Parental Involvement: How Public School Advocates View It

Published May 1, 2003

It is widely accepted as beneficial for parents to be involved with their child’s schooling from the very earliest stages. But what exactly does parental involvement mean?

The National PTA recommends 10 ways parents can help their child succeed in school. The three most notable are:

  • Talk with your child about school on a daily basis.
  • Support and supplement learning at home (e.g., read to your child).
  • Communicate with teachers even when things are going well.

“One thing you can do is begin right away to work with your child on homework every night,” said Peggy Gisler Ed.S., a frequent contributor to “Give assistance when it is required but ask your child if you can help.”

The level of parental involvement in U.S. elementary and secondary education is high. As recently as 1999, the National Center for Educational Statistics reported at least 90 percent of U.S. students had parents who participated in their child’s school activities–assisting with projects, attending a school function, or in some other way. Parental involvement typically decreases as students get older.

Excellent schools are created through the dedication of superintendents, principals, teachers, parents, and community members who are passionate about student success, according to the National PTA.

Parents and Teachers

Most often when parents and teachers talk to each other, it’s about a problem or unpleasant subject regarding a student, such as the reasons behind a failing grade. The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) recommends parents not wait for a problem to occur before contacting teachers.

The “Parent Page” of the AFT web site ( advises parents to develop a list of questions before a meeting or school conference. The teacher will welcome this as a sign the child’s education is important to all family members.

While urging parents to be actively involved in their children’s schooling, the NEA cautions parents to take care not to be overbearing.

“Parents can question a teacher, but do so in a respectful fashion,” said NEA spokesperson Kathleen Lyons, adding parents should consider what it would feel like if an outsider told them how to conduct their job.

It is perfectly appropriate to contact a teacher when your student is having issues with schoolwork or on a social level, said Eva Ostrum, former teacher, education expert, and founder of College Broadband, Inc.

“If you suspect that your child is having trouble recording the assignments and that the resulting confusion is increasing for your child, you may want to speak to the teacher about [how to] communicate with your child,” said Ostrum.

Parental Learning

Linda Wacyk of Grand Ledge, Michigan works with the Early Childhood Literacy Coalition. She recently told the Lansing State Journal that even more than family income or circumstances, it’s what parents do that matters most when it comes to helping children learn.

“[Parents] know that literacy is about more than just books. It’s about writing, speaking, and listening. It’s about patterns, predictions, and rhymes,” Wacyk said. “And it’s also about having lots of interesting experiences to remember.”

Some ideas from the Early Childhood Literacy Coalition for parental involvement include: reading to a child for 30 minutes every day, talking and listening to children, donating books to child care centers and community centers, and writing together.

Mike Scott is a freelance writer from Waterford, Michigan. His email address is [email protected].