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Parent Involvement in Children's Education: Efforts by Public Elementary Schools
NCES: 98032
February 1998


With the passage of the Goals 2000: Educate America Act, the commitment to improve the education of all students has become a national priority. Yet preparing students for the challenges of the future is not the responsibility of schools alone. Discussions on how to improve the quality of education in America have focused attention on the roles of family and community, and research supports the belief that high-quality education cannot be successfully accomplished without the active involvement of parents. Studies have shown that parent involvement in children's learning can have a positive effect on students' achievement and reduce the school dropout rate (U.S. Department of Education 1994). In an effort to encourage and increase the participation of parents in their children's schooling, Congress added an eighth goal to the National Education Goals that calls on schools to adopt policies and practices that actively engage parents and families in partnerships to support the academic work of children at home and shared educational decisionmaking at school.

In response to the Goals Panel's recognition of the role that parents can have in children's learning and school performance, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and the National Institute on the Education of At-Risk Students (NIEARS) in the U.S. Department of Education, and the National Education Goals Panel requested this survey. The study was designed to provide information on the ways that schools are engaging parents in their children's education and the extent to which parents are responding to the opportunities for involvement that schools provide. The study was also intended to provide data that could be compared with data on the same topic collected from parents in the National Household Education Survey (NHES) in 1996, as well as those collected in the Prospects study, 1 initiated in 1991 to monitor trends in parent involvement in children's education.

This report presents the findings from the Survey on Family and School Partnerships in Public Schools, K-8 conducted for NCES by Westat, a research firm in Rockville, Maryland. The survey was conducted through the NCES Fast Response Survey System (FRSS) during spring 1996. FRSS is a survey system designed to collect small amounts of issue-oriented data with minimal burden on respondents and within a relatively short time frame. Short questionnaires were sent to a nationally representative sample of 900 public schools enrolling kindergarten through eighth grade students. Principals were asked to either complete the survey or assign its completion to the person most knowledgeable about parent involvement programs and activities at the school. Data have been weighted to national estimates of all public schools serving grades K- 8. Appendix A provides a detailed discussion of the sample and survey methodology. A table of standard errors for the figures in this report appears in appendix B, and the survey questionnaire is reproduced in appendix C.

The Survey on Family and School Partnerships in Public Schools, K- 8 addressed the following issues:

  • The kinds of communication schools establish to provide parents with information about the goals of the school, their children's progress, and topics relevant to assisting students outside of school.

  • The kinds of activities schools sponsor that are designed to inform parents about their children's performance, including academic, artistic, and athletic demonstrations, and the typical parent attendance at these activities.

  • The kinds of volunteer activities schools make available to parents, and the extent to which parents participate in these activities.

  • The extent to which parents are included in decisionmaking regarding selected school issues.

Other factors that influence school efforts to increase parent involvement in their children's education. Survey findings are presented for all public schools serving grades K- 8, and by the following school characteristics (defined in the Glossary of Terms in appendix A):

  • Size of enrollment: small (less than 300), moderate (300-599), and large (600 or more).

  • Urbanicity: city, urban fringe, town, and rural.

  • Geographic region: Northeast, Southeast, Central, and West.

  • Percent minority enrollment: very low (less than 5), low (5-19), moderate (20-49), and high (50 or more).

  • Poverty concentration, as defined by the percent of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch: low (less than 25), moderate (25-49), and high (50 or more).

It should be noted here that characteristics of schools are often interrelated. For example, in this study the poverty concentration in a school and its minority composition were highly related, with 87 percent of schools with a high minority enrollment also identified as having a high concentration of poverty (see Table A-1 in appendix A).

City schools also were more likely to have a high concentration of poverty. Minority enrollment was correlated with both urbanicity and school size (Table A-2 in appendix A). However, because of the relatively small sample size used in this study, it is difficult to separate the independent effects of these variables.

All comparative statements made in this report have been tested for statistical significance through chi-square tests or t-tests adjusted for multiple comparisons using the Bonferroni adjustment and are significant at the 0.05 level or better. However, not all statistically significant comparisons have been presented, since some were not of substantive importance.

1 "Prospects: The Congressionally-Mandated Study of Educational Growth and Opportunity (1991-1994)."