Research has shown that student and family characteristics affect levels of parental involvement. Working-class families, foster parents, single mothers and fathers, and families in which mothers work full-time tend to be less involved in their children's education. Also, parents of elementary school students tend to be more involved in their children's education than parents of older students. Other factors, however, have been shown to be more important predictors of parental involvement than family income or structure. Schools play a significant role in getting parents and family members involved in students' education. In their study published in the 1993 book Families and Schools in a Pluralistic Society, Susan L. Dauber and Joyce L. Epstein found that school and teacher practices were the strongest predictors of parental involvement. Specific practices that have been shown to predict parental involvement include: assigning homework designed to increase student-parent interactions, holding workshops for families, and communicating to parents about their children's education.
Parental beliefs and perceptions have also been shown to be a strong predictor of parental involvement. Parents' educational aspirations and level of comfort with the school and staff have been shown to predict levels of involvement. In addition, parents' beliefs about their responsibilities as a parent, their ability to affect their children's education, and their perceptions of their children's interests in school subjects have been shown to predict their involvement at home and at school. Obstacles to Parental Involvement
Important obstacles that constrain parents' ability to become actively involved in their children's education include teachers' attitudes and family resources. These obstacles, however, can be overcome by schools and through teacher training. Each is discussed below. Teacher attitudes may be one obstacle to parental involvement. For example, teacher beliefs about the impact of their efforts to involve parents in students' learning predict their efforts to encourage family involvement. In a study published in 1991, Epstein and Dauber found that, compared to middle school teachers, elementary school teachers more strongly believed that parental involvement is important for students and provide more opportunities and help for parents to be involved in their children's education. Low levels of parental involvement at some schools may be the result of the staff's perceptions of parents or the degree to which they feel parental involvement is important for their students.
Although all families want their children to succeed in school, not all families have the same resources or opportunities to be involved in their children's education. Families in which all caregivers work full-time, where there are multiple children, or where English is not spoken or read well face significant barriers to participation in their children's education. It is important for schools to understand the demands that exist on the families of their students and to work to overcome them.
In her 1995 article Epstein argued that schools need to overcome these challenges by providing opportunities for school-to-home and home-to-school communications with families; providing communications to families in a language and at a reading level all families can understand; ensuring adequate representation of the entire community of parents on school advisory committees; and distributing information provided at workshops to the families who could not attend. Schools that work to meet these challenges and try to make involvement easier and more convenient for all families will gain support from parents and improve student achievement.
One approach to overcoming these obstacles to parental involvement is to increase the degree to which teacher training covers the topic of parental involvement. Teacher-training programs spend very little time helping students understand the impact of parents in student learning and how teachers can help parents become involved in their children's education. Without this training, teachers may not understand the importance of parental involvement or how to facilitate it. As a result, working with parents can become one of the greatest challenges faced by new teachers.