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Parents Give Special Education High

Most parents of children with disabilities believe their teachers are caring and
knowledgeable and that once their child is in special education the schools do a good
job, according to the new report When It's Your Own Child, released on June 16, 2002,
by Public Agenda. However, parents are divided on whether special education gets
sufficient results. Particularly at question was whether or not schools give enough
attention to the academic progress of students with disabilities, the report said.

Many parents also said it is hard to get information about the services available for
students with disabilities from their schools, and some maintained that they had to remain
constantly vigilant to ensure their child received services.

The report found that only a small minority of parents, 16 percent, have considered suing
a school. Parents of students with severe disabilities were almost twice as likely to have
considered suing their school because of an issue related to their child's special
needs.Highlights of the report follow.

Caring Teachers, Responsive Schools

Most parents of children with disabilities give their teachers blue ribbons for
excellence - 72 percent give their school a good or excellent rating when it comes to
the "skill and quality" of special education teachers.

More than eight of 10 parents surveyed (84 percent) said their child's teachers really
cared about him or her as a person, and almost seven in 10 said the teachers "know a lot"
about their child's disability. Large majorities also gave their child's special education
teams high marks for offering them "real choices and options" for their child and treating
them as members of the team. "In focus groups, many parents talked about teachers who
had gone the extra mile for their child," according to the report.

Parents also said their child's school was doing a good job. Almost seven in 10 parents
(67 percent) said their current school is doing a good or excellent job giving their child
the help he or she needs. Almost 59 percent say the school is a good or excellent source
of information about learning problems and disabilities.

While the period of identifying a child with a disability can be filled with uncertainty and
anguish, most parents said their schools did well when evaluating their child.
Approximately 63 percent said the evaluation process was "clear and straightforward;" 24
percent said it was "complicated and tricky."

The vast majority of parents said that once the school knew their child had special needs
they could get the help their child needed. Approximately 64 percent said it was easy; 43
percent said it was very easy.
Improving Special Education
When asked what was needed to improve special education programs, slightly more
than half said we should provide better programs and policies. Slightly less than half
said to give special education more money. As far as funding is concerned, more than half
said their school had enough resources for special education. However, many of the
parents admitted that they knew little about where money for special education comes
from or how much is needed to pay for the services their child receives.

Most Able to Get Help for Their Children

Most parents, 55 percent, said the school took the right approach when it came to
identifying a child with a disability and providing special education services. Only 11
percent said schools seemed to be pushing to get their child into special education, and 29
percent said the school was "dragging its feet."

However, a majority of the parents found it difficult to find out how special education
works, what it offers, and what their child is entitled to. Approximately 70 percent said
that too many children with disabilities "lose out" because their families don't know what
these children are entitled to, and 55 percent said they have to find out on their own what
is available.

What about Academics and Standards?

Parents have mixed feelings about the emphasis on academics. While they want their
children to progress academically and the schools to stress academics for their children,
they also believe that social progress is as - and sometimes more - important.

A large majority of special education parents (79 percent) said that schools should
pay a lot more attention to the academic progress of students in special education.
Generally, special education parents feel their children can make academic progress. For
example, 60 percent of the parents surveyed view their child's academic abilities as
average or above. Nearly 43 percent anticipate a time when their child will not require
special education services; 27 percent think their child will always need special help; and
29 percent are unsure. Nearly all of the parents whose children are in high school (82
percent) expect their child to graduate with a standard diploma.

High Stakes Testing

Many special education parents have conflicting feelings about requiring children with
disabilities to take the same tests as general education students. Most believe tests can
motivate students and teachers, with 58 percent of the parents surveyed believing that if
students with special needs are required to take the same standardized tests that general
education students take, both the students and their teachers would take academics more
seriously. But, most also say that flexibility is needed. Approximately 66 percent said
they worry about "pushing students to take tests if they cannot possibly pass them." If a
state required students with disabilities to take standardized tests, half would want their
child to have accommodations. More than a third, 34 percent, said they would want their
child to take the same test; 11 percent to take an easier test, and 4 percent to be excused
from the test.

Most special education parents, 53 percent, do not believe their school districts excuse
students with disabilities from standardized tests so that the district can raise their test

Finally, most parents of children with disabilities, like general education parents, reject
social promotion.

Where the Problems Are

While the majority of parents of children with disabilities said their teachers and schools
are doing a good job, there is a significant minority of parents who are quite dissatisfied
with special education in their schools. Approximately a third of special education
parents said it was difficult to get services for their child even after he or she had been
identified as having a disability, and 43 percent said they had to "stay on top of the school
and fight to get services." Poor educational quality is also a concern for these parents: 33
percent said their school does a poor job of giving their child the services he or she needs,
and nearly a quarter thought their child's teacher lacked skill and quality.

Also, 45 percent of the parents surveyed said their child's special education program is
"failing or needs improvement when it comes to preparing them for life in the real
world." Finally, parents also criticized schools for putting too much emphasis on process
and paperwork and failing to be a good source of information.

As a result of such problems, 16 percent of special education parents have considered

suing their school over their child's special education program. The parents who are more
likely to sue are those who have children with severe disabilities (31 percent).

Strategies to Increase Parent Involvement

that Really Work!
By Jeffrey Thompson

Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I will learn." I begin
my school year with this quote because it not only pertains to the students we teach, but
also to the parents of the children we serve. A stimulating classroom, creative teaching,
effective student management, and high academic rigor are only half of the academic
equation. The real power of educational success occurs when we set high parent
expectations and raise the standards for parental involvement.

Relationships First, Education Second

• Start the year with a "parent-only" meeting before the first day of school. Parents
often come to the classroom with preconceived ideas and fears. This is your
opportunity to interact with parents without child interruptions and develop the
parent-teacher relationship. Parents are able to focus on your words and interact
with you and the other parents in the class. This meeting also allows you to set the
expectations and tone for the year, relieve parent concerns, and establish a
positive parent climate in your room. The underlying theme for this first meeting:
that both educators and parents are the child's teachers.
• Invite resource staff, so parents can experience the teamwork that is needed for
student success.
• Schedule "Parent-only" meetings through the year to build and maintain parent
relationships, align teacher with parent, and maintain parent education.

Create a Partnership between Teachers and Parents

We can't expect academic assistance from parents if they don't understand the skills being
taught. Understand that you are teacher to both student and parent.

• Provide weekly parent education tips that explain the concepts being taught and
provide support materials that allow parents to help at home.
• Work with resource teachers to provide ability-based homework that reinforces
the concepts of the general education and resource room.
• Bridge the gap between home and school through thematic home projects.
• Provide parent homework and a method of weekly communication between
parent and teacher.
• Record the efforts of parent involvement on each child's report card, so parents
can see the importance of their work and the value you place on it.

Harness the Talents and Energies of Your Students' Parents

• Ask parents to chair and plan family events and class fundraisers. Empower them
to make this their child's best year of learning. Their involvement establishes
"buy-in" and a sense of ownership in the classroom.

Offer Parenting/Teacher Education Classes

• Set up school-wide parenting and teacher education classes.

• Parenting with Love and Logic along with its companion course, The Nine
Essentials of Learning with Love and Logic, provides effective parenting and
teacher education. Both courses establish a common framework and language for
behavior expectations at home and school.
• At evening Love and Logic parenting classes, provide child-care at the school, so
parents are able to share issues and concerns with other parents and relieve
feelings of isolation.
• Love and Logic helps teachers, parents, and students realize that children are
responsible for their behaviors and able to make good behavior choices. Parents
and educators alike have commented that Love and Logic has facilitated better
relationships between parent, teacher and student, so students and adults can
concentrate on learning rather than behavior issues.

Use Your Data to Establish Future Goals for Both School and Home

• Clearly communicate assessment goals and dates.

• Share the results of assessment with parents.
• Use a variety of assessment data to establish future goals for both home and
school. Provide parents with the materials and education they need to assist their
• Collaborate with all specialists who work with your students, so all adults and
parents work toward student success.
• Help parents set up graphic organizers and data collection sheets that indicate
work completed and methods used at home. These graphic organizers provide
indispensable parent documentation and will become a valuable tool for
conferences when establishing resource needs as well as for future IEP and 504
meetings when new goals are established.

Encouragement vs. Praise

• Telling your students and parents that they are doing a great job is "hollow"
praise. Offer encouragement rather than praise by giving specific examples of a
job well done.
• Send home regular communication to all parents that details specific examples of
parent-initiated creative teaching strategies and methods. Follow up with phone
calls of encouragement and support. This motivates involved parents to continue
working with their children and encourages less involved parents to become
active members of the education process.
• Never give up... some parents take longer to become a member of your learning
community. Celebrate Student Learning
• Celebrate -- provide regular events that showcase your students' learning and
invite parents to participate.
• Use each event as an opportunity for parent education and encouragement while
developing a community.
• End the year with a celebration of both student and parent successes, and solicit
the parents' commitment to continue supporting their children throughout their
academic careers.

Teachers Affect Eternity -- One Can Never Tell Where Their Influence Stops

The common thread that is woven throughout a student's academic career is the parent, so
inspire a life-long parent commitment. Together, parents, students, and teachers can
create a synergy that raises academic achievement. Give your students an intrinsic love of
learning. Allow your parents to experience the success of their academic involvement, so
they are motivated to continue nurturing their child until adulthood. n
Jeffrey Thompson is the Disney 2004 Outstanding Elementary Teacher and Teacher of the
Year. He teaches kindergarten at Evergreen Elementary School on the Fort Lewis Army
Post in Washington. He also teaches Parenting with Love and Logic and The 9 Essentials
of Learning with Love and Logic to parents and educators. Thompson is a member of the
Washington CEC.

Hispanic family involvement in special education: "You only visit the cactus when
it's bearing fruit" (Al nopal solo lo van a ver cuando hay tunas)
by Ayala, Emiliano C., Ph.D., The Claremont Graduate University, 2000, 209 pages; AAT

Abstract (Summary)
Parental involvement in education, and in particular, the involvement of parents from
diverse backgrounds, continues to elude educators. Although cited as a critical
component within the recent amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Education
Act, research focusing on the involvement of culturally and linguistically diverse families
in the special education system reveals home-school interactions laden with
misunderstanding and miscommunication.

The purpose of this study was to examine if differences exist between Hispanic families
and special education teachers on how each group described children's disabilities and
their definitions of the term "parental participation". In order to explore Hispanic parents'
and teachers' perceptions on these two key issues, a qualitative research methodology was
chosen for data collection and interpretation.

Hispanic families (N = 15) with elementary aged children identified as learning disabled
or mildly mentally retarded in addition to the children's special day class teacher (N = 6)
were selected for participation in this study. Utilizing the principles of narrative analysis,
in-depth, open-ended interviews with each family and their child's special education
teacher were collected and investigated.

The results indicate that although the responses from Hispanic parents were varied, they
formatted them similarly with descriptive examples when discussing their child's
disability, while teachers' responses tended to incorporate common special education
terminology. Interestingly, both groups generally provided consistent reports about the
child's academic skills. Hispanic parents and their children's teachers also differed
amongst themselves on their descriptions and explanations of the term "parental
participation" highlighting the tremendous diversity of beliefs on what constitutes
parental involvement.

Educators working with Hispanic families need to understand the tremendous diversity
within this supposedly homogeneous group. Educators also need to understand that
families may adopt culturally based beliefs surrounding disabilities as well as the concept
of "parental participation" which may conflict with established system-wide practices.
Cultural reciprocity encourages educators to actively seek information about a family's
interpretation of the child's disability as well as their preferences for "parental
participation". By bridging this gap, educators can begin to establish a relationship based
on mutual respect and foster a more collaborative relationship with the families they


Family Involvement in Education:

A Synthesis of Research for Pacific Educators

by Denise L. Onikama, Ormond W. Hammond, and Stan Koki*

Research Synthesis Product # RS9801

Engin kehlap.— Pohnpeian proverb

“The contributions of each family member provide for

the betterment of the community.”


Family involvement in There was a time in the Pacific, not so long ago, when
children’s learning was a there was no such thing as “school.” Learning took place
part of traditional culture everywhere - in the home, learning to plait pandanus into
in the Pacific region. finely woven mats and baskets; in the fields, learning to
cultivate taro and yams; on the sea, learning to navigate
between islands. Family and community were
inextricably interwoven, like strands of pandanus, into a
coherent “school” of learning.

Schools of today, unlike traditional learning settings, are

often disconnected from home and community. As
students enter school, their families may feel detached
from the learning process. How can families,
communities, and schools overcome barriers and work
together for the benefit of the children? How can they
become, once again, like closely woven mats, providing
a strong and integrated foundation for learning?

Much research in the last 20 years has supported family

involvement as a positive influence on children’s
learning. This paper will not traverse that now-familiar
territory. Rather, it will focus on barriers to family
involvement found among culturally diverse populations,
especially in the Pacific. It will also suggest some
positive directions aimed at overcoming those barriers.
The purpose of this presentation is to increase the
awareness of Pacific educators and others interested in
the interplay of culture and family involvement in

There are many barriers Some barriers to family involvement in education cross
to family involvement in all cultures and groups, for example:
• Families may lack the means to help their
children learn and become socialized. They may
not know how to approach schools in order to
become involved (Mannan & Blackwell, 1992).
• Schools may not know how to effectively
encourage families to participate (Ortner, 1994).
• School staff interest may vary in terms of
commitment to family involvement, and may
generate mixed messages to parents (State of
Iowa Department of Education, 1996).
• Outreach procedures that are not sensitive to
community values can hinder participation
(Ortner, 1994).
• Changing school system policies may create
instability in the area of soliciting family
involvement (Mannan & Blackwell, 1992).

Increasingly, families in the United States and the Pacific

region are becoming more culturally and linguistically
diverse. English is often not spoken or understood in the
homes of immigrant families. For many Pacific
Islanders, the language of instruction (English) is not the
language of the home (Pacific Region Educational
Laboratory, 1995). As a result, family members may be
uncomfortable conversing with school personnel. Those
family members who do speak English but have limited
education may have difficulty communicating because
their life experiences and perspectives are very different
from others in the school community (Comer, 1984;
Moles, 1993).

Promoting family participation among diverse

populations is one of the challenges facing educators.
Furthermore, the research shows that it is a very critical
challenge since family involvement among culturally
different populations is positively related to academic
achievement (for example, among Xhosa-speaking
families, Cherian, 1995; among Mexican-American
families, Keith & Lichtman, 1992).

What is Family Involvement?

Does family involvement mean attendance at Parent

Teacher Association (PTA) meetings? Does it mean
participating in parent-teacher conferences? Does it
mean attending school functions? Does it mean
fundraising or serving as a classroom resource? It does,
but these activities are only part of what is meant by
family involvement.

Although some sources in the literature focus on parent

involvement, the broader term of family involvement is
used here. It includes all who have responsibility for the
care and well-being of children, such as mothers, fathers,
grandparents, foster parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and
non-custodial parents (Davies, 1991; SouthEastern
Regional Vision for Education, 1996).

Menun nee mesei. - Chuukese proverb

“Sons and daughters are the treasures of each family

Davies’ (1991) review of the research on family

involvement reveals three important themes:

1. It helps to ensure that all children have the tools

they need for success.
2. It encourages the development of the whole
child, including social, emotional, physical, and
academic growth and development.
3. It is based on the notion of shared responsibility
for the child.

These themes illustrate that family involvement

contributes to the development of all aspects of the
individual living within a larger society.

Family involvement has Joyce Epstein (1995), a frequently cited scholar in this
many faces. area, has created a typology based on six levels of family
(parent) involvement.

Parenting—Giving children nurturance and guidance

and providing motivation and discipline.

Communicating—Talking regularly with school staff

about programs, children’s progress, and other school

Volunteering—Helping with schoolwide and classroom


Learning at Home—Assisting student learning through

help with homework and other curriculum-related

Decision Making—Participating in school decision

making; becoming a parent leader or representative.

Collaborating with Community—Identifying and

integrating family and community resources to
strengthen school programs and student learning.

By developing awareness of the levels of family

involvement, schools can let family members know that
there are many different ways in which they can
participate in the education of their children.

Ho‘okahi ka ‘ilau like ana. - Hawaiian voyaging proverb

“Wield the paddles together. Work together.”

Family involvement is The work of Comer and Haynes (1991), Epstein (1995),
part of a larger picture. and other researchers points out that family, school, and
community are three major interrelated spheres of
influence on a child’s life. They are parts of a larger
whole that can either work toward academic success or,
conversely, can impede progress. Because they are part
of a larger whole, these spheres are themselves
influenced by societal factors, such as cultural values
and economic conditions.

The following figure shows how the three components

interrelate. It is based on the concepts of Urie
Bronfenbrenner (1979) and their subsequent adaptation
by James Garbarino (1992).

Figure 1

The innermost core is the individual child. The child has

face-to-face interactions with those most influential in
his or her life, including parents, other family members,
teachers, and church members.

There are also important interactions between home and

school, school and community, and community and
home. These are strongly influential in the life of a child,
depending on the frequency and quality of the
interconnections. Negative or conflicting relationships
may place a child at risk in all three settings.

Events outside the home, school, and community are

also important in a child’s life. Examples include
parents’ work obligations, school board priorities,
recreational pursuits, and religious activities. A decision
made by a school board might directly affect the school
curriculum. If it conflicts with family values and beliefs,
then the support a family gives to education might be

As Pacific educators look at barriers to family

involvement, they must acknowledge the complexities of
home, school, and community interactions and realize
that events at all levels can and do affect the lives of
children, directly or indirectly.

Barriers Among Culturally Diverse Populations

Some barriers seem Some examples of barriers to family involvement in

unique to certain cultural culturally diverse populations can be found throughout
groups. the United States.

Prior history of discrimination

In their cross-cultural work with families involved in the
special education decision-making process, Salend and
Taylor (1993) examined barriers to participation among
culturally diverse families. They found that a prior
history of discrimination is a barrier. For example, many
families may not attend meetings at public institutions
such as the school if they experienced either
discrimination or disrespect there in the past. A shared
distrust of schools among Native American families is
based upon historical and personal discrimination from
the dominant culture (Cockrell, 1992). It is difficult for
families to want to become involved with institutions
that they perceive are “owned” by a culture that
discriminated against them in the past.

Belief in authority of the school

Espinosa (1995) studied specific cultural characteristics
among Hispanic parents that conflict with American
socialization patterns. For example, in the Hispanic
culture there is a belief (among the lower socio-
economic class) in the authority of the school and its
teachers. In a number of Latin American countries it is
considered rude for a parent to intrude into the domain of
the school. As a result, family participation in a child’s
formal education is not a common practice. In addition,
parents from culturally and linguistically diverse
backgrounds are frequently intimidated by school
personnel and reluctant to raise concerns or make

Acculturation differences between generations

In another study of barriers to parental involvement,
Shoho (1992) looked at Japanese-American parents’
perceptions spanning three generations in Hawaii: Issei
(first generation), Nissei (second generation), and Sansei
(third generation). The study identified five factors that
were barriers to parental involvement:

• Inability to communicate effectively in English;

• Low degree of Americanization;
• Unfamiliarity with American schooling;
• The struggle for economic survival; and
• Limited educational background.

Language differences Among the groups studied, first-generation parents were

and misconceptions found to be the ones least involved in the education of
about school negatively their children. Language was cited as being the primary
affect family obstacle. Also, there was a common feeling among these
involvement. parents that they should leave the education of their
children to public schools. Teachers were held in high
esteem and rarely questioned.

Parents’ lack of confidence

Parents do not believe in their own effectiveness and
capabilities. Swick (1988) stated that parents’ beliefs in
their own abilities affect the extent to which they are
involved. Parents who are outside the cultural
mainstream may feel that they are not capable of
contributing to their children’s education. Thus, they are
less likely to become involved in school activities.

Need for cultural sensitivity in planning activities

The conditions necessary to elicit participation from
Spanish-speaking parents were examined in a four-year
study (Delgado-Gaitan, 1991). In terms of parental
participation at school, results showed differences
between conventional and non-conventional activities.
Specific cultural knowledge is not required in order to
involve parents in conventional activities (i.e.,“open-
house,” parent-teacher conferences). Non-conventional
activities (i.e., parents as co-teachers, shared decision
making regarding curriculum), on the other hand,
encourage parents to participate in their children’s
education when communication is culturally responsive.
This study highlights the need for school personnel to
understand the cultural perspectives of parents they wish
to involve at the school.

Misinterpretation of non-confrontational style

Lack of participation does not necessarily mean lack of
interest. Many school administrators and teachers
misinterpret the hesitancy and non-involvement of
Hispanic parents as a lack of caring about their
children’s education (Inger, 1992). This type of
misperception often leads to mutual distrust and
suspicion between parents and school personnel.

Misperceptions of parental roles

School personnel often regard mothers as the primary
caregivers in the family, and therefore direct most
communications about a child’s school performance to
his or her mother. Under these circumstances, paternal
involvement may not be encouraged, and fathers may
even receive messages implying that it is not welcomed.
Research by Brody, Stoneman, and Flor (1995) suggests
that perceptions about the role of parents in school
involvement may create barriers. In the Pacific, where
the tasks of care-giving are often shared among many
adults in the extended family or clan, this research may
explain some of the complexities affecting family
involvement in the region.

Teachers’ beliefs and Teachers’ lack of confidence and negative attitudes

attitudes affect family A review of work by Greenwood and Hickman (1991)
participation. concerning teacher efficacy in terms of encouraging
parental involvement suggests that attention should be
given to educators’ attitudes and beliefs. For example,
many teachers and administrators believe that the
benefits of parental involvement do not outweigh the
problems involved. Others simply do not believe they
have the ability to effectively involve parents. Such
doubts present barriers to effective collaboration
between schools and families.

Hoover-Dempsey, Bassler, and Brissie (1987) posited

that a teacher’s belief in his or her own teaching
effectiveness is the strongest predictor of successful
parental involvement. The authors found a significant
correlation between the level of teacher efficacy and the
degree of parental involvement in parent-teacher
conferences, parent volunteer programs, parent tutoring,
parent home instruction, and parent support.

Misunderstanding specific cultural patterns

In her work with Asian immigrant families, Yao (1988)
discovered that schools need to use strategies that are
responsive to the unique cultural characteristics of
parents. Asian parents are often perceived as being quiet,
non-assertive, and reserved during discussions with
teachers or school administrators. In addition, they are
often reluctant to admit problems or to seek professional
help outside the family. For these reasons, the school
must take the initiative to provide them with needed
information or involve them in problem solving when
their children encounter difficulties at school.

Asian parents’ lack of knowledge about American

society and its school system can create anxiety and
confusion about a child’s schooling. Some parents may
feel intimidated by their children, who seem to adapt to
the new culture better than they are able to do. In some
families, the roles of parents and children become
reversed due to the parents’ limited English proficiency.

Teachers and Asian parents may have conflicting ideas

about the characteristics of an ideal child and might hold
differing beliefs about the importance of social life and
extracurricular activities. Teachers, for example, are
often not able to understand why Asian immigrant
children frequently do not participate in competitive

Teachers and school administrators must pay close

attention to nonverbal communication as well, according
to Yao. Posture, gestures, and facial expressions convey
messages to parents about how they are regarded by
school personnel. Folded arms or tightly crossed legs
seem unfriendly to Asian immigrant parents. A slouched
posture may express an uncaring attitude. Calling a
person by beckoning with an index finger is culturally
inappropriate for most Asians, who apply this gesture
only to animals. Direct eye contact, an important aspect
of Western communication, is considered impolite by
some Asian parents, who therefore may not look directly
at the teacher during a conference.

Issues of community identity

A qualitative study undertaken by Cockrell (1992)
examined, from a Native-American parent’s perspective,
the process of parent-school communication in a
consolidated rural district. Barriers such as poor
communication between parents and school, past and
present racial tension, the desire to maintain tribal
identity, and a general distrust of the school were found
to hinder family involvement. The study concluded that
the beliefs, attitudes, and actions of individual educators
are fundamentally important to the educational process.
Students are more likely to learn in an environment in
which they feel accepted and valued, and parents are
more likely to become involved at the school if they feel
welcome and respected. The study also found that the
imposition of an ethnocentric cultural view upon an
institution such as the school prevents the inclusion of
culturally different people. Culturally diverse people
must be actively engaged in the identification of
educational problems and the search for solutions. “Their
voices and their stories must be heard, recorded, and
analyzed” (Cockrell, 1992, p. 8).

Working parents and Working parents have special needs

low-income families face Parents of young students have particular issues with
unique issues. which to contend. In the United States, more than half of
the women with children under six years of age are in
the labor force (King, 1990). One of the issues facing
educators today is how to effectively involve working
families. Employed parents face different challenges
than parents who do not work. Following is a list of
factors that may affect the relationship between an
employed parent and the school:
• Feelings of competition between parent and
caregiver for the child’s affection;
• Feelings of guilt on the part of employed parents
who may wonder if they are abandoning their
children during work hours;
• Lack of time to participate in school activities
(King, 1990); and
• Workplace leave policies that make parental
participation difficult (Ascher, 1988).

Social class differences

Low-income families face unique obstacles to
participation in education. Lareau’s (1993) ethnographic
research explored social class influences on parent
involvement in schooling. Conducted in predominantly
Caucasian working-class and upper middle-class
communities, Lareau found that family-school
relationships within working-class and upper middle-
class communities varied.

Her study revealed that teachers and administrators have

different expectations of parents based on the parents’
social standing. Working-class parents want their
children to do well, but, like Hispanic parents, tend to
give educational responsibility to the teacher. Upper
middle-class parents, on the other hand, view themselves
as partners in their children’s educational process and
expect to be involved.

Schools have many challenges to overcome while

working toward family involvement in education. In
many instances, the school and parents might lack the
appropriate skills to communicate effectively with each
other, and the surrounding community may not know
how to help schools and families bridge the cultural gap.

Barriers in the Pacific

The State of Hawaii provides a good example of cultural

diversity. Residents include families from a number of
different ethnicities: Caucasian, Japanese, Hawaiian,
Filipino, Samoan, African-American, Chinese, and
others (The State of Hawaii Data Book, 1995).
Encouraging school involvement among minority
families with school-aged children presents a challenge
for local educators. In their study of the Honolulu
District Chapter I Program, Yap and Enoki (1994)
conducted several case studies at selected sites in the
Honolulu District. Specific barriers to effective family
involvement were identified by case studies and include:

• Lack of time — Many parents hold down two or

three jobs in order to cope with economic
realities. Work schedules prevent these parents
from attending meetings and other events at the
• Language barrier — Lack of English proficiency
often hampers communication between
immigrant families.
• Cultural differences — Differences in cultural
values affect family involvement. In some
cultures, family involvement at school is valued;
in others, its priority is lower.
• English as a second language — In immigrant
families as well as among the local population,
lack of English proficiency often makes it
difficult for parents to read with their children at
• Student attitude — Students, especially at the
secondary level, may not welcome their parents’
presence at the school and may discourage their
parents’ participation in school activities.

There is little published information about Pacific Island

family participation beyond Hawaii. In order to provide
more insight into family involvement in the Pacific, the
authors conducted a series of interviews with Pacific
residents involved with Pacific Resources for Education
and Learning and its Research and Development (R&D)
Cadre, Pacific Curriculum and Instruction Council
(PCIC), and Pacific Educator in Residence Program.
This section presents findings from those interviews.

No clear picture of what parent participation means

in the Pacific region
A fundamental barrier to family involvement in Pacific
education is an unclear definition of family involvement.
In addition, family involvement is not closely aligned
with the cultures of the Pacific region. For instance,
when parents do get involved in their children’s
education, they are not given a culturally appropriate
form of recognition because their involvement is not
seen as socially attractive or desirable. In cultures where
title holding and social class standing are seen as
important, participation in education must become
socially desirable to be viewed as important. Presently,
attending school functions receives considerably less
social value than holding titles and receiving public
recognition. Thus, participation in school activities does
not carry as much weight as attendance at a village feast,
where participation is imperative.

Given this lack of understanding regarding family

participation within the cultural contexts of Pacific
Islanders, it is understandable that many parents and
some Pacific educators do not feel responsible for family
involvement. Some Pacific educators commented that
parents do not “carry their portion of the load.” They feel
that parents often “dump” their children at school and
give up their responsibility for the educational
development of their children. Some Pacific educators
feel that, because some parents pay tuition for private
education, these parents assume more responsibility for
their children’s education and take a more active role in
their children’s academic lives. Because public school is
not an inherent part of the traditional culture, parents
may see themselves as outsiders rather than stakeholders
in the school.

Issues of schooling
Numerous barriers to family involvement are embedded
within the process of schooling. In some islands, the
responsibility to involve parents is assigned solely to the
principal. If the principal has a positive relationship and
communication rapport with the parents, it is likely that
there will be strong parent participation in school affairs.
If the school administrator places a low priority on
parent involvement or does not communicate well,
parents and family members may be made to feel
unwelcome and unwanted at the school.

Communication plays a vital role in family involvement.

For families to become involved in education, there must
be two-way communication between the home and the
school. Such, however, is not always the case. Some
parents, especially at the secondary level, are only
contacted when there is a problem. This can be very
discouraging for parents. In some instances,
communication with the family occurs only when the
child receives special services. At Ebeye Public School
in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, school
administrators noted that many parents who attend PTA
meetings are parents of students enrolled in special
education programs. Teachers reported that the most
interaction they have with many parents is when parents
come to school to pick up their children’s report cards
(Heine & Lee, 1997). Positive, frequent communication
encourages parents to take a more active interest in their
children’s education.

Closely related to the role of communication is the

scheduling of meetings between teachers and parents. In
many instances, siblings do not attend the same school.
However, because communication between school and
home is ineffective, school officials often overlook these
factors, scheduling meetings and functions in the same
time slots as those of other schools. As a result, parents
are unable to attend all of their children’s meetings and
activities. Furthermore, the school may schedule meeting
times that are not convenient for parents and other
family members.

Cultural barriers
Some of the barriers facing family involvement may be
cultural in nature. It could be argued that Pacific
educators may not be skillful at family involvement
issues due to cultural reasons - perhaps their cultures
simply have not provided them with the requisite skills.
Currently, schools do not encourage or assist in the
development of these skills among their teachers. The
interviews conducted for this study confirmed
knowledge that is well documented by research: In
general, teachers and school administrators do not know
how to increase parent involvement and do not know
how to capitalize on their own cultural backgrounds in
classrooms and in dealings with families. As a result,
families may become isolated and distanced from the
school. Pacific educators, like educators elsewhere, need
training in order to learn and incorporate strategies that
will involve families in their children’s education.
Unfortunately, this type of training is usually not
included in teacher training pre-service programs.

There may be uncomfortable interactions between

families and schools for cultural reasons. For example,
there is a potential language problem between parents
and school staff because school systems tend to use
English to communicate; however, many parents feel
more comfortable conversing in their native language.
The pattern of teacher-parent communication may be
perceived as THEM vs. US. Furthermore, rather than
asking parents to participate, schools often tell parents
what they must do. This results in a negative perception
that the school is demanding and not family-friendly.

The conditions under which parents meet and

communicate with teachers may also present a cultural
barrier. Sometimes the physical aspects of the parent-
teacher meeting area (classroom, conference room,
school office) may seem contrived and uncomfortable
for local parents. A desk between the parties creates a
physical barrier that can make relations uneasy. The desk
and chair arrangement, so typical of classrooms on the
U.S. Mainland, is not a normal part of some Pacific

Symptomatic of the gap between home and school is the

nature of the school’s curriculum. It was noted that the
blending of home and school skills is not yet a
recognized part of the curriculum. For example, in
Pohnpei State, yam planting is a highly valued activity
requiring skills taught at home. However, these
particular skills are not incorporated into the curriculum
at school. Only at home are children taught where and
how to plant yams and under which type of tree they
should be planted, so that the vines grow profusely and
cover the tree’s trunk and branches. Most knowledge and
activities learned at home are not integrated with

Some Pacific island Cultural and religious priorities

barriers reflect unique In many instances, community comes first. Therefore, if
cultural conditions. a village or community event takes place at the same
time as a school event, the former takes precedence.
Also, respect for traditional chiefs involves obedience;
the wishes of the chief must be obeyed whether or not
one agrees. Likewise, in some communities, the church
plays a vital role in the community or larger society.
School activities may take a backseat to church activities
that require the participation of parents.

Physical conditions in the home

Physical conditions in the home may create barriers.
There is often no area set aside at home for parents to
assist their children with school work. In the Pacific
region, homes often do not have tables on which to work
or electricity to provide adequate lighting after dark
(Asian Development Bank, 1995). In addition, homes
may lack running water (water must be obtained from a
nearby river), privacy for studying, and reading

Separation of school and home

A pervasive belief among Pacific Islanders (similar to
the traditional Hispanic belief) is that the school is
separate from the home. School is seen as an
independent, government-run organization. Teachers and
school administrators are given full responsibility for a
child’s education (Asian Development Bank, 1995).
Teachings about lineage and traditional culture are left to
the family, but modern curricular instruction is regarded
as the responsibility of the teacher and school.

Positive Directions in Family Involvement

E auau le tavau I ona fulu.— Samoan proverb

“The seagull invests pride in his feathers. Parents invest
pride in their children.”

Family involvement in National goal and standards

education is a widely Promoting family involvement has become a priority for
valued goal. schools in the United States. Goal 8 of the U.S. National
Education Goals says that by the year 2000, “Every
school will promote partnerships that will increase
parental involvement and participation in promoting the
social, emotional, and academic growth of children.”
(U.S. Department of Education, 1994).

The recent formula included in the National Standards

for Parent/Family Involvement Programs is one of the
most promising developments in the promotion of family
involvement in education. These standards serve as
guidelines and have been endorsed by more than 30
professional education and parent/family involvement
organizations. Following are the National Standards:

National Standards for Parent/Family Involvement


Standard I: Communicating—Communication
between home and school is regular, two-way, and

Standard II: Parenting—Parenting skills are

promoted and supported.

Standard III: Student Learning—Parents play an

integral role in assisting student learning.

Standard IV: Volunteering—Parents are welcome in

the school, and their support and assistance are sought.

Standard V: School Decision Making and Advocacy

—Parents are full partners in the decisions that affect
children and families.

Standard VI: Collaborating with Community—

Community resources are used to strengthen schools,
families, and student learning.

Although these standards are designed for use on the

U.S. Mainland, they are appropriate for the Pacific
region as well. Implementation of the standards in any
setting requires joint effort between home, school, and

The challenges for effective family involvement in

Pacific Island schools are numerous. However, at this
time, positive events point to promising directions that
Pacific Islanders can take to promote family involvement
in education within their unique contexts. Following are
selected examples of promising programs, practices, and
perspectives that Pacific educators may wish to consider
as a starting point in their efforts to promote family
involvement in Pacific education.

Funds of knowledge
Most programs that solicit parental involvement have
been designed to serve a specific population of parents
(e.g., English-speaking, English as a Second Language
Learners, economically disadvantaged). Recent
demographic data, however, indicate that schools are
serving an increasing number of students and families
from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds who
may not respond to traditional methods for building
family-school partnerships (Salend & Taylor, 1993).

Soliciting family involvement in education transcends

culture and plays a vital role in student educational
outcomes. A student’s culture can provide educators with
an important resource for learning. Rather than viewing
minority students and homes as “deficient,” Moll (1992)
views the environments of students and families as
valued sources of knowledge that should be tapped by
schools. These “funds of knowledge” contain important
cultural information used by households in order to
function. To draw upon these “funds,” the school must
gather information about students, parents, and the
community, and use this knowledge to encourage
involvement at school. For example, families and other
community members can be asked to contribute to the
development of lessons, or to bring their unique
viewpoints to the school setting.

Empowerment model
The empowerment model proposed by Shepard and Rose
(1995) provides an organizational structure for parent
involvement programs. This model views parents as vital
sources of information – as “funds of knowledge” –
capable of making meaningful contributions to their
children’s lives and to their communities. The goal of
empowerment is not to “change” people, but to provide
them with the tools to better enable them to manage their
lives. Empowerment models are built upon a “Big
Picture” approach. All three spheres of influence are
addressed in developing family involvement programs
based on the empowerment model.

The empowerment model advanced by Shepard and

Rose consists of four ascending steps beginning with
basic communication: parents forge an initial link with
their child’s teacher or school. The next step, home
improvement (located in the “home” sphere) includes
activities designed to enhance parenting skills in general
and/or skills related to improving a child’s home-
learning environment. The two highest stages of
empowerment, volunteering and advocacy, involve
social connections beyond the home. They relate to the
spheres of “school” and “community.” Parental efficacy
reaches higher levels as parents learn to assist and
interact with other parents and students at school through
volunteering (stage three). Parents also feel empowered
when they work with local, community, and state
agencies to improve education (stage four).

The highest level of involvement and empowerment is

achieved when parents are able to set policies and
influence decision making at their schools. The
likelihood that parents will participate at this level
increases when they have acquired the knowledge,
confidence, and sense of belonging required for effective

Positive Directions in the Pacific

Success has been shown School/Community-Based Management (SCBM)

with site-based Across the nation and in the Pacific region,
management. School/Community-Based Management (SCBM), also
known as site-based management, is gaining stronger
support as a means of improving schooling. The
movement toward SCBM in Hawaii started in December
1988 when Superintendent of Education Charles Toguchi
and key members of his staff visited Dade County Public
Schools in Florida to study their site-based management
system. In Hawaii, the word “community” was added to
emphasize the importance of involving the community in
the process (Ikeda, 1992).
The 1989 Hawaii State Legislature passed Senate Bill
1870, which enabled SCBM to become a reality. The bill
became law through Hawaii Revised Statutes (HRS),
Chapter 296C. This law requires that six role groups–
parents, teachers, principals, students, support staff, and
other community members–become part of the school’s
decision-making group (Koki, 1997).

Elsewhere in the Pacific region, interest in SCBM is

growing. In Guam, Harmon Loop Elementary School
has been an SCBM pilot site. Over the years, Chuuk
State in the Federated States of Micronesia has been
building the foundation for SCBM implementation.
Principals and community members in Yap State have
received training in the process, and it is now being
implemented on the outer Island of Woleai.

Evaluations conducted on Hawaii’s experiences with

SCBM have shown positive gains as a result of SCBM
implementation. PREL’s evaluation of the program
found that SCBM provides a flexible structure that
responds to the unique personality of a community.
Schools can be custom-made for the communities they
serve (Pacific Region Educational Laboratory, 1992).

An evaluation of SCBM conducted by the Far West

Laboratory (now WestEd) revealed that SCBM has a
significant impact on school decision-making practices.
It was also found that decision making and school-
community connections are strongly linked. In addition
to increased parent and community involvement and
support, other outcomes, such as the Parent-Community
Networking Center (Izu, n.d.) were realized.

Although they represent significant findings that are

difficult to isolate, some positive outcomes for key
individuals – parents, teachers, and students – have been
associated with SCBM. Parents who participated in the
evaluation process reported extreme confidence and
satisfaction with their children’s schools. Measures of
teacher work satisfaction also showed improvement. At
nearly all schools evaluated, collaboration improved
among teachers and other staff, and most teachers were
committed to SCBM goals and activities (Izu, n.d.).
In October 1996, a survey report on the implementation
of SCBM in Hawaii’s schools was released. The report
presents findings from a survey that was conducted at
the request of the Board of Education. It involved more
than 240 respondents who attended the February 1996
SCBM Conference in Honolulu. Ninety-six SCBM
schools were involved in the survey.

Results indicate that consensus-based decision making

appears to be working well at many SCBM schools. In
general, SCBM council representatives appear to be
doing a “pretty good” job of consulting with people in
their role groups. Access to information about SCBM
council activities is adequate.

These results also indicate that each SCBM school

attempted to translate the concept of broad-based
participation into practice in a way that was workable for
the school. Broad-based school participation and the
extent of “off-limit” areas varied among SCBM schools,
depending on the people involved, the school’s culture,
and other factors.

The movement toward SCBM represents a major

change. Like other change efforts, successful
implementation of the process takes time, resources, and
desire. The transition to SCBM, when successful, is both
pervasive and deep. It requires change in almost all
aspects of the school – structures, roles, systems,
instructional practices, human resource practices, and
participants’ skills and knowledge.

Implementing such a change effort is a gradual process

that involves introducing and refining changes until all
aspects of the school’s organization support the new way
of operating. While the needs of each school differ,
SCBM continues to be a viable option for school
improvement and educational restructuring in the Pacific
region; it will enhance school/community involvement
and increase student achievement (Koki, 1997).

Parent-Community Networking Centers (PCNC)

The Hawaii State Department of Education has been
developing a network of Parent-Community Networking
Centers (PCNC) with the intent of having a PCNC in
every school in the public school system.

PCNCs are drop-in centers located on school campuses.

Their mission is to develop a sense of community
between home, school, and neighborhood. The goal is to
provide a gathering place for parents, teachers, and
community resource people. A major force behind the
creation of PCNCs was the need to involve parents and
families more significantly in the education of their
children and in school affairs. Each center is run by a
part-time facilitator who works closely with the principal
and who may not necessarily have formal credentials
(Ing, 1993). In essence, the PCNC represents the
establishment of a structural means to support efforts for
involving parents in education.

The first PCNC was established in 1986, when the

Hawaii State Board of Education and Hawaii State
Legislature passed Chapter 301, Sections 1 to 4, Hawaii
Revised Statutes. This legislation established a network
of six PCNCs and recognized parent and community
involvement as essential for effective public education in

The PCNC is based on successful community education

experiences as well as newly developed models that
grew out of successful PCNC experiences. The PCNC
uses relationship, team-building, community education,
nesting support, and other models drawn from PCNC
experiences. The intent of all of these models is to create
a sense of community wherever people are living (Ing,

The PCNCs encourage a loving and caring school

climate, where all partners in learning feel supported and
valued. As families, schools, and communities work in
harmony, families are strengthened and develop a sense
of pride, accomplishment, and community (Koki, 1997).

While PCNCs differ in terms of activities, they are

bound by a unifying characteristic – a conscious and
deliberate effort to include the “ways of community” in
everything. The challenge is not to resist community
influences but to consciously energize and realize what
is already inherent in each individual – the capacity to
create community at higher levels (Ing, 1993).

Experience has shown that the key to success is the

selection of a PCNC facilitator who has credibility with
community members and families. In addition, effective
PCNC implementation relies on the provision of relevant
and systematic training for the PCNC facilitator. The
following elements have been identified by facilitators as
being of critical importance:

• Relationships – Identify needs and build

connections with parents.
• Ownership – Parents begin to take ownership and
to support teachers in partnership building.
• Commitment – Teachers consciously initiate the
community-building process in the classroom.
• Learning Community – Parents, teachers, and
students begin bonding as a natural outcome of
the three stages mentioned above (Koki, 1997).

The PCNC experiences in Hawaii have revealed that the

processes of community making are the processes of

Conclusions and Recommendations

Some general conclusions can be drawn from this review

of research:

1. Family involvement is multi-faceted and

complex. There are many types of family
involvement in education. In developing a family
involvement program, Pacific educators need to
consider the cultural, linguistic, and economic
factors that are relevant to the unique needs of
culturally and linguistically diverse children and
2. Home, school, and community are three major
spheres of influence on children. Their
interactions may be either positive or negative,
close or distant, growth promoting or growth
discouraging. They range from one-on-one
interactions with the child to events occurring in
the society itself. All three major spheres of
influence should be considered in efforts to
promote family involvement in education.
3. Some barriers to participation, such as lack of
time and knowledge about how to become
involved, cut across all cultures and peoples.
Other barriers, such as language differences and
distrust of schools, are important to consider in
the culturally diverse settings of the Pacific.
4. Family involvement in the Pacific may have
some unique barriers. For example, religious and
cultural priorities of the community may often
affect the level of family participation in school
functions. Barriers that result from the
community’s culture raise special challenges for
Pacific educators when soliciting family
involvement at the school.

On the basis of these conclusions, the following

recommendations are offered:

1. The value and importance of family involvement

in education should be continuously emphasized
by Pacific Island communities. In some Pacific
schools, family participation may not be fully
understood or accepted as an important aspect of
the schooling process. Implementing a system
such as School/Community-Based Management
(SCBM) can be an important step. Its rationale
and operational procedures, however, must be
adequately developed prior to implementation.
2. Pacific Island schools need to identify relevant
barriers to family involvement that pertain to
their own circumstances. A good way to begin
involving parents in education is to engage them
in discussions on the barriers presented in this
publication. School administrators may present
concerns at community forums and solicit the
support of village chiefs and leaders.
3. After identifying barriers, the schools may then
seek culturally appropriate solutions. Again,
parents and community members are valuable
resources for identifying and implementing
4. Throughout the Pacific, teachers are seeking to
further their professional development. The
curriculum for teacher training programs should
include learning opportunities directed towards
increasing family involvement. These learning
opportunities should provide not only the
necessary awareness and knowledge, but also the
skills needed to engage family participation in

A‘ohe hana nui ka alu‘ia. –Ancient Hawaiian proverb

“No task is too big when done together.”

As barriers are overcome, school, home, and community

can once again find common ground. They can be woven
together, like pandanus mats, into a foundation that
supports and fosters student learning.

More Research Findings on Family Involvement

Benefits of Family Involvement

For Students

• Higher grades, test scores, and graduation rates

• Better school attendance
• Increased motivation and self-esteem
• Fewer Placements in special education
• More positive attitudes and behaviors
• Lower suspension rates
• Decreased use of drugs and alcohol
• Fewer instances of violent behavior
• Greater enrollment rates in post-secondary education

For Schools

• Improved teacher morale

• Higher ratings of teachers by parents
• More support from families
• Higher student achievement
• Better reputations in the community
For Parents

• Higher confidence in the school

• Higher opinions of them as parents and higher expectations of their children by
• Greater confidence in children, school, and themselves as parents
• Increased chance of continuing their own education

Adapted from Talking points: Parent involvement and from Benefits of Parent and
Family Involvement

Barriers to Effective Family Involvement

• Time is usually the largest barrier in most situations.

• School staff may have boundaries or territorial issues.
• Parents feel that they do not have anything to contribute or are intimidated by
school staff, which could be due to a variety of reasons such as limited education,
limited English proficiency, or negative experiences in the school system.
• School may present an unwelcoming atmosphere in staff interactions, attitudes, or
physical appearance of the building.
• Parents may be unsure of how to contribute or even if they are needed.
• Families may be unfamiliar or not understand the school system or tutoring
• Families may be in need. If they are suffering from economic stress, immediate
needs such as for food and shelter may take precedence.
• Childcare may not be offered.
• Language differences can prevent parents from understanding information about
meetings, activities, and events.
• Parents or family members with disabilities may find it difficult or feel
uncomfortable attending and contributing in family involvement events or
• Lack of transportation can prevent families from attending activities.

Adapted from Barriers to Effective Parental Involvement: Roadblocks and Detours by the
National PTA

More Benefits

Here are just some of the reasons it is important for parents to be actively involved in
their child's education:

• The most effective forms of family involvement are those that engage parents in
working directly with children on learning activities in the home.
• Programs that involve parents in reading with their children, supporting their
homework assignments, or tutoring them in materials and instructions provided
by teachers show particularly impressive results.
• Family involvement is most effective when it is comprehensive, long lasting, and
well planned.
• Family involvement should be developmental and preventative, promoting
strengths rather than remedial intervention.
• School practices to encourage parents to participate in their children’s education
are more important than family characteristics, such as the level of a parent’s
education, socioeconomic, or marital status.
• Children from low-income and minority families benefit most when parents are
involved in schools.
• Parents do not have to be well educated to make a difference.
• When parents help their children with schoolwork, the effects of poverty and the
lack of a formal education are reduced.
• The earlier family involvement begins in a child’s educational process, the more
powerful the effects will be. Involving parents when children are young has
beneficial effects that persist throughout the child’s academic career.
• Family involvement works for older children too, even if they have not been
involved previously.
• Most parents prefer informal, personal attention in parent/teacher relationships.
• Parents want and need direction to participate with maximum effectiveness.
• Studies document that regardless of the economic, ethnic, or cultural background
of the family, parent involvement in a child’s education is a major factor in
determining success in school.
• Parent involvement also contributes to other positive outcomes, such as better
school attendance, improved homework completion rates, decreased violence and
substance abuse, and higher graduation rates.
• Parent involvement programs should be well structured and result in consistent
parent participation, not merely a one-time event such as a parentteacher
conference or annual back-to-school night.
• Parents must be engaged in substantive tasks, such as school restructuring and
setting higher learning standards.
• Barriers to parent involvement must be removed. Children who are read to, and
who grow up in homes rich in literacy activities (like reading, writing,
storytelling, singing, and lively conversation) are more likely to value and
develop a love of reading.
• Children raised in literacy-rich environments often become successful readers and


January 2007

Making It Work: Low-Income Working

Mothers' Involvement in Their Children's
Education, Digest Version
Heather B. Weiss, Ellen Mayer, Holly Kreider, Margaret Vaughan, Eric Dearing, Rebecca
Hencke, Kristina Pinto

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Schools and Families

Research Background

A growing number of women participate in today's labor force. In 1999, 60 percent of

women were working, up from just 43 percent in 1970 (U.S. Department of Labor, 2005).
Despite the positive impact of women on the economy, educators and parents frequently
cite parents' busy work schedules as a major obstacle to family involvement. Mothers'
involvement in their children's education is one of the family demands that could be
negatively impacted by increased maternal employment. ¹

Overall, the few investigations that study the relationship between family educational
involvement and maternal work reveal negative associations. In these studies, time
demands emerge as the central aspect of employment that creates a barrier to working
parents' educational involvement (Newman & Chin, 2002). This is particularly true for
low-income mothers who often work in environments that offer limited parental leave
and inflexible schedules. Yet, some studies do suggest positive effects of maternal
employment on educational involvement, mainly when structural supports—such as
schools scheduling convenient times for family-related activities—are put in place
(Chavkin & Williams, 1990).

The purpose of this study was to examine the connections between maternal work and
low-income mothers' involvement in their elementary school children's education. Our
work was based on an ecological approach to development, in which contexts such as
maternal work influence children's development both directly and indirectly
(Bronfenbrenner, 1979). Specifically, this study addressed two questions:

1. Is maternal work associated with low-income mothers' involvement in their

children's education?
2. How do low-income working mothers become or stay involved in their children's

Research Methods

Data for this study were drawn from the School Transition Study (STS), a longitudinal
follow-up to the experimental impact evaluation of the Comprehensive Child
Development Program (CCDP). We used a mixed-methods approach and conducted both
quantitative and qualitative analysis to understand the complex phenomena of work and
family involvement.

Mothers of 390 low-income children living in three regions across the United States were
included in the quantitative portion of the analysis (African American = 37%, White =
36%, and Latino = 24%). Mothers were asked to report on the number of hours they
worked or attended school per week and on their involvement in their children's school
(e.g., whether they had attended a parent–teacher conference, open house, school
meeting, field trip, etc.) over the prior year.

The qualitative analysis drew from in-depth case study data on a subset of 20 families.
Ethnographers in the field asked mothers questions about family life, the school and
community, family educational involvement, and the child. We systematically coded
these interviews, using a computer-assisted and qualitative data analysis program, and
reviewed ethnographic field notes and observations of the school, home, and
neighborhood (QSR NUD*IST, Qualitative Solutions and Research PTY Ltd, 1997). Our
analyses yielded within-case portraits of the educational involvement strategies of
working mothers, as well as a typology of positive strategies mothers utilized across
cases (Miles & Huberman, 1994).

Research Findings

Work as an obstacle to involvement

Our quantitative data showed that the amount of mothers' combined work and enrollment
in education/training predicted their levels of involvement. Mothers who worked part
time had higher levels of involvement in their children's school than did mothers who
worked full time (defined as more than 30 hours per week)—signifying that the time
demands of work do pose a barrier to involvement. Yet, mothers who were not working
and not looking for work had the lowest involvement levels of any group. Interestingly,
this finding suggests that something about work, of any amount, positively related to
Work as an opportunity for involvement
Our qualitative data revealed that work also serves as an opportunity for involvement.
Case study mothers utilized four main strategies to stay involved in their children's

1. Using work as a home base. Mothers used the workplace as the locus for a variety of
involvement activities typically performed in settings like the home, school, or
community. Some mothers used the workplace for child care and enrichment functions,
while other mothers used the workplace as a location from which to communicate with
schools and children. For example, mothers made and received calls at work to monitor
their children at home or to talk with the school to schedule meetings. Some mothers also
met with their children's teachers while at work to conduct informal parent-teacher

2. Garnering resources from work. From the workplace, mothers obtained nonmonetary
material resources like food, recreational supplies, books, and the use of computers.
Mothers also viewed the workplace as a resource through which children could interact
with a variety of people and see firsthand the value of work. For example, one mother
brought her daughter with her to work at a small boutique, where her daughter had access
to a computer and see her mother model hard work and occupational commitment.

3. Conquering time and space challenges. Mothers managed and negotiated time and
space demands creatively in order to effectively organize their direct and indirect
involvement in child's school and learning. Mothers often requested workplace and/or
school flexibility to allow for direct and indirect involvement. For instance, one mother
took her lunch break at 3 p.m. so that she could pick up her children at the bus stop and
escort them home safely.

4. Promoting a support network. Mothers also relied on family and friends for
involvement support. Some mothers created a coordinated family learning effort in which
multiple people were involved in children's schooling. For example, some mothers
depended on friends and relatives for help with transportation to school or assistance with
children's homework. Other mothers constructed and encouraged a family learning
culture at home, thereby emphasizing the value of education and learning. One mother
who was taking college classes sat alongside her daughters and did her homework each
night while they did theirs.

Implications for Practice

1. Collect information about parents' work setting when inquiring about children's
family and afterschool arrangements. Schools can ask parents more about their work
than just contact numbers in the case of emergencies; they can also ask parents about the
nature of their work and what they do. Schools can find out if the child comes to the
mother's work, if so what he/she does there, if the parent can communicate with school
from work, and the preferred means of communication. When parents' work settings
change, schools can make sure to collect new information from parents.
2. Create flexibility in the timing of school life and parental work. Parents often have
work schedules that do not allow time to be at home or school to support their child with
homework. Schools and teachers can offer parents alternate times and locations for
meetings and other involvement, while keeping in mind the need for privacy in some
discussions. For example, in some cases, formal parent–teacher conferences can be held
at parents' work settings or at community locations that are more convenient to parents'
workplaces. Policymakers and employers can support extending the Family and Medical
Leave Act, as well as other less formal arrangements, to allow working parents to stay
involved in their children's schooling.

3. Partner with local employers. Schools can partner with local employers for resources,
including materials, mentors, and volunteers. School personnel can also give
presentations at work sites on literacy, standards, and new school policies. In the
classroom, teachers can connect children's experience at their parent's workplace with the
curriculum, arrange to visit or volunteer with children at a parent's work site, and invite
parents to come to schools to share their work expertise through guest lectures.

4. Provide technologies at school that facilitate communication between teachers and

parents at their workplaces. Cell phones, voicemail, and email for teachers, faxing
capabilities, and websites for homework postings are all technologies that can facilitate
communication between teachers and parents in some workplaces.

5. Redefine and expand what family involvement means. When family involvement is
defined narrowly—for example by emphasizing activities that take place only on school
grounds—full-time working parents may fall short. Schools need to recognize and
support the adaptive and indirect efforts of working families to be involved both at home
and through informal learning opportunities in other settings and contexts. Moreover,
school staff must make efforts to engage and communicate with other interested family
members and friends of the child.


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¹ Adapted from Weiss, H., Mayer, E., Kreider, H., Vaughan, M., Dearing, E., Hencke, R.,
& Pinto, K. (2003). Making it work: Low income mothers' involvement in their children's
education. American Educational Research Journal, 40(4), 879–901. The original article
may be downloaded only. It may not be copied or used for any purpose other than
scholarship. If you wish to make copies or use it for a nonscholarly purpose, please
contact the American Education Research Assocation directly. We would like to thank
Magaret Caspe for her editorial assistance in developing the digest based on this article.

Heather Weiss, Ed.D.

Harvard Family Research Project
Harvard Graduate School of Education
3 Garden Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
Email: heather_weiss@harvard.edu