Parental involvement in a child’s education is associated with positive student outcomes in multiple areas, including academic performance, attitude and behavior, attendance, adjustment and engagement, and graduation rates.1 Despite the advantages, many parents find it hard to maintain an active presence in their children’s academic lives.

Barriers to Parental Involvement

Road blocks to parental involvement affect parents of all socioeconomic, cultural, and demographic backgrounds.  Velsor and Orozco (2007) group barriers into four categories:

  • Demographic Barriers – such as conflicting work schedules, transportation issues, caring for other children or elderly parents, and language barriers for immigrant parents.
  • Psychological Barriers – including parent confidence, educational background, perceptions of racism for ethnic/minority parents, perceptions of classism for low-income parents, and mental health problems.
  • Teacher Attitude – such as negative attitudes towards low-income families, interpreting parent participation as interference, and lack of cultural competence/familiarity with students of different backgrounds.
  • School Climate – including imbalance of power in relationships between teachers and parents, school activities based on the majority culture that ignores many students and their families, and teachers and administrators using terminology/language that parents do not understand.

At the federal level, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB Act) reestablished the framework which was originally created in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA).  According to the framework in Title I, Part A of the NCLB Act, schools, communities and families are to work jointly with an aim to enhance teaching and learning (U.S. Department of Education, 2004).  Shared accountability between schools and families for enhanced education of the children is emphasized.  The new legislation especially emphasizes the legitimate rights of parents to access information about their children’s academic performance and needs at school.

All school districts that receive Title I funding are required to have a parent involvement plan to outline the joint responsibility for improved student achievement and increased communication between school entities and parents.  Schools and parents are expected to build and develop this partnership, and formulate a “parent pledge” or compact that outlines methods of parent involvement such as monitoring attendance, volunteering in their child’s classroom, and participating in decisions relating to the education of their children.

On May 5, 2010, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced a proposal to double the amount of federal dollars set aside for family involvement.  Under the current law, districts are required to use 1 percent of federal Title I dollars to carry out family engagement activities.  The Education Department proposes raising this to 2 percent, for a total of $270 million.  Additionally the Department has called for an optional Family Engagement and Responsibility Fund that states can create with the use of $145 million in existing Title I funds.  See the US Department of Education Press Release for May 5, 2010.

In St. Louis

Many local St. Louis school districts post their parent involvement policies and compact on their district websites, as well as providing information on parent resources and parent groups that are active in that particular district.  Within the St. Louis Public School District, the largest district in the metro area, an independent non-profit organization called The Parent Assembly engages in collaborative efforts between any governing bodies of the SLPS school district and the parents of SLPS students.  Monthly meetings are held for members, which are made up of representatives that are appointed by PTOs, PTAs, parent groups, or Student Councils.  Please refer to individual school district web sites for more details.

1Van Velsor, P., & Orozco, G. (2007). Involving low-income parents in schools. Professional School Counseling, 11(1), 17-24.

Special thanks to Washington University graduate students, Laura DiLeo, Paula Knoll, Whitney Wade and Juan Wang, for research and writing on this topic.