Education and Parental Involvement in Secondary Schools: Problems, Solutions, and Effects
Jeri LaBahn

Source: LaBahn, J. (1995). Education and parental involvement in secondary schools: Problems, solutions, and effects. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved [date] from  http://www.edpsycinteractive/files/parinvol.html

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Parental involvement is a combination of commitment and active participation on the part of the parent to the school and to the student. There are many problems concerned with involvement. Many secondary schools simply do not know how to deal with the nontraditional family and the areas of concern that it represents. Parents feel unwelcomed at school, lack knowledge and education, and may not feel that education is important. The number of solutions that can be used to improve parental involvement are substantial. The most important of these, however, is for the principal of the school to be totally committed. When these solutions are implemented the effects are great, especially for the student. Improved student achievement is the key objective.

Education and Parental Involvement in Secondary Schools: Problems, Solutions, and Effects

"Parental involvement, in almost any form, produces measurable gains in student achievement" (Dixon, 1992, p. 16).  The concept of parental involvement with the student and the school is a vital one and can produce great rewards for all concerned. However, it has been found that schools do not always know what the term parental involvement really means (Vandergrift & Greene, 1992). According to Vandergrift and Greene, there are two key elements that work together to make up the concept of parental involvement. One of these is a level of commitment to parental support. This includes such things as encouraging the student, being sympathetic, reassuring, and understanding. The other element needed is a level of parental activity and participation, such as doing something that is observable. "This combination of level of commitment and active participation is what makes an involved parent" (Vandergrift & Greene, p. 57).


Parent involvement actually declines as students grow older, so that it is less in secondary schools than in elementary (Stouffer, 1992). If parental involvement is so beneficial, why isn't it being used to a greater extent than at present? There are many reasons from the parent and also from the school for this lack of involvement. One of the reasons concerns the lack of understanding of nontraditional families on the part of the school system. The nontraditional family is struggling to deal with many factors that affect every member of the family. These can definitely affect the way that the family is able to be involved in the student's education. More than likely, there is a shortage of time. There just simply are not enough hours in the day to accomplish everything. If there has been a divorce or death in the family, there probably has been a change in the financial standing of the family. By the school not being sensitive to this change, the student/family could be embarrassed. The verynature of the family structure is in a state of change causing confusion and insecurity (Duncan, 1992; Lewis, 1992; Wanat, 1992). The parents may be doing the very best that they can.

"Schools must understand that lack of participation by parents does not necessarily mean they are neglecting their responsibilities. They simply may not have the time, resources, or know-how to help out" (Wanat, p. 47). Parents often do not feel welcomed at school. They feel that what they may have to offer is unimportant and unappreciated. Also, parents may not believe that they have any knowledge that the school is interested in knowing. This is especially true when the parent may not have a great deal of education (Dixon, 1992; Vandergrift & Greene, 1992). It is also possible that the parent does not have a great deal of interest in the school or his child's education. The parent may not feel that education is important (Vandergrift & Greene).

Another reason for lack of involvement is embarrassment. The parents may be illiterate or unable to speak English. This could  make communication difficult if not impossible. Another source of embarrassment is memories of the parent's failure in school. The parent would not have much desire to return to a place that only served to remind him of his own failures (Brink & Chandler, 1993; Smith, 1991).


There are many things that can be done to improve parental involvement at the secondary level, but the success of any program will be tied directly to the support and encouragement of the principal (Lewis, 1992). "Principals are key contributors to helping parents and other educators understand each other" (Duncan, 1992, p. 13). "Ultimate responsibility for creating harmony between the school and the home rests with the principal" (Campbell, 1992, p. 3).  By the school being more aware of the circumstances of nontraditional families, better communications can be established. One thing that the school can do is to let the parents handle parenting responsibilities and the school handle the educational responsibilities. Also, by working with the parents more, the school will have a better idea of what the parents can and cannot do. More realistic expectations for out-of-school projects is an example of this (Wanat, 1992).

Single parents often do not have the time, money, or knowledge to help children with projects. For example, many mothers do not have equipment or skill to plan science fair experiments or construct woodworking projects, and fathers may not be able to help design and sew costumes for the school play (Wanat, 1992, p. 46).

Another important item is communication. More communication between the school and home are needed, but specific types of communication are important. Two-way informal exchanges between teacher/parent are much more effective than one-way communication from the teacher (Wanat). Also, friendly contact should be established with parents early in the year before something has happened that makes it necessary for the teacher to contact the parent (Wherry, 1992).

There are many ways that a school can improve communications. One way is for the school to sponsor a parent/student fund raising. Parents and students working side-by-side gives them a chance to talk, and hopefully the teachers and schools will also be included in this important exchange. Also, parent/teacher organizations can be an avenue to reach parents. Parents who attend parent/teacher meetings are able to get to know their child's teachers better. Another avenue sometimes overlooked is inviting parents to volunteer. By doing this, the school is letting them know that they are wanted, needed, and welcomed at the school. Many parents are more than willing to share their knowledge of occupations, foreign travel, special skills and hobbies. They just want to be asked. Alumni events have been shown to be an excellent way to improve parent/community involvement and a way to raise needed money.

Former students may appreciate the opportunity to return something to their school. One popular program is parent classes, which can help parents with parenting ideas/problems, homework/tutoring strategies, drug education, and improving communications skills. These classes can help the parent, student, and school. Invitational events can encourage people to get involved with the school that might not otherwise. 

Grandparent day is one such invitational event that has met with success (Loucks, 1992; Stouffer, 1992; Wherry, 1992). An open house program at school can bring in parents, and it is very important to greet these visiting parents face-to-face as quickly as possible. Also, greeting visitors with a sign in their own language can make a big impression. Find out the languages spoken by students and parents and put up a sign with all languages on it. Another way to help parents feel genuinely wanted and welcomed is to establish parent advisory groups.

People like to know that their input is valued. Also, the school could set up a parent center in the school stocked with resources to help parents. This is one way the school can say we care. In addition, the school could recognize what parents are doing to help the students and praise them for their efforts. People like to know that someone takes the time to notice and appreciate what they were doing (Wherry, 1992).

One very important way that parents can become involved in their student's work is through the use of computers. This is a new world opening up for a lot of students as well as their parents. They can learn about this exciting world together. One thing that is necessary is to make sure the programs used are at the correct grade level and that there is a lot of variety (Rickelman & Henk, 1991).

There are several things that have been suggested for populations that are at-risk. These populations have a great number of  uneducated people, drug addicts, alcoholics, and child abusers. The ideas already presented may not work for this sector of the population, and they may need special consideration. The first thing the school can do is to meet the parents where they are by assessing the parent's needs and providing programs to meet those needs. Having a workshop on Good Parenting Skills in English simply will not work when offered in a district in which Spanish is the main language spoken. The school will need to make a greater effort to get to know the parents individually. Someone from the school may actually have to go door-to-door to make the invitation as personal as possible so that the parents will feel welcomed. Also, the school should "offer a broad range of activities to encourage support and participation, including nonthreatening, low-commitment opportunities" (Vandergrift & Greene, 1992, p. 59). Making the parents feel as comfortable as possible is an important step.

Results from the Arizona At-Risk Pilot Project suggest that the most effective means to involve parents are ones that (1) establish a personal rapport between someone from the school and the parent and (2) do not initially require high levels of commitment or participation (Vandergrift & Greene, 1992, p. 59). When parents, students, and the school work together, it is possible to accomplish great things at the secondary level.  Everyone reaps the benefits! "When both parents and teachers work together, communicate and build a family and school partnership, parents, teachers and children benefit from the outcome" (Gelfer, 1991, p. 167).

The main benefit of parental involvement is the improved achievement of the student. According to Loucks (1992), "Research shows that parent involvement in the school results in improved student achievement" (p. 19). There it is in a nutshell: if the parent shows concern, it will translate into greater achievement on the part of the student. The more that the parent becomes involved with the teacher, school curriculum, and administration, the better the parent feels about the school. The parent will have an increased sense of pride in the school and the community. The more the parent learns about the way the school functions, the more the parent will understand the educational process and educational decisions. The parents and the school become allies and are able to be of mutual benefit when it comes to dealing with difficult students and situations. The parents are also more supportive of the school with financial support as well as support of bond issues and other leeway levies (Stouffe, 1992). The more the parent becomes involved and learns about the school, the more the parent can help the student. The parents are able to "increase their understanding of child development in areas of physical, social, emotional and cognitive development" (Gelfer, 1991, p. 164). This helps to provide a bond between home experiences and the educational program. When the parents understand how the child develops, they are better able to provide a more positive and exciting home environment. The parents may even want to learn more and possibly attend the parent classes provided by the school. This type of situation can produce a positive spiral of success for the parent, school, and student (Gelfer).

Summary and Conclusion

"Do parents know how and what they can do to ensure their children's success? Do they understand how the school and home can work in harmony for the good of both" (Campbell, 1992, p. 1)?  It is possible that a lot of parents do the best they can, but simply do not know the answers to these questions. They want to help their children achieve success, but do not know how to go about doing that.   Reginal Clark conducted research on students who were classified as high achievers and discovered that these students shared ten common characteristics (Campbell, 1992). These ten characteristics can provide a blueprint for families to be more effective in their roles of ensuring their children greater success in school.

1. A feeling of control over their lives.

2. Frequent communication of high expectations to children.

3. A family dream of success for the future.

4. Hard work as a key to success.

5. An active, not a sedentary, lifestyle.

6. Twenty-five to 35 home-centered learning hours per week.

7. The family viewed as a mutual support system and problem-solving unit.

8. Clearly understood household rules, consistently enforced.

9. Frequent contact with teachers.

10. Emphasis on spiritual growth. (Campbell, 1992, pp. 2-3)

The important person is the student. Anything that the parent can do to help the student improve is worth doing.  "Emphasis should be on effective ways of helping children, families, and schools work together to provide students with the opportunity to put their best efforts forward" (Duncan, 1992, p. 13). 

It is very clear that parental involvement is beneficial.   It can definitely benefit the student in question, but it can also benefit the teachers, the school, the parents themselves, and the community, as well as other children in the family.  Everything possible should be done by the school system to encourage the parents to become involved. This is especially true of the principal of the school. He or she is the driving force of the school, and it is his or her leadership that will guide the teachers in the direction of emphasizing the importance of parental involvement.

There has been extensive research done on this subject.   However, new ways for increasing parental involvement can always be discovered. Additional research and information in this area can do nothing but help all concerned.