The joke used to be that getting families involved in their children's education was like the weather: Everyone discussed it, but no one did much about it.
That's no longer true. Schools are beefing up their efforts--especially Title I schools, required by No Child Left Behind to provide for parent involvement at the state, district and local school levels.
Such mandates are only one reason to "do something" about parent involvement. Research shows that students with involved parents--regardless of their background or income level--reap a bevy of benefits, including attending school regularly, enrolling in more advanced classes, getting better grades, graduating from high school, and pursuing post-secondary education.
What kinds of involvement make the greatest difference for students, and how can schools encourage this activity? Although more research is needed, a review of existing studies offers some direction:
Be strategic Parent involvement activities are more likely to have a positive long-term effect when they are comprehensive and well planned.
Be inclusive NCLB requires districts to involve parents in developing and approving Title I parent involvement policies. Schools that involve parents in these and other activities must work to create a welcoming, non-threatening climate. Studies show white, middle-class families tend to be more involved at school. Schools that successfully engage families from diverse backgrounds build trust, respect and address families' needs as well as class and cultural differences, and share power and responsibility.
Build school capacity Teacher outreach to parents is linked to strong, consistent gains in student reading and math performance. Yet most teachers receive little or no training in how to work with parents. Administrators can support teacher efforts by offering staff development in effective outreach practices (e.g., meeting with parents at school, conducting home visits, staying in touch about progress, and sending learning materials home).
Build parent capacity Most parents want to help their children, but many aren't sure they "know enough" to contribute. Teachers can provide encouragement and information. Some parents don't realize that simply reading aloud is one of the best ways to help children who are learning to read. Children of all ages do better in school when their parents talk to them about school, expect them to do well, and involve them in constructive activities at home. None of these actions require special training. Schools might consider offering workshops for parents on how to help their children at home. (This has been linked to higher reading and math scores.)
Don't limit efforts to elementary schools Parents who stay involved beyond the early years help students make better transitions and to stay in school. One study found that high school students were three times more likely to complete a bachelor's degree when their parents talk with teachers, monitor homework and help with post-high school planning.