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

Communication Channels Established by Schools to Inform and Assist Parents

Schools establish both school-to-home and home-to-school communication channels to convey and receive information. In this survey, schools were asked about whether, and how, they provide parents with information on the school's curriculum, students' achievement, parenting and child-rearing issues, and the creation of home environments that are conducive to learning. Schools were also asked if they include visits to students' homes in their educational programs and whether they provide translations or interpreter services for parents with limited English skills.

Information on School Programs and Student Achievement

Information about school programs, children's placements, and children's progress are basic communications commonly initiated by schools to help families understand and monitor their children's learning and school experiences. From a list describing eight forms of communication that can occur between parents and staff, more than half of all elementary schools (57 to 85 percent) reported "always" or "frequently" using seven of the forms (Figure 1); the eighth form listed, communication using a school-sponsored homework helpline, was used much less frequently (24 percent)

Schools were very likely to initiate communications that inform parents about school curricula and student performance. Most K-8 schools (85 percent) reported always or frequently providing parents with written information about the school's overall performance on standardized tests. A high percentage of schools (83 percent) also gave parents written information about the goals and objectives of the school's regular instructional program. This same percentage reported sending home interim reports on individual student's progress during grading periods. Finally, 79 percent of schools that reported grouping students by ability also informed parents about their children's ability group placements.

Schools use other means to provide information to parents, as well. About three-quarters of all K-8 schools (72 percent) reported always or frequently issuing positive phone calls or notes to parents when their children's performance improves. In addition, more than half of all schools (60 percent) gave parents examples of work that meets the school's criteria for high standards.

Schools also initiate communications concerning children's homework, with 57 percent indicating they always or frequently requested parents to sign off on their children's homework. About onequarter of schools (24 percent) provided a homework helpline for parents to obtain information on assignments.

Communications About How to Help at Home

Researchers on school-family partnerships have reported that schools that help families feel welcome and show them how to improve learning at home are likely to have more support from parents and more motivated students (Epstein 1991). This survey asked elementary schools if they provide information on various topics intended to assist parents outside of school. Three of the topics related directly to how parents can help their children learn at home: helping with homework; developing study skills; and providing learning activities outside of school. The other four topics related to child-rearing issues: nutrition, health, or safety; community services available to help children or their families; parenting skills; and child or adolescent development. For each of these topics, between 82 and 89 percent of all schools reported supplying parents with information in one form or another (Table 1).

Providing information to parents about community services, such as social service agencies, was the only one of these topics that varied by any school characteristics. Information on community services was related to school size, urbanicity, and minority enrollment. While 76 percent of small schools reported offering this information to parents, more than 90 percent of moderately sized and large schools did so (Figure+2). Similarly, 78 percent of rural schools provided such information, compared to 93 percent of schools in cities. In addition, nearly all (95 percent) of schools with minority enrollments of 50 percent or more offered community service information to parents, while 81 percent of those with very low minority enrollments (less than 5 percent) do so. No differences were found, however, when schools were compared according to their concentration of poverty, as defined by the percentage of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (not shown in figure).

Forms of School-to- Parent Communication

The majority of elementary schools (95 percent) relied on newsletters or other printed material to pass on information to parents (Figure 3). About one-quarter of all schools offered take-home audio/visual materials relevant to these topics, and 75 percent of schools sponsored workshops or classes to inform parents on these issues. However, use of workshops varied somewhat depending on school size, urbanicity, and minority enrollment. Small schools were less likely than larger schools to use workshops (61 versus 79-82 percent), schools in rural areas were less likely to do so than schools in urban fringe areas and cities (58 versus 83-86 percent), and schools with minority enrollments below 5 percent were less likely than schools with minority enrollments of 50 percent or more to present workshops or classes for parents (63 versus 85 percent)(Figure 4).

Home Visits

In about two-thirds (64 percent) of all K-8 schools, staff made visits to students' homes, but the likelihood varied according to certain school characteristics (Table 2). Moderately sized and large schools were more likely than small schools to report including home visits in their programs (68-70 versus 52 percent). In addition, the percentage of schools where staff made home visits increased as the concentration of poverty in the school increased (44 percent of schools with a low concentration of poverty, 66 percent of schools with a moderate concentration of poverty, and 80 percent of schools with a high concentration of poverty). The percentage of schools where staff made home visits was higher for schools with minority enrollments below 20 percent than for schools with minority enrollments of 50 percent or more (52-60 versus 76 percent).

Those schools that reported that staff made visits to students' homes also were asked to select from a list of three the types of staff who made these visits. Included in the list were teachers, home/school coordinators, and school counselors. Schools could also indicate any other staff who made home visits in an "other" category. While in 73 percent of elementary schools teachers performed this task, three quarters of schools also wrote in other school staff who made visits to students' homes (Figure 5). Staff named frequently were principals, assistant principals, school nurses, and social workers. School counselors made home visits in 61 percent of schools where home visits were made, and home/school coordinators in 21 percent of schools. Visits by home/school coordinators were more prevalent in schools with a high concentration of poverty and high minority enrollment (30 and 34 percent) than in schools with lower enrollments in each characteristic (18 percent or less) (Figure 6).

Schools were also asked to indicate the percentage of families in the school who received at least one home visit during the 1995-96 school year. In schools that reported home visits, a mean of 15 percent of families received at least one home visit during this time period (Table 3). A higher mean percentage of families -- approximately one-fifth -- were visited in schools with high concentrations of poverty or minority enrollments, compared to schools with less than 50 percent concentrations of poverty (10 to 13 percent) or minority enrollments (10 to 15 percent).

Provisions for Parents with Limited English Skills

About half (56 percent) of all K-8 schools enrolled some students whose parents had limited English skills (not shown in tables). Of these schools, the majority (85 percent) provided interpreters for school meetings or parent-teacher conferences (Figure 7); 66 percent provided translations of printed materials, such as newsletters or school notices; and 28 percent printed school signs in different languages (Figure 7).