zill, 1988). It may be that the stepparent is competing with the children for the biological parent's time and attention (McLanahan and Sandefur, 1994). It is also possible that stepparents are less committed to their stepchildren than are the children's biological parents or that they are actively discouraged by the biological parent or by the children from becoming very involved in the children's lives (McLanahan and Sandefur, 1994). Whatever the combination of reasons, there is no doubt that the relationship between stepparents and their stepchildren is different than the relationship between biological parents and their children.

The role of parents who do not live with their children has been a source of confusion to parents and policymakers alike. Because mothers are more likely than fathers to retain custody of the children when parents separate, most nonresidential parents are fathers. According to data from the 1990 Survey of Income and Program Participation, 88 percent of custodial parents are mothers and 12 percent are fathers (Nord and Zill, 1996). Policymakers have emphasized the provider role of nonresident fathers and have formulated laws and policies to encourage or enforce the payment of child support and, to a lesser extent, visitation. Increasingly, however, observers are arguing that like resident fathers, nonresident fathers have more roles than that of provider in their children's lives.

The Salience of Fathers to Children's Lives

For many years, research on children's development and well-being focused on the dynamics between mothers and their children. Fathers were usually omitted from the picture. This bias in the research was in part a reflection of the prevailing roles of mothers and fathers described above. Fathers were often assumed to be on the periphery of children's lives and, therefore, of little direct importance to children's development (Lamb, 1997). However, the same demographic forces that prompted changes in men's and women's roles also stimulated research on fathers (Marsiglio, 1993). Research, and the popular media, developed two images of fatherhood: what the sociologist Frank Furstenberg termed "Good Dads" and "Bad Dads" (Furstenberg, 1988). Such research, however, progressed unevenly. The Bad Dads received more and more attention as policymakers searched for ways to reduce childhood poverty and to increase children's well-being (Harris and Marmer, 1996; Crowell and Leeper, 1994). Recently, however, a portrayal of fathers incorporating more nuances has begun to emerge in the research (Lamb, 1997; Parke, 1996, 1995).

Existing research on the salience of fathers to children's lives has provided a mixed picture. The importance of the economic contribution of fathers is widely acknowledged. Numerous studies on single-parent families have highlighted the difficulties that children and families face when fathers fail to provide economic support (McLanahan and Sandefur, 1994; Crockett, Eggebeen, and Hawkins, 1993). Studies on the importance of fathers for children's lives, beyond their economic contributions, have not been as consistent (Amato, 1994). One reason for the mixed results about the importance of fathers to children is the focus of the research and the outcomes used differ across studies. One vein of research focuses on the well-being of children who do not live with their fathers. Two different approaches are often used. In one, children who do not live with their fathers are compared to children living in two-parent families. Differences between the two populations are assumed to be due to the influence of not living with fathers or to the process that led to the fathers not living with their children (e.g., McLanahan and Sandefur, 1994). In the second approach, only children who do not live with their fathers are studied. Information about the behavior of nonresident fathers (for example, whether they pay child support or the amount of contact they have with their children) is added to statistical models that examine the factors that are associated with children's well-being (e.g., King, 1994). If the variables measuring the behavior of the nonresident fathers are not statistically significant, the researchers conclude that the involvement of nonresident fathers is not important for children's well-being. Another vein of research focuses on the influence that resident fathers have on their children and the patterns of interaction between resident fathers and their children (see Lamb, 1987, and Radin, 1981, for reviews of this research). Studies that focus on what is often referred to as father absence yield the most ambiguous results, with some studies finding nonresident fathers important to children's well-being (Amato, 1994; Peterson and Zill, 1986), and others finding no influence of continued paternal involvement (King, 1994; Furstenberg, Morgan, and Allison, 1987). Studies based on resident fathers, on the other hand, often find that fathers are important for children's development and well-being (Lamb, 1987).

Researchers are in agreement that mothers and fathers interact differently with their children (Parke, 1995). Fathers spend proportionately more time playing with their children, while mothers spend a greater proportion of their total time with their children in caretaking activities (Lamb, 1986). Because mothers spend a greater amount of time overall with their children, they may actually spend more time playing with them than do fathers, yet caretaking is still what best characterizes their time, while play best characterizes the fathers' overall time with their children. Fathers and mothers also play differently with their children, with fathers much more likely to be rough and tumble (Parke, 1995; Hetherington and Parke, 1993). Summarizing a wide range of studies, Parke concluded, "Fathers are tactile and physical and mothers tend to be verbal, didactic, and toy mediated in their play. Clearly, infants and young children experience not only more stimulation from their fathers, but a qualitatively different stimulatory pattern" (1995, p. 33). It is not only fathers' stimulation of their children, however, that influences them. Radin, in her review of the importance of fathers to children's lives, concluded that there are many channels through which a father may influence his children's cognitive development, including "through his genetic background, through his manifest behavior with his offspring, through the attitudes he holds about himself and his children, through the behavior he models, through his position in the family system, through the material resources he is able to supply for his children, through the influence he exerts on his wife's behavior, through his ethnic heritage, and through the vision he holds for his children" (1981, p. 419).

The extent of fathers' involvement with their children changes as the children grow older and also varies by whether the children are boys or girls. Regardless of the child's age, studies often find that fathers are more likely to be involved with their sons than with their daughters (Marsiglio, 1991; Lamb, 1986; Radin, 1981). It also appears that the nurturance of fathers is associated with the cognitive abilities of boys, but less so of girls (Radin, 1981). Close father-son relationships appear to encourage the development of analytic skills.

Fathers (and mothers) spend less time with their children as the children grow older, in part because children themselves desire to spend more time with peers. However, even though they spend less time together, the importance of fathers to children's development increases as children grow older, especially for sons (Thompson, 1986). There is tantalizing evidence from smaller scale and observational studies that children and youth rely upon their fathers to provide factual information and that children, at least in middle-class families, tend to believe that with respect to family goals, the most important one for fathers is that "every one learn and do well in school," while children are more likely to say that mothers think it is more important to make "everyone feel special and important" (Ramey, 1996). According to this research, fathers are "highly engaged" in providing information to their children. Mothers, on the other hand, tend to provide more day-to-day care and emotional support and companionship. Plausible hypotheses that stem from this research are that maternal involvement is beneficial for the social and emotional adjustment of children to school, particularly young children, but that paternal involvement may be most important for academic achievement.

It is evident that the roles of both resident and nonresident fathers in their children's lives are in flux. It is also evident that research on the contributions of fathers and mothers to their children's lives will continue. This report provides new information on how both resident and nonresident parents of school-aged children are sharing the important task of involvement in their children's schools. It also presents information on the contribution that fathers' involvement in schools makes to children's school success net of the influence of mothers' involvement.

Factors Associated with Parental Involvement

Existing studies have identified a number of factors that are associated with parental involvement, many of which are also associated with how children do in school. Among these are a child's grade (or age), family structure, parental education and socioeconomic status, and maternal employment. Studies find that parental involvement in schools tends to decrease as children move from elementary to middle to high school (Zill and Nord, 1994; Vaden-Kiernan and Davies, 1993; Epstein, 1990). The decrease may be due to parents believing that involvement is not as important as children grow older. It may also be due to children and youth exerting their independence or discouraging the involvement of their parents, or to schools offering fewer opportunities for parents to become involved as children become older (Stevenson and Baker, 1987). Two-parent families tend to be more involved than single-parent families. The difference may be due partly to differences in socioeconomic status, but also because there is an extra parent available to become involved (Scott-Jones, 1984). More highly educated parents and parents with higher socioeconomic status are more likely to be involved in their children's schooling than less educated parents and parents with lower socioeconomic status (Zill and Nord, 1994; Vaden-Kiernan and Davis, 1993; Stevenson and Baker, 1987). It is possible that less educated parents feel more intimidated by the school setting or that they have had bad experiences with school that make them reluctant to become involved. Mothers who work full time and those who are looking for work tend to be less involved in schools than mothers who work part time (Zill and Nord, 1994), at least in part because maternal employment competes for time that could be used participating in school activities.

In addition to the above demographic factors, parental involvement in children's education is higher if parents are confident that they can be of assistance to the child, if they believe that the child is capable of doing well in school, and if they have high educational aspirations for the child (Eccles and Harold, 1996). School policies and teacher practices also have a strong influence on the level of parental involvement in children's education (Eccles and Harold, 1996; Epstein, 1990). Parental involvement also varies by other characteristics of the schools; for example, it tends to be higher in smaller as opposed to larger schools and in private as opposed to public schools (Loomis, Vaden-Kiernan, and Chandler, forthcoming; Zill and Nord, 1994).

One framework that can be used to draw these diverse factors together is to think of involvement as the result of resources available to the family. Drawing on the insights from psychology, economics, sociology, and education, these resources can be divided into social capital, human capital, and physical (or financial) capital (Lee, 1993; Coleman, 1991; Becker, 1981). Each of these forms of capital, in turn, has dimensions that can describe the capital of the family and the capital of the community in which the family resides.\2\ Social capital encompasses the quality of the relationships within the family, the way that parents interact with their children and each other, the educational aspirations parents have for their children, the home environment (e.g., rules, routine, order, harmony of household), and even the time that family members have to devote to each other. In essence, social capital is the quality and the density of interpersonal relationships that families can draw upon. Parental involvement itself, whether in the home or in the school, is a form of social capital (Lee, 1993). It is facilitated by the presence of other forms of capital. Social capital outside the household includes the links that family members have with individuals and institutions outside the household such as neighbors, religious institutions, and schools. It also includes the extent of social capital within each of these institutions. For example, schools that are harmonious and that have a high level of student-teacher respect can be described as having greater levels of social capital than schools without these characteristics. Similarly, school policies and teacher practices that encourage parental involvement may be viewed as a form of social capital.

Human capital within the family includes parental education levels and the skills and abilities that parents and other family members have. Within the community, it encompasses the education, skills, and abilities of those in the community and of those who work in important institutions, such as schools.

Physical capital includes such things as family income, the assets in the home including computers and books, and the resources of the local community, including community institutions such as schools, libraries, parks, and recreation centers.

This framework is useful because it provides plausible explanations for why some of the factors described above may influence both parental involvement and children's outcomes. For example, parental education is probably a proxy for several forms of capital. It not only measures the acquired skills of an individual, but it also indicates something about the educational aspirations, expectations, and beliefs of that individual. Although those with lower educational levels do not necessarily value education less than those with higher educational levels, it is likely that those with higher levels of education have the wherewithal (such as more flexible jobs so that they can become involved and the confidence in their ability to help the child) to ensure that their expectations are met. Similarly, as income increases, it allows a family to live in a better neighborhood, to send their children to better schools, and to provide educational materials in the home. At the same time, if that income derives from long work hours, it may actually reduce some of the social capital available in the household even as it increases the physical capital.

Using the framework briefly described above, this report examines factors that are associated with fathers' and mothers' involvement in their children's schools and the influence of that involvement on selected children's outcomes.

Data Source

This report is based on data from the 1996 National Household Education Survey (NHES:96). The NHES is a random-digit-dial (RDD) telephone survey that uses computer-assisted telephone interviewing (CATI) technology to collect data on high priority topics that could not be addressed adequately through school- or institution-based surveys.

NHES:96 was conducted from January to April of 1996 and included interviews with parents and guardians of 20,792 children 3 years old through 12th grade. This report focuses on the involvement of parents of 16,910 kindergartners through 12th graders.\3\ Included in this sample are 5,440 children in kindergarten through 12th grade who have a nonresident father and 7,651 children in the 6th through 12th grade with whom a youth interview was also completed. The results on the involvement of residential parents in their children's schools are generalizable to all U.S. children in kindergarten through 12th grade who have at least one biological, adoptive, or stepparent in the home.\4\ The results on the recency of contact with nonresident fathers in their children's lives are generalizable to all U.S. children in kindergarten through 12th grade who have a biological or adoptive father living elsewhere.\5\ The results on the involvement of nonresident fathers in their children's schools are generalizable to all children in kindergarten through 12th grade who have had contact with their nonresident father in the past year.

It should be noted that the unit of analysis in the NHES:96 is the child and not the parent. Thus, when parent-reported data are presented in this report, they are referenced to the children. Strictly speaking, "the percent of parents who are involved in their children's schools" is "the percent of children whose parents are involved in their schools." Though not technically equivalent, both phrases are used in this report.

Measuring Parental Involvement

Researchers have employed a variety of frameworks and measures to describe and discuss parental involvement. Epstein (1990), for example, described six types of involvement as a way to assist educators in developing programs of family-school partnerships: (1) basic obligations of families, such as providing for the health and nutrition of children; (2) basic obligations of schools to communicate with families; (3) parent involvement at school, such as volunteering and attending school events; (4) parent involvement at home, such as providing learning activities at home; (5) parent participation in school decision making; and (6) collaboration and exchanges with community organizations to increase family and student access to community resources.

Others have conceptualized involvement according to the extent to which the activities are directly related to teaching. Thus, for example, Kellaghan and his colleagues (1993) describe proximal, intermediate, and distal forms of involvement. Proximal forms of involvement include such activities as supervision of homework by the parent or the parent serving as a teacher's aide in the school. Intermediate forms of involvement include involvement in school workshops or doing education activities in the home such as visits to the library that do not directly involve instruction. Distal forms of involvement include fulfilling the basic obligations of a family such as providing for the health and general well-being of their children.

Still others have simply divided involvement according to where it occurs: at home, at school, or in the community. In addition, some researchers distinguish activities from attitudes or expectations. This report focuses on parental involvement in schools, though some information on involvement in the home is also presented.\6\

The NHES:96 asked about four types of school activities that parents could participate in during the school year. The activities are fairly typical of those available in most schools: attendance at a general school meeting,\7\ attendance at a regularly scheduled parent-teacher conference, attendance at a school or class event, and serving as a volunteer at school.\8\ Parents are said to have low involvement in their children's schools if they have done none or only one of the four activities. They are categorized as having moderate involvement if they have done two of the activities. Those who said that they have done three or more of the activities are said to be highly involved in their children's schools.\9\ Not all schools offer parents the opportunity to be involved in each of these activities. Particularly as children grow older, schools offer parents fewer opportunities for involvement. Low involvement can result because parents do not or cannot take advantage of available opportunities for involvement or because schools do not offer them opportunities for involvement.\10\

The NHES:96 is unusual in that it not only asked about parental involvement in their children's schools, but it also asked which parent participated in the activities or whether both parents participated. Moreover, resident parents were asked a parallel set of questions about the involvement of the nonresident parent (if there was one). Thus, it is possible with the NHES:96 to describe the school involvement of resident mothers and fathers and of nonresident parents. For 75 percent of the cases of the full NHES:96 file, the mother was the respondent. An important issue is whether mothers accurately report the involvement of fathers in their children's schools. It is generally believed that mothers are better reporters than fathers about factual matters regarding children, such as when they last saw a doctor. Given that the items in the NHES:96 that measure involvement in school are essentially factual (attended a meeting or not), mothers' reports are probably quite good. Whether resident mothers are good reporters about the actions of nonresident fathers is less certain. Other research indicates that there are discrepancies between the reports of resident and nonresident parents on the amount of child support monies that have been paid by the nonresident parents and on the extent of contact between nonresident parents and their children (Braver et al., 1991; Schaeffer, Seltzer, and Klawitter, 1991).

Organization of the Report

In the remainder of the report, the findings of the NHES:96 concerning the involvement of fathers in their children's schools are presented. The first section of findings provides a detailed description of the involvement of resident fathers in their children's schools by selected characteristics of children, families, and schools. Many of these characteristics are viewed as different types of resources that are available to the families. Parallel information on the involvement of mothers in their children's schools is also provided as a contrast. Selected child, family, and school factors are then examined together in multivariate models so that the net influence of each on high father and mother involvement in their children's schools can be determined. Finally, the influence of fathers' involvement on five student outcomes is examined.

Throughout the discussion of resident fathers' involvement, a distinction is made between fathers in two-parent families and fathers who are heads of single-parent families. Two reasons prompted the decision to examine fathers in single-parent and two-parent families separately. First, single-parent and two-parent families differ in many respects that can affect both how parents spend their time and how their children perform in school. Second, the NHES:96 allows the unusual opportunity to examine how parents in two-parent families share child-rearing responsibilities in one important realm: their children's schooling.

The second major section of the findings describes nonresident fathers' involvement in their children's schools and the link between that involvement and measures of how children are doing in school. The influences on the likelihood that nonresident fathers have had contact with their children in the past year are first examined. Then, among children who have had contact with their nonresident fathers, the influences on the likelihood that their fathers are moderately to highly involved in their schools are examined. Descriptive information on nonresident mothers is presented to serve as a contrast to nonresident fathers.\11\

In this report, two-parent families consist of children who live with two biological or adoptive parents or with a biological parent and a step or adoptive parent.\12\ Single-parent families consist of children who live with their biological or adoptive mother or father or, in a few cases, with only a stepparent. Table 1 shows the percentage of children living in these different family types. Most children live with two biological or two adoptive parents (57.7 percent). Nine percent of the children live with a biological mother and a step or adoptive father and 2.1 percent live with a biological father and a step or adoptive mother. Nearly a quarter of the children (24.2 percent) live with only their mother. Three percent live with only their father. Four percent live with foster parents or with other persons who are not their biological, adoptive, step, or foster parents. Many of these children may be living with grandparents or other relatives.

Only children who live with at least one biological, adoptive, or stepparent are included in the analyses that examine the involvement of resident parents in their children's school. However, all children who have a nonresident parent, including children living in non-parental arrangements, are included in the analyses that examine whether nonresident parents have had contact with their children in the past year, and among those who have had contact, their involvement in their children's schools.


FOOTNOTES:

[1] Some single parents may have another adult in the household who can assist them. In 1990, approximately 18 percent of children in mother-only families and 20 percent of children in father-only families also had a grandparent living with them (Hernandez, 1996). Some of these grandparents may need assistance, but others are probably able to contribute to raising the children. In addition, some single parents have unmarried partners living with them (Garasky and Meyers, 1996). It appears that single fathers are more likely than single mothers to have partners (Garasky and Meyers, 1996). The non-custodial parent may also provide help, such as doing home or car repairs, taking the child to a doctor's appointment, providing transportation, or helping with finances. Even with such assistance, however, the single parent remains the adult with primary responsibility for raising the children.

[2] The concept of community is difficult to pin down. The areas where family members live, work, and go to school may be separated by large physical distances and, in a real sense, represent different communities. Yet, in spite of this fact, each of these important realms (neighborhood, school, workplace) can influence individual family members and therefore the family as a whole, regardless of whether they occur in the same community.

[3] Parents of children not yet in kindergarten were excluded because those with preschool children were asked a slightly different set of school involvement questions than parents of older children and because not all young children are enrolled in preschool. Parents of children who were home-schooled were also excluded because they were not asked questions about "in school" involvement.

[4] Children living with only foster parents or non-parent guardians were not included in the analyses of residential parent involvement in this report.

[5] Children living with only foster parents or non-parent guardians were included in the analyses of the involvement of nonresident fathers if the foster parent or non-parent guardian reported that the child had a nonresident father.

[6] Some have pointed out that involvement in schools need not always be positive (Coleman, 1991). Examples of negative involvement include parents who attempt to influence teachers or the administration in ways that could have a negative effect on other students or who attempt to gain special favors for their own children at the expense of others. Such negative involvement is not discussed in this report.

[7] In the 1996 NHES, two question formats were used to ask respondents about attendance at a school meeting. Half of the sample were asked a single question, whereas the other half were asked two questions about different types of school meetings. The single question asked about attendance at a general school meeting, for example, an open house, a back-to-school night, or a meeting of a parent-teacher organization. The two questions asked about attendance at an open-house or back-to-school night and attendance at a meeting of a PTA, PTO, or parent-teacher-student organization. To create a single variable about attendance at a school meeting, the two items asked in the second set were combined. Multiple regression analyses were used to examine whether the question format used to ask parents about attendance at school meetings explained any of the variance in attendance at school meetings after taking into account other potentially mediating factors such as family income, race/ethnicity, family structure, maternal education, and maternal employment. The findings of these analyses indicated that the question format that was used did not account for differences in attendance at school meetings. Consequently, the data obtained from the two question formats were combined for the analyses performed in this report.

[8] Although it would have been interesting to examine the frequency with which parents participated in each of these four activities, the NHES:96 did not collect that information.

[9] A similar indicator appeared in Zill and Nord, 1994. That indicator, however, was based on data from the 1993 NHES, School Safety and Discipline component. The 1993 NHES contained only three activities that the parents could have participated in at school: a general school meeting; a school or class event; or serving as a volunteer. The parents were not asked about attendance at a regularly scheduled parent-teacher conference. Thus, the information on levels of involvement that appear in the current report are not comparable to those that appeared in the 1994 report. Specifically, levels of involvement, because there are more activities, will appear higher in the current report.

[10] The NHES:96 collected information about whether the children's schools had held general school meetings or parent-teacher conferences since the beginning of the school year. About 5 percent of the children in grades K-12 attended schools that did not offer general school meetings and about 14 percent attended schools that had not held regularly scheduled parent-teacher conferences. Children in grades 6 through 12 were much more likely than those in K through 5 to attend schools that did not offer regularly scheduled parent-teacher conferences (22 percent versus 6 percent). Most schools offered general school meetings: only 8 percent of children in grades 6 through 12 and 3 percent of students in grades K-5 attended schools that did not.

[11] The NHES:96 obtained information about 5,440 nonresident fathers, of whom 4,118 had seen their children in the past year. Information was also obtained about 1,468 nonresident mothers, of whom 1,343 had seen their children in the past year.

[12] The NHES:96 collects information on the relationship of other household members to the child but not to each other. Although marital status information is collected for all household members age 16 and older, the spouse is not identified. The parents' marital status was not used in defining two-parent families, only the relationship of the parents to the child.


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