Parental Involvement: A Neglected Resource


Parents are an underused resourceLauren Tripp Barlis, a coordinator in the Office of Student Learning at Step Up for Students in Tampa, Fla., shares insights related to her article, “Relationships That Make a Difference,” in the September 2013 issue of Educational Leadership.

What is the most underused resource in education today? This resource can increase student engagement and achievement and decrease a teacher’s workload. The answer? Parents. Parental involvement is clearly linked with academic success for all students, regardless of income level (Hughes & Kwok, 2007; Ingram, Wolfe, & Lieberman, 2007; Knopf & Swick, 2007).

In my Educational Leadership article, I discussed how teachers and administrators can help marginalized students succeed. Another factor that was crucial to the success of the black male first-generation students who participated in my study was parental support. Their parents placed a high value on education. Although the parents rarely visited the school or communicated with their children’s teachers, they demonstrated their involvement with firm discipline and by encouraging their children to talk to the teacher if they struggled with an assignment.

One student, Marcus, said that when he was young his mother (who had a high school education) created enrichment activities to help him practice the alphabet or counting skills at home, but she often did not understand his school assignments as he grew older. Instead of communicating with his teachers about the assignments, she advised him to ask his teachers for help. This type of parental involvement was crucial to Marcus’s development of personal relationships with his teachers, which was a key factor in his academic success.

Low-income or nonwhite populations are often perceived as uninvolved in their children’s education because they may focus on the nonschool elements of parental involvement (expectations, interest, and parent-child communication) instead of participating in traditional ways, such as volunteering or attending school events (Nieto, 1987).

So how can teachers tap into that underused resource of parent partnerships, especially with parents who may be hesitant to connect with them? In my current position with Step Up for Students (SUFS), I assist schools and families in establishing and maintaining collaborative partnerships. One of the ways we do this is through a web-based application called the Learning Compact. Teachers use the tool to create an individual compact for each student that includes which Common Core State Standards students are expected to learn over the course of the school year; a collaborative framework for the parent and teacher to identify the student’s assets, weaknesses, and expectations; and strategies and interventions parents and teachers can use to address a student’s needs. The tool also provides resources, such as math instructional videos through Khan Academy, Common Core–linked lesson plans, and instructional videos in English language arts. And, because it is an online resource, parents can access the tool from home and see instant updates from their children’s teachers on their progress and what they can do to help.

By discovering different ways to reach out to parents, school leaders can create the kinds of strong partnerships that all students need.


Hughes, J., & Kwok, O. (2007). Influence of student-teacher and parent-teacher relationships on lower achieving readers’ engagement and achievement in primary grades. Journal of Educational Psychology, 99, 39–51.

Ingram, M., Wolfe, R. B., & Lieberman, J. M. (2007). The role of parents in high-achieving schools serving low-income, at-risk populations. Education and Urban Society, 39(4), 479–497.

Knopf, H. T., & Swick, K. J. (2007). How parents feel about their child’s teacher/school: Implications for early childhood professionals. Early Childhood Education Journal, 34, 291–296.

Nieto, S. (1987). Parent involvement in bilingual education: Whose responsibility is it? NABE Journal, 11, 189–201.


  1. An excellent book to refer to for developing community-school partnerships is Soo Hong’s 2011 “A Cord of Three Strands”. The book documents the Chicago Logan Square Neighborhood Association’s long-term commitment to parent involvement and leadership development in their neighborhood public schools. This program has led to the “Grow Your Own Teachers” program, through which many parents have discovered that they love being in the classroom working with students. The program mentors them through the process of becoming professional teachers. Weak schools are reflections of weak and disempowered (read underemployed) communities. Systematically building parent leadership capacity through parent investment in their children has exponential payback for the community and its schools.

  2. Karen, thanks so much for recommending that resource. I could not agree with you more that schools suffer when their communities are neglected as a source of support. The teachers in our schools are now studying the impact of their efforts to increase parental engagement, and we hope to have some good news about that “exponential payback” soon!

  3. Lauren, I really enjoyed reading your post. Your title drew me in to want to read more. Parental Involvement is very much a neglected resource. Especially in low-income title one schools. I taught for two years at a title one school before deciding to stay at home with my 2 year old daughter. I remember very clearly the attitude everyone including myself had about parental involvement. We would have math night, science night, bingo for books night and open houses that only a handful of parents would show up to, and they were the ones we expected to come. My expectations for parental involvement dwindled. I found myself saying why try they won’t show. I knew deep down inside that this was not the right attitude to have about parental involvement. There is so much research done about the impact parent involvement can have in a child’s life. I wish I took the time to really sit and research this issue instead of giving up. I know parent’s especially in low-income families work two or three jobs and do not have the chance to get off of work to attend school events or may just be hesitant about connecting with the teacher. Therefore, just because they don’t attend doesn’t mean they do not care about their child’s education. If I really took the time to get to know each of my students and parents backgrounds, then maybe my attitude would have been different. Maybe I would have taken the time to research more creative ways of keeping the parents involved.
    The web-base application the “Learning Compact,” seems like a great tool that many parent’s especially in low-income areas will benefit from. Once I go back to teaching I will be looking for many different resources to enhance parental involvement. This web-based application seems like a great tool that can build positive relationships with parents, teachers, and students. I am glad I had the opportunity to read your post and I hope this change in parental involvement will continue!

    • Amanda,

      I am so grateful for your comment. Hearing a teacher’s honest opinion about how one’s expectations can be negatively affected by a lack of parental involvement can really help parents and teachers to understand how teachers’ perceptions and administrators’ decisions can impact whether or not parents will participate! Having even one teacher like you (when you do decide to go back into the classroom) can make a difference in the culture of the whole school when you are willing to speak up and question the way your school tries to involve parents. Good luck in the exciting process of developing relationships with your future students and their parents!

  4. I tried to click on the Learning Compact hyper link and got an error message. Has this link been disabled? I would like to see this web based tool. Thank you.


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