Parental involvement in education: a tool for change
- 1Family involvement in the education process is positive for students, although a detailed analysis enables observation that not all forms of parental involvement at home are necessarily beneficial. Some styles are more effective than others, and some can even be harmful.
- 2It is possible to distinguish two styles of parental involvement in the household: one which is more authoritarian and controlling and another which is more communicative and encourages children’s autonomy. In both cases, mothers are more involved. These profiles present differential effects in pupils’ performance: children from more communicative families show better school performance, quite the contrary to those whose parents adopt a more controlling style.
- 3These parental involvement profiles have repercussions on the school. Schools whose families present a more open and communicative style not only achieve better results but the differences between pupils also tend to decrease, thus generating a more equitable education.
- 4These data open up a pathway with the potential for comprehensive improvement for the schools, since the educational organisations have some leeway for proposing and implementing policies aimed at encouraging profiles of parental involvement that increase the efficacy and equity of the education in these schools.
The difference in results between the types of school stands at around 20 points in favour of School type 2. This is because the set of parents at School type 2 present higher levels of communication and support. Additionally, it is observed that, at School type 2, the range of scores is lower than at School type 1 (at these schools, the differences in pupils’ results can be as much as triple. In short, the schools where families show a more communicative style of involvement overall not only obtain better outcomes, but are also more equitable from the perspective of the distribution of outcomes.
1. Parental involvement in the education process: a common good
The analysis of the effects of parental involvement on children’s development is over a century old (Brooks, 1916), and still remains relevant and valid today (Wilder, 2014). The general conclusion offered by educational research is that children from families that play a more active role in the education process show better school outcomes and greater development of those skills related with academic success, such as vocabulary, reading speed and comprehension, mathematical proficiency, etc.
Beyond school performance, parental involvement presents other desirable effects. Pupils with more participative parents show a better self-concept, higher academic motivation and expectations and better understanding of tasks, planning capacity and self-regulation, as well as a more positive attitude towards school. Moreover, collaborating parents are more familiar with the school, take on more responsibilities and are more satisfied with its functioning. Lastly, at schools with a higher level of parental participation, there are fewer problems with coexistence, disruptive behaviours and absenteeism, and their teaching staff perceive greater support for their work.
These results have been confirmed for different ages and educational stages, ethnic and socioeconomic groups, countries and cultures, which has led to the definitive conclusion that parental involvement is beneficial for progress at school. In recent decades, all European governments have accepted that parental participation in the education process constitutes a common good, a right that the public powers must guarantee and, for this reason, in their legislation they have included measures to encourage participation and regulate parental involvement in education (Eurydice, 1997). However, not all forms of parental involvement are positive, which makes it imperative to qualify the meaning of the term.
2. Styles of at-home parental involvement and effects on performance
The term “parental involvement” can have different meanings. One can define it as the capacity to motivate children academically, transmitting high expectations to them, planning their academic future and emphasising the usefulness of homework. There has also been much study of parental involvement understood as school participation: attending events and meetings, volunteering and collaborating with the school and participating in its management and government. The data available show that both forms of involvement are positively connected with school outcomes.
This work deals with a third meaning: at-home parental involvement, which includes the providing of media and resources to support study, parental help with school homework and communication about everyday events at school. It is the most controversial meaning because of its complex relationship with academic performance. Studies analysing the association between the “quantity” of at-home parental involvement and school performance have not found conclusive results and have even registered negative effects (Cooper et al., 2012; Hoover-Dempsey et al., 2001; Patall et al., 2008), probably because the parents that tend to offer the most direct help are those whose children present more learning difficulties and less motivation.
Having ruled the degree of intensity of at-home involvement out as a good predictor of performance, research focused on the “how” of this involvement (Pomerantz et al., 2007). From this new perspective, the effect of the quality of the interaction and the modes and patterns of parental behaviour were analysed, defining what are generically known as parental educational styles (authoritarian, democratic, neglectful and permissive or indulgent), that are reflected in the conduct of parents when they are involved in their children’s homework.
Research on at-home parental involvement has identified two separate styles or profiles of involvement in homework: one is more communicative or indirect and the other is more direct and controlling. Evidently, these are not pure and independent profiles, but patterns of attitude and behaviour with a certain stability that are distinguishable and, seemingly more importantly, they have differential effects on school outcomes. Families that present a more communicative style or profile maintain conversations with their children about school where they deal with general issues: study techniques and habits, personal relationships in the classroom and motivation towards studying; and they rarely focus on specific aspects of homework. Parents who are more controlling limit or focus their interactions on help, supervision and control of homework and frequently become directly involved in its completion. Hill and Tyson (2009) confirmed that direct help with homework, typical of a parental style that is direct and controlling, had negative associations with school performance, whereas the more indirect style, based on communication regarding school activities and providing an environment conducive to learning in the home, presented a positive effect on performance.
Current data point towards the most effective parenting style as being that which encourages autonomy and responsibility among pupils, as the children of families that promote autonomy in homework present better completion rates and results than the children of more interventionist families. Fernández-Alonso et al. (2015) confirmed that students who do their homework autonomously employ less time and achieve better results than those who need frequent and constant help. These data converge with others that indicate that students with little autonomy have more difficulties in generating strategies for self-regulation that are essential for academic progress, especially as they advance through school.
3. Impact of at-home parenting styles and results from schools
Traditionally, research has analysed the relationship between styles of at-home involvement and academic performance from a microsystemic perspective, in other words, studying the effects on the academic performance of pupils. However, it might be more interesting to confirm whether these effects are reproduced at higher levels, i.e. whether they have an impact on the school as a whole, and not only on individual cases. And that has been the central objective of this study. Data were used from the General Diagnostic Assessment (EGD), carried out by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport in the year 2010. A total of 26,543 students in the second year of compulsory secondary education (ESO) with an average age of 14.4 years and schooled at 933 schools took part in the EGD. The sample was designed to obtain representative results, both for the whole of Spain and for each autonomous community.
The students answered a set of cognitive tests that assessed Spanish language, mathematics, sciences, and social and civic education. The results of pupils in each subject were expressed on a scale similar to that used in international assessments of education systems such as PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment), TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Sciences Study) or PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study). In addition, they completed a context questionnaire to explore their opinions and evaluations of different aspects of education. The questionnaire included a series of statements designed to assess the style of parental involvement in their homes. Based on their answers, two indicators were produced. One index reflecting the more communicative style and the other reflecting the more controlling style.
Figure 1 summarises the model put to the test in the study. The effect of parental styles on academic performance is analysed at two levels: pupils and school. It is expected that pupils’ perception will have differential effects on their academic performance: better results when their parents have a more communicative style and worse results when they veer towards the more controlling profile.
Equally, it is expected that effects on performance will operate on the school as a whole. For this, the scores of students from the same school were averaged out, and an aggregated estimator was obtained that provides two indexes (“parental communication” and “parental control”) that reflect the predominant instructional style among the school’s families. It is expected that the indices aggregated by school will show the same differential effects, but with the added value that possible gains or losses in the results will affect all of the pupils at the school and not only students considered individually.
In this analysis, the variables of family and school context, such as families’ socioeconomic level or ownership of the school, and the gender, nationality and repetition status, motivation and academic expectations of the pupils, were equalised using statistical procedures for the purpose of estimating the net effect of parental involvement, without it being affected by alternative hypotheses such as, for example, that families with a higher socioeconomic and cultural level tend to be more involved in school activities.
4. Styles of at-home parental involvement and gender
Figure 2 shows the percentage of students who report on the frequency with which situations related with the communicative style occur. In Spanish households, members talk about questions related with school every day or nearly every day. Over 90% of pupils perceive constant support from their family towards studying and state that they regularly talk with their parents about their school work and results. Mothers participate in these conversations more than fathers. For example, over 80% of mothers habitually show interest in how their children have got on at school, whereas in the case of fathers this figure declines by almost 20 percentage points.
Figure 3 shows the percentage of students that show that the following situations associated with the more controlling style arise every day or nearly every day. The mothers present profiles that are more controlling than the fathers. It is notable that 6 out of every 10 students report that at least one of their parents check that they have done their homework and 4 out of every 10 recognise that they receive help with their homework every day or nearly every day, which seems to indicate that a considerable proportion of secondary education pupils are not fully autonomous with respect to completing their school homework.
5. Styles of at-home parental involvement and outcomes
The perception that pupils have of the style of involvement of their parents is related with their outcomes according to the prediction made by the model: a more communicative parental style is linked to more positive results, while a more controlling style is linked to poorer performances. Furthermore, it is observed that the maternal style has a greater impact on performance than the paternal style.
However, it is more interesting to analyse impacts of these on the school, as in this case it is a matter of gains or losses for the whole set of pupils and not for individual students. To estimate these effects, the schools were divided into four groups, according to how their scores are combined in “parental control” and “parental communication” indexes. Figure 4 shows the average score in Spanish language for the four groups of schools, according to the predominant style of parental involvement:
- Schools with parents who are more controlling and less communicative. This group includes schools whose score in the “parental control” index is above the population average, while the score in the “parental communication” index is below the general average. Approximately 14% of the participating schools present this combination in their scores.
- Schools with parents who are more controlling and more communicative. This is the group of schools whose score in the “parental control” and “parental communication” indices are above the average. These represent approximately 34% of the schools.
- Schools with parents who are less controlling and less communicative. This is the group of schools whose scores in the “parental control” and “parental communication” indices are below the average. They represent approximately 33% of the total sample.
- Schools with parents who are less controlling and more communicative. Group made up of schools whose score in “parental control” is below the average, whereas the score in “parental communication” is above the average. They account for approximately 19% of the schools.
Once the effect of the rest of variables has been statistically controlled, the schools where parents preferentially show a less controlling and more communicative profile obtain around 20 points more than schools where parents have a more controlling and less communicative style. This difference is statistically significant and indicates that the style of parental involvement can mark important differences between schools. The results are similar for the other school subjects.
6. At-home parental involvement style and educational equity
An additional analysis showed that, within the schools, significant differences exist in the impact that the communicative style has on outcomes. Specifically, the data indicate that schools with higher scores in the “parental communication” index tend to present smaller differences in the school outcomes of their pupils than those that score low in the same index. Figure 5 represents this idea with the data on Spanish language. For the other school subjects, the model predicts similar results.
The difference between school 1 (low score in parental communication) and school 2 (high score) is around 20 points, which is the effect in favour of school 2 because the set of parents show higher levels of communication and support than the parents of school 1. Additionally, it is observed that, at school 2, the range of scores due to the effect of parental communication will be much smaller than at school 1. In fact, in comparison with the schools with high levels of parental communication in the home, at schools with lower communication indices, the differences in student outcomes can be as much as triple. In short, the schools where parents show a more communicative style of involvement overall not only obtain better outcomes, but also seem to be more equitable from the perspective of the distribution of outcomes.
The data seem to confirm that the predominant parenting style among the school’s families influences outcomes obtained by its student body. The 20 points of difference shown in figure 4 are calculated after statistically neutralising the effect of other substantive variables and, although in absolute terms they might appear modest, small effects sustained over the course of time have enormous consequences, as shown by Prentice and Miller (1992).
As far as we know, these are the first data that show that schools whose parents overall have more communicative profiles, as well as achieving better results, present fewer differences in student performance. These data probably reflect the effect of families with parents who, overall, show a style of involvement that is more appropriate and coherent with respect to certain general goals of education. If confirmed in future studies, these data would have clear implications for the policies of schools, as they would mean that an adequate home parental style would have an impact, on both the average of the school’s absolute performance and on the distribution of the outcomes within the schools. This evidence would indicate the advisability of promoting improvement projects of a community nature at schools, designed to strengthen at-home parental involvement profiles that have a positive association with academic performance.
This article has been adapted from this study:
FERNÁNDEZ-ALONSO, R., ÁLVAREZ-DÍAZ, M., WOITSCHACH, P., SUÁREZ-ÁLVAREZ, J., and CUESTA, M. (2017). «Parental involvement and academic performance: Less control and more communication». Psicothema. 29(4), 453-461. doi: 10.7334/psicothema2017.181
More bibliographic references:
BROOKS, E. C.(1916): "The value of home study under parental supervision". The Elementary School Journal, 17(3).
COOPER, H., STEENBERGEN-HU, S., and DENT, A. L.(2012): "Homework". En K. R. HARRIS, S. GRAHAM y T. URDAN (Eds.), APA educational psychology handbook, Vol. 3: Application to learning and teaching. Washington DC: American Psychological Association.
EURYDICE (1997). "The role of parents in the educational systems of Europe". Brussels: European Commission.
FERNÁNDEZ-ALONSO, R., SUÁREZ-ÁLVAREZ, J., and MUÑIZ, J.(2015). "Adolescents’ homework performance in mathematics and science: Personal factors and teaching practices". Journal of Educational Psychology, 107. [doi=10.1037%2Fedu0000032]
HILL, N. E., and TYSON, D. F.(2009). "Parental involvement in middle school: A meta-analytic assessment of the strategies that promote achievement". Developmental Psychology, 45(3).
HOOVER-DEMPSEY, K. V., BATTIATO, A. C., WALKER, J. M. T., REED, R. P., DEJONG, J. M., and JONES, K. P.(2001). "Parental involvement in homework". Educational Psychologist, 36.
PATALL, E. A., COOPER, H., and ROBINSON, J. C.(2008). "Parent involvement in homework: A research synthesis". Review of Educational Research, 78(4).
POMERANTZ, E. M., MOORMAN, E. A., and LITWACK, S. D.(2007). "The how, whom, and why of parents’ involvement in children’s academic lives: more is not always better". Review of Educational Research, 77(3).
PRENTICE, D. A., and MILLER, D. T.(1992). "When small effects are impressive". Psychological Bulletin, 112(1), 160-164.
WILDER, S.(2014). "Effects of parental involvement on academic achievement: A meta-synthesis". Educational Review, 66(3).
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