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Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

May 29, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Parents at school: Studies probe what helps and what doesn’t

Parent mentor Pedro Rodriguez works with a group of students in Jessica Dye's first-grade classroom at Avondale Elementary School in Chicago. Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times 2013.

Parent mentor Pedro Rodriguez works with a group of students in Jessica Dye’s first-grade classroom at Avondale Elementary School in Chicago. Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times 2013.

Two new studies of parent involvement dig deeper than many earlier ones into when  and how  parent involvement at school helps raise student achievement.

As we reported in an Education Lab story about a parent mentor program in Chicago, there is a lot of research backing the notion that parents can help their students academically. But many studies use different, and sometimes very broad, definitions of what parent involvement means, making it hard to determine exactly what works best.

These two studies tackled that question in different ways  and came to different conclusions.

The latest, released earlier this month, made headlines by concluding that most parent involvement doesn’t work  even helping with homework.

The two authors said their results, gleaned from decades of parent surveys, made them question whether schools should court parent involvement as a way to reduce the achievement gap.

Given that the federal government requires low-performing schools to involve parents, the study raised a stir, and a number of prominent parent involvement experts recently responded.

Those experts didn’t find fault with the study’s analysis, but said researchers missed half of the story. Yes, those experts agreed, conventional parent involvement, such as joining the PTA, isn’t enough to help schools and students. But they said the study’s authors, by relying only on the federal surveys, missed the type of innovative family engagement practices that they say other studies have shown to be effective.

This week, Education Week reported on the other recent study, published back in December, that analyzed surveys from principals in a nationally representative sample of 7,380 urban, suburban and rural schools.

Those reseachers concluded that parent involvement does make a difference  especially in urban schools. The schools where principals reported strong parent involvement, for example, were much more likely to make the test-score goals outlined in the federal law known as No Child Left Behind.

But the researchers also found that some parent activities seemed to work better than others. Schools with high parent participation in parent-teacher conferences and back-to school nights had better success meeting the No Child Left Behind requirements, for example. So did schools that provided translated materials for parents who speak limited English.

But schools that reported reaching out to parents? That wasn’t correlated with reaching the No-Child goals.

The researchers wondered whether those schools were trying too hard  and came off as intimidating rather than welcoming.

 

Comments | More in News | Topics: Logan Square, parent engagement, parent involvement

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