Why is parental involvement lacking in Title I schools? Throughout my K-12 teaching career, which took place exclusively at Title I schools, a lack of parental involvement was prevalent within the school communities. Parents were often unresponsive to teacher correspondence, and after-hours school events were generally poorly attended. According to LaBahn, many factors negatively impact parental involvement, including lack of parental interest in school-related matters, a parent’s own sense of failure in school, and the lack of understanding of nontraditional families on the part of the school system (1995).
The NCLB Action Brief “Parental Involvement” additionally recognizes several factors that negatively impact parental involvement, including language barriers, time/job pressures, lack of parental education and differing ideas among parents and teachers as to what constitutes involvement (Potential Challenges to Parent Involvement, para. 1). The lack of parental involvement in Title I schools is a major concern, as “parental involvement, in almost any form, produces major gains in student achievement” (Dixon, 1992, p. 16).
According to a report by the Michigan Department of Education, students with involved parents have “higher grades, test scores and graduation rates, better school attendance, increased motivation, better self-esteem, lower rates of suspension, decreased use of drugs and alcohol, and fewer instances of violent behavior” (2002). Parental involvement is “particularly important… in schools with high concentrations of poor or minority students” (Rutherford et al. , 1997).
What can Title I schools do to positively impact parental involvement? Lynch 2011) believes that “in order to increase the partnership of parents with schools, schools must create an environment that offers enough incentives and support for parents. ” Research indicates that a supportive school environment begins with the school principal. LaBahn (1995) states that “ultimate responsibility for creating harmony between the school and the home rests with the principal. ” The principal, working closely with a support staff of administration, faculty and parents, must commit to establish a Title I Parental Involvement Plan that makes parents feel welcomed, appreciated and valued.
The principal is the “driving force of the school, and it is his or her leadership that will guide the teachers in the direction of emphasizing the importance of parental involvement (LaBahn, 1995). One potentially effective strategy for making parents feel welcomed is to focus on the positive, since negative communication regarding discipline, for example, is sometimes more common. Unfortunately, this is often the only form of direct contact these parents receive, potentially alienating parents from involvement within the school community.
Skiba and Strassell (2000) recognize the significance of communicating with parents when a child does something positive in the school or classroom. For example, New Smyrna Beach Middle School, a Title | school, has instituted a “good news referral” program. When an administrator, teacher or staff member witnesses outstanding student effort or behavior, the student receives a good news referral. All students who earn a good news referral are rewarded with a party and prizes, and parents are notified personally of their child’s success.
These parents are much more likely to be receptive to school/family collaboration and become partners in the school decision-making process (Lynch, 2011). How does a Title I school determine the incentives and support that are most likely to increase parental involvement? Anticipate these needs by speaking with parents directly. Action research indicates that if needs are anticipated through direct parent contact, instruments such as surveys, interviews, orientation, meetings and phone calls can all be used to conduct an effective needs assessment (School).
In addition, plan “programs and activities early in the school year for parents and school staff to get acquainted in social situations, such as backto-school barbeques… or other events where participants can step out of their roles as parents or teachers” (Wherry, 2009). Formal and informal communication strategies fundamentally enable Title I Parent Involvement Plans. By proactively seeking input from parents, schools are better able to understand and respond to the needs of their community.
According to the Michigan Department of Education, a major factor of parental involvement in the education of their children is the parents’ perception that their school wants them to be involved” (2001). Title I schools that integrate the unique needs of their school community into their parent involvement plans are likely to achieve successful programs. For example, based upon the recommendations of the School Advisory Committee and meetings where parental input is solicited, New Smyrna Beach Middle School has instituted a number of programs that have significantly enhanced parental involvement.
Parents are encouraged to attend events such as Math Night, Reading Night and Science Night, where teachers provide guidance on how to complete school projects and provide home-based academic support. Current topics in education, such as cyberbullying, are addressed through after-hours family events. In addition, since many parents indicated a lack of Internet access in the home, the media center remains open late one evening per week to provide computer access to families.
These types of activities assure parents that their roles as facilitators of their children’s educations are a priority to the school community. Though parent participation is often a concern in Title | schools, strategies can be utilized to enhance the school/parent partnership. Successful parent involvement requires a principal dedicated to creating a responsive Title I Parent Involvement Plan. Positive parent contact is integral to developing a school climate of trust and respect within the school community.
Finally, Title I schools must anticipate the needs of parents through formal and information means of school communication. These strategies have been shown to increase the likelihood of student achievement, positive parent/teacher communication and parent involvement in their children’s education. Parent involvement programs “promote a healthy and consistent learning environment by establishing mutual goals between parents and educators, and developing activities that bridge home and school” (Skiba, Strassell 2000).