I have been surprised by all the recent reaction to a book with new research claims about parent involvement.   The first article I read that highlighted the research was titled Don’t help your kids with homework.  I posted a response to that one previously.  The next article about the book/research that I saw shared on Twitter was titled Parent Involvement is Overrated.  I also read a number of response posts with pushback to the claims of the writers/researchers.  I suspect there will be more ahead.

Larry Ferlazzo has kindly kept track of the commentaries and is adding some here.  The most recent article that Larry posted discussed the limitations of parent involvement research in regards to definition, measurement, methodology, and causation claims,

The research on parent involvement is riddled with inconsistent definitions of parent involvement and poor methodological design and analytic strategies. This does not mean, however, that parent involvement is “overrated;” rather, it means that while parent involvement is generally positive on children’s achievement, its precise mechanisms are as yet unclear.”

The author, Mai Miksic, also suggests that a more universal measure of parent involvement is needed and that parent involvement could be assessed better by classifying it in three different ways:  School involvement, home involvement, and parent engagement.  He also asserts that the Robinson and Harris findings, overall, are mixed and do not warrant alarmist headlines.

This blog post also caught my attention.  Laura responds very strongly and bluntly on this topic in a few posts.  While I avoid advice of what parents “should” do, she does make some good points about parent involvement and suggestions in her own passionate way,

Parents should get more involved. They should attend PTA meetings, they should volunteer, they should attend board of education meetings, they should vote for their representatives on the school board, they should tell administrators about both the good and bad practices at the school.”

I think she also captures some of the “double-edged sword” and conflicting aspects of parent involvement with schools,

Parents shouldn’t be assholes. They should assume that the teacher is overwhelmed, underpaid, and mismanaged. They shouldn’t complain and never compliment or contribute. They should try to restrain themselves to one complaint per year. Your kid will suffer, if you complain too much. And if there’s that much to complain about, it is really better to move or supplement at home. One person can’t change the system.”

I thought she also simply stated where the often debatable aspects of parent involvement stem from,

Parents have the right to have access to their kids and their schools. Parents and other community members pay for the schools with their local tax money and have the right to see the results.”

Robert Hunking (@yesknowno) tweeted out some questions that left me pondering,

“Is parent involvement being mandated and bought? Has it improved and changed? What did it used to look like?”

I ponder too as I think about my own parents when I was in school.  When did the increased focus, if not dissection, of parent involvement start?  When did the lens on it change?  At times it can seem like a lot of research about something that seems so obvious.  Does that speak to how political education is, or parenting, or both?  Can parenting roles and parent involvement in education be separated?  Can we decide that the relationships with parents matter – whenever they begin and continue – without having the research findings and data on what improves what?

This post by Rick Ackerly covered both parenting and parent roles in education.  His suggestion for parent involvement at schools focused on the parent-teacher relationship:

Good parent involvement at school, for instance, is not a function of more or less; it is a function of the quality of the teamwork, a matter of forming a workable partnership with our children’s teachers so that the little village that is raising the child is organized. Getting this relationship right can be a messy process of both people trying their best, making mistakes and learning from each other. Being willing to change their minds for the sake of the relationship and the children is critical.

The question is not whether or not parents should take an active role in their children’s education; of course they should. The question is not even, “What role should I play?” Don’t play any role at all. Our relationships with our children’s teachers evolve over time in the normal development of dynamic partnerships. It is an exercise in imperfection. Be yourself; let yourself go; let yourself grow.”

I can certainly relate to much of that as I reflect on my journey as a parent now near the end of the K-12 journey with my children.

As we sift through the literature and research on parent involvement/engagement, we also have to consider our own local context, policies and approaches.  I have posted my share of questions about definitions and the purposes of parent involvement policies (mostly specific to Ontario):

Parent Engagement: Poorly Defined?

Who are the “right” parents in education?

Parent Involvement and Intrinsic Motivation: A Connection?

The recent research findings by Robinson and Harris may be controversial, but at least their work has created some good discussion and debate.  And while we continue to debate and study what parent engagement ‘should’ look like and what really matters to “student achievement”, I don’t think we have reached an agreement about the purpose of schooling.  Just as parents can affect policies, policies can affect parent involvement.  As education and society changes, parent involvement likely will too.

A few more related reads referring to the Robinson and Harris research findings:

No, Parent Involvement is Not ‘Overrated’

What to do at home so your kids do well at school

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