The Future of Secondary Education CLOUDS AND SUN

The Future of High School Success: The Importance of Parent Involvement Programs

Catherine Wehlburg Hickman, Ph.D.
Stephens College


Many studies have shown a strong correlation between parent involvement and a child's success in school (Ascher, 1988; Hickman, Greenwood, & Miller, 1995; Rhine, 1981). The authors of the Coleman Report (Coleman et al., 1966) indicated that about one-half to two-thirds of the variance in student achievement could be accounted for by home variables rather than school variables. Similar evidence was found by Mosteller and Moynihan (1972) in their reanalysis of the Coleman data. Following up on this (and other research) this article will focus on the role that parent involvement programs will play in the high school of the future and how parent involvement programs can help to meet the changing needs of high school students and their families.

"Parent involvement" and "parent participation" are nebulous terms because there is an array of parent behaviors that these could include. As Carol Ascher (1986) has stated, "Of all education issues, parent involvement is one of the vaguest and most shifting in its meanings. Parent involvement may easily mean quite different things to different people" (p. 109). To define parent involvement more operationally, Hoover-Dempsey, Bassler, and Brissie (1987) theorized a two-way breakdown into home-based activities (e.g., parent home tutoring) and school based parent involvement activities (e.g., parent volunteering, attendance at parent-teacher conferences). Adding to this distinction, Ascher (1988) finds that "the meaning of parent involvement in this new era [the 1980's] has shifted from the affairs of the school to the home site" (p. 120).

Because of the difficulties in operationally defining "parent involvement," many theorists have concentrated their efforts more on specific categorization of the different types of parent involvement. Further breakdowns in the broader parent involvement models are proposed by Gordon (1977) and Bauch et al. (1973). Gordon's six types of parent involvement (Gordon & Breivogel, 1976) are: (a) the traditional type of parent involvement type (the parent as audience or bystander-observer); (b) parents as decision makers (as in School Advisory Committees or Parent Teacher Associations [PTAs] in which parents participate in school decision making activities); (c) parents begin as classroom volunteers; (d) parent as a paid paraprofessional or teacher's aide; (e) parents as learners (e.g., participate in child development or parenting classes); and (f) parents as teachers of their own children at home. Similar typologies have been discussed by Cervone and O'Leary (1982) and Hester (1989).

Epstein (1988), in a slightly different approach, described five types of parent involvement: (a) "Basic Obligation of Parents" includes parents providing for the health and safety of their children as well as preparing their children for school; (b) "Basic Obligation of the Schools" includes the school communicating with parents about school programs and the progress of children; (c) "Parent Involvement at School," the volunteering of parents in the classroom and attendance at school performances or sports events; (d) "Parent Involvement in Learning Activities in the Home" parents initiating activities with their child or a child initiating the help through questions; (e) "Parent Involvement in Governance and Advocacy" the parents assuming decision making roles.

Much of this research focuses on the elementary school program. However, there has been some research focusing on the secondary school level (Dornbusch and Ritter, 1988; Henderson et al., 1986; Hickman, Greenwood, & Miller, 1995; Thornburg, 1981). These research findings provide seven types of parent-involvement: (a) parent as communicator, (b) parent as supporter of activities, (c) parent as learner, (d) parent as advocate, (e) parent as decision maker, (f) parent as volunteer/professional, and (g) parent as home activities teacher.

State Mandated Parent Involvement Programs

There have been a number of attempts to mandate parent involvement programs at the local, state, and national levels. For example, on a local level, in 1973, a Florida law mandated that all school districts must form school advisory committees (SACs) either at the local school or the school district level that represent the community of the school, have students and parents as members, and be obligated to participate in the preparation of the Annual Report of School Progress that is sent to the parents. In addition, this law mandates that the SACs be evaluated for their effectiveness by the school board each year (Greenwood, Breivogel, & Jester, 1977). Florida SACs have participated in making decisions regarding such problem areas as the school budget, curriculum issues, desegregation, textbook selection, and faculty evaluation and selection.

On a state level, Missouri's State Department of Education has developed several programs in increase parent involvement. The first is the Parents as Teachers program that helps train parents so that they can teach their own children at home in skills learned at home. A second program, Success is Homemade, expands the parent involvement from kindergarten though the end of high school (Epstein, 1991).

At the federal level, the Office of Educational Research and Improvement is developing a Center on Families, Communities, Schools, and Children's Learning. According to Epstein (1991) this center will research the relationship between school, home, and community from birth to adolescence. California has mandated parent involvement as have Missouri, Illinois, Tennessee, Minnesota, and Florida. According to Solomon (1991), California has mandated that

  • comprehensive programs of parent involvement require schools to involve parents at all grade levels in a variety of roles. These programs should be designed to: (a) help parents develop skills and foster conditions at home that support learning, (b) provide parents with the knowledge of techniques designed to assist children in learning at home, (c) provide access to and coordinate community and support services for children and families, (d) promote clear two-way communication between the school and the family to the school programs and children's progress, (e) involve parents, after appropriated training, in instructional and support roles at school, and (f) support parents as decision makers and develop their leadership in governance, advisory, and advocacy roles (p. 361).

Implications for the Collaboration Between Schools and Parents

Overall, the studies outlined in this article showed parent involvement to have a positive effect on the achievement of students. Home-based types of parent involvement were found to have a significant and positive relationship with achievement (Hickman, Greenwood, & Miller, 1995). The Coleman report (Coleman et al., 1966), as well as Mosteller and Moynihan (1972), and Coleman (1975) also reported that home-based variables were at least as important as the school-based variables in accounting for the total amount of student achievement variance. Home-based type findings agree with the contentions of Bauch (1988). Examples of this type of direct involvement could include having the parents monitor the homework of their children or help with editing school reports. "These are all activities that appear to have a direct impact on student attitudes, behavior, and leaning" (p.81-82).

All parents are a vast resource which can be tapped to increase student learning. The high schools of the future should work to incorporate these parents into the daily plan (or at least the weekly plan).

Home-Based Involvement

Schools and teachers should develop specific procedures for encouraging and implementing home-based parent involvement. This can be done in a number of ways. One of these is to use regular home-visits by either the teacher or a trained paraprofessional. Another strategy is to have the students routinely carry home assignments and material to their parents. This might include information about the school events, learning opportunities, and suggestions for helping the students.

Increasing the role of parent as supporter might be accomplished by simply giving parents more information, for example, letting parents know that their attendance at school events can increase school achievement as Dornbusch and Ritter (1988) have demonstrated. Athletic events, school plays, or musicals are wonderful opportunities for parents to support their children at school. Contacting the parents of the average students, as well as the low-achieving and high-achieving students makes all parents feel more confident in contacting the teachers and discussing these conversations with their children. Regular home visits can also be effective in opening the lines of communication between parents and schools.

Nancy Berla (1991) states "Clear, welcoming parent involvement policy [should be] published and posted in a prominent place" (p. 17). In addition, having a room specifically designed for the parents may encourage visits. This room can have reading materials appropriate to the age group of the students, information about upcoming activities, and other announcements of interest to the parents.

Flaxman and Inger (1991) point out that parent involvement at all grade levels is important. "The benefits of parent involvement are not confined to early childhood or the elementary grades. There are strong positive effects from involving parents continuously through high school" (p. 5), not only for enhancing the educational success of high school parents, but also because of a number of social changes which are occurring.


Research on parent involvement has indicated that the activities within the context of the home will play a significant role in the academic achievement and satisfaction of students. In order to use this information to create the high schools of the future, several recommendations are made.

  1. Parents need to be educated as to the importance of their role in education. Many parents need to be disabused of the idea that the school is the domain of the teachers and that school is the place for education. Learning is an experience which happens both at school and at home.
  2. The training of teachers in general and specific techniques to invite parents in their children's education is necessary. This needs to be accomplished at both the pre-service level as well as during in-service training sessions.
  3. The development of parent involvement programs will need to be funded by the educational community. As society changes, the needs of our students will change and the educational system needs to not only keep up with these changes, but to be on the cutting edge. In order to prepare students for their future.
  4. The role of the administration is vital in terms of the support of teacher and parent collaboration. Graduate programs in educational administration need to include information concerning the relevance of parent involvement programs.


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