Friday, March 30, 2012

Parental Involvement & Lynn: Is it Apathy, Barriers or are Parents Simply Involved in Less Visible Ways?

The seeming lack of parental involvement by Lynn public school parents has been decried by many particularly in light of the poor physical condition of a significant number of the city's schools as well as sub par standardized test scores. The reason for this is also likely due to research and reports which indicate that parental involvement has been associated with positive academic outcomes including less grade retention, better attendance, higher grade point averages, increased achievement in reading, writing and math and lower dropout rates (LaRocque, Kleiman, & Darling, 2011; Anderson & Minke, 2007). In the literature, family involvement is defined as the parents' or caregivers' investment in the education of their child(ren) (LaRocque, Kleiman, & Darling, 2011). Much of this research is school centric or school-based as it examines how parents are engaged in activities  that are designed by the school and includes behaviors like serving as classroom assistants, visiting a child's classroom or being on a school council (Jackson & Remillard, 2005). Many Lynn residents seem to hold a similar view of what constitutes parental involvement. Therefore, in the context of poor parental attendance at events like school committee meetings or debates as well as an absence of PTO organizations at many Lynn public schools, it seems apt to label public school parents in  the city as generally "uninvolved."  Jackson and Remillard (2005) also concluded that parents whose activities are not visible to the school are often classified as minimally involved.
There are, however, several key barriers or factors that may contribute to what appears to be a lack of parental involvement particularly relevant to a discussion of the current climate in Lynn. Anderson and Minke (2007) found that parents make an initial decision to become involved according to their beliefs (role construction, sense of efficacy) and general opportunities and demands for involvement from the school and their children. Role construction refers to parents’ ideas about what they should do in relation to their child’s schooling; parents with a high role construction tend to also exhibit a high level of involvement (Anderson & Minke, 2007). Efficacy is the belief that their involvement in their child’s schooling will positively effect their learning and success (scale items include “I know how to help my child do well in school” and "I  feel successful about my efforts to help my child learn") (Anderson & Minke, 2007). Finally, general opportunities include generic invitations from the school and child (Anderson & Minke, 2007). Reed, Jones, Walker and Hoover-Dempsey (2000) found that role construction, efficacy and perceptions of teacher invitations accounted for much of the variance in parent involvement behaviors with specific teacher invitations showing the strongest relationship with parents' involvement behaviors.

Most salient for this discussion is probably the concept of 'role construction.' Though many parents are deemed uninvolved or uninterested based on school related activities, Jackson and Remillard (2005) stated that it is important to highlight the number of ways in which parents help their children. One avenue is indeed 'involvement in the school' by having an active presence in the school by volunteering or attending school functions. Some parents, however, are involved in their child's education in other, less visible ways. Other parent involvement concepts include 'involvement in schooling' which refers to assisting with homework or communicating with a teacher when difficulties arise as well as 'involvement in learning' or that way in which parents structure, foster, and support a child's learning in a variety of contexts (Jackson & Remillard, 2005). While some parents exhibit parental involvement behaviors in all three categories, other parents may be "involved" more heavily in only one or two categories. Anderson and Minke (2007) found that schools may potentially be underestimating parental involvement by only including activities that occur at school as most of the study’s respondents reported more involvement at home; Overstreet, Devine, Bevans and Efreom (2005) found that African American parents have greater involvement in home based activities. Furthermore,  lower resourced families may respond differently to calls for increased parental involvement than families with more resources (Anderson & Minke, 2007). Thus, a parent who does not have an active presence at a school (or committee meeting) is not necessarily apathetic; it may simply be that his or her role construction falls more so under the latter two categories which are more home-based in nature and do not fit into traditionally accepted behaviors associated with parent involvement (Jackson & Remillard, 2005).
It is also important to note that parent choices regarding involvement in their child's education are often constrained by their employment (job schedule) as well as competing demands (childcare, competing activities) that limit one’s time and energy (Anderson & Minke, 2007). Low income parents may work hourly jobs that do not allow them to participate in the way that people with stable salaried employment can (LaRocque, Kleiman, & Darling, 2011). Additional consideration must be made of the barriers or challenges to school-based parental involvement faced by increasing number of non-English speaking parents or guardians. The Lynn public school system is currently 53.6% First Language not English and 19.6% Limited English Proficiency. Turney and Kao (2009) found that foreign born Hispanic and Asian parents were 5.5 and 9.7 times, respectively, to report language as a barrier to involvement at their children's schools. This study also found that parents who had limited English proficiency were more likely to report meeting time inconvenience and not feeling welcome (Turney & Kao, 2009). Time spent in the United States and increased English language ability was, however, positively associated with increased parental involvement (Turney & Kao, 2009; LaRocque, Kleiman, & Darling, 2011). Other factors include feeling welcome or invited, the importance for parents of their own negative school experiences and trust which was found to be an essential element in family-school relationships (Anderson & Minke, 2007; Raty, 2002; Adams & Christenson, 2000).
From this, it becomes more clear that a lack of visible parental involvement in Lynn as well as other districts is a complex issue resulting from a variety of factors. To answer the question posed in the title of this piece, the situation in Lynn is likely a combination of all three factors. While some parents may be apathetic, others are experiencing a language barrier that prevents them from being involved at the school and/or are involved in more home-based activities.  There is also the potential for some parents to be apathetic in certain scenarios and become an active presence in others. Additional consideration must be made of the way in which the school or school system's characteristics, beliefs and educational approach may either facilitate or hinder increased parental involvement (Feuerstein, 2000). Koonce and Harper (2005) found that the thoughts or opinions of parents who were unable to participate in school activities were often dismissed because these parents were viewed as not "actively" involved in their child's education; dismissal of their insights tended to alienate these parents resulting in a withdrawal from the parental advocacy role. Finally, whether one agrees or disagrees, there could be a large number of Lynn public school parents who are generally satisfied with their child(ren)'s education and therefore do not see a reason to get involved at the school or district level. Thus, because a parent is not present at a school committee meeting or speaking out about a school-related issue, does not necessarily mean that he or she are uninvolved. It is important to understand the multiple ways in which parents choose to be engaged in their child's education given their particular circumstances and encourage 'involvement' in whatever way is possible for the family. While actively seeking to increase parental involvement and address language barriers is essential, there are many behaviors that deserve inclusion and recognition by schools and school systems under the umbrella of 'parental involvement' in the interest of cultivating strong school-family relationships which undoubtedly will result in the aforementioned positive academic outcomes.

*Adams, K.S. & Christenson, S.L.(2000). Trust and the family school relationship: Examination of parent teacher differences in elementary and secondary grades. Journal of School Psychology, 38, 477-497.
*Anderson, K.J. & Minke, K.M. (2007). Parent involvement in education: Towards an understanding of parents' decision making. Journal of Educational Research, 100:5, 311-323. 
*Feuerstein, A. (2000). School characteristics and parent involvement: Influences on participation in children's school. The Journal of Educational Research, 94:1, 29-40. 
*Jackson, K. & Remillard, J. (2005). Rethinking parent involvement: African American mothers construct their roles in the mathematics education of their children. School Community Journal, 15:1, 51-73. 
*Koonce, D.A. & Harper, W. Jr. (2005). Engaging African American parents in the schools: A community-based consultation model. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 16(1-2): 55-74.
*LaRocque, M., Kleiman, I. & Darling, S.M. (2011). Parental involvement: The missing link in school achievement. Preventing School Failure: Alternative Education for Children and Youth, 55:3, 115-122.
*Overstreet, S., Devine, J., Bevans, K., & Efreom, Y. (2005). Predicting parental involvement in children's schooling within an economically disadvantaged African American sample. Psychology in Schools, 42, 101-111.
*Raty, H. (2002). The significance of parents' evaluations of their own school for their educational attitudes. School Psychology of Education, 6(1), 43-60.
*Reed, R.P., Jones, K.P, Walker, J.M. & Hoover-Dempsey, K.V. (2000). Parents' motivation for involvement in children's education: Testing a theoretical model. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New Orleans, LA.
*Turney, K. & Kao, G. (2009). Barriers to school involvement: are immigrant parents disadvantaged? The Journal of Educational Research, 1002:4, 257-271.


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you! A lot of research went into this one.

  2. Wow - I haven't even read it yet, but the research alone is outstanding!

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