Children’s academic achievement can be affected by various factors, including individual talents and the degree of parental support. In education, family participation (FP) or parental involvement refers to various ways in which families get involved in school processes and events. Participating in their children’s endeavors at school, families basically share responsibility for the educational outcomes with teachers while also demonstrating a genuine interest in promoting children’s healthy cognitive and socio-psychological development (Hernández-Prados et al., 2019). Extensive FP is the most conducive to students’ optimal achievement in primary school settings, so measures to increase it are widely recommended to maximize primary school students’ success (Hernández-Prados et al., 2019). In contrast, when it comes to secondary school, despite remaining crucial, FP can slightly decline, promoting students’ independence as learners (Hernández-Prados et al., 2019). Based on systematic reviews of literature, adequate FP leads to better academic outcomes while also serving as a “protective factor against socioeconomic adversity in academic variables” (Camarero-Figuerola et al., 2020, p. 61). Therefore, FP’s importance to children’s learning relates to promoting better grades and reducing the effects of unfavorable social circumstances on success at school.
What active or insufficient FP does to children’s education is a crucial research topic. FP’s overall positive influences on academic socialization and learning across diverse ethnic and socioeconomic groups are recognized universally (Camarero-Figuerola et al., 2020). Conversely, parental disengagement can be conducive to school failures and insufficient achievement in different school subjects (Camarero-Figuerola et al., 2020; Otero et al., 2021). Worse still, the effects of limited or even non-existent FP go beyond temporary academic difficulties and include elevated rates of school dropout, with the effect being stronger for male private school students (Paul et al., 2021). Based on empirical evidence, this paper argues that FP, including parental homework supervision and participation in parent-teacher meetings, benefits children’s education in terms of actual achievement, attendance scores, and attitudes to learning.
Since the family is one of the key social institutions affecting a person’s life, development, and future prospects, FP’s role in promoting well-being is widely recognized. FP is researched in the context of patient education, community collaboration, and school education, with the latter being closely tied to national school management strategies (Camarero-Figuerola et al., 2020; Davidson & Case, 2018). Nowadays, the viewpoint that adequate FP ensures coherent and effective educational environments for K-12 students permeates the available research literature (Camarero-Figuerola et al., 2020). Modern researchers and educational leaders express concerns regarding parent-related barriers to FP, including a lack of time, illiteracy regarding FP’s benefits, or different caregivers’ inability to distribute responsibility for participation in learning (Camarero-Figuerola et al., 2020; Lester et al., 2017). Therefore, the value of FP for children’s healthy development in the educational system is not called into question.
FP’s manifestations may vary depending on the parental engagement style that can be more supportive or more controlling, but both styles are associated with increased achievement. In the controlling style, parents emphasize the child’s discipline by establishing behavioral control. It involves making sure that children devote enough time to their homework, do not skip lessons, and have the skills to meet age-specific academic expectations (Otero et al., 2021). The supportive style, as the term implies, involves FP focused on helping children with assignments, establishing trust-based relationships, and engaging in conversations regarding learning and achieving success (Otero et al., 2021). In their study of FP’s impacts on more than 1300 primary school students, Otero et al. (2021) demonstrate that both supportive and controlling styles in FP positively influence learning outcomes in mathematics and language classes. Also, in a study conducted in 2009, Stormshak and colleagues reveal that FP promoted via family-centered interventions is beneficial to children regardless of the family’s parenting style (Camarero-Figuerola et al., 2020). Aside from illustrating FP’s advantages, these findings suggest that it can be promoted among psychologically diverse parents.
As a multi-component construct, FP involves both parent- and school-initiated efforts to promote the child’s success. One definition proposed by Fantuzzo and colleagues conceptualizes FP as a multifactorial theoretical construct encompassing involvement “in school, at home, and in the school-family relationship” (Camarero-Figuerola et al., 2020, p. 58). The first form of involvement refers to parents’ active participation, such as volunteering, organizing parental committees, school fundraising, and similar forms of activity. Home-based involvement encompasses helping children with homework and creating suitable environments for learning at home (Camarero-Figuerola et al., 2020; Paul et al., 2021). The third component centers on the interaction between families and schools as social institutions and focuses on school-family communication regarding children’s academic and behavioral issues and strategies to promote progress (Camarero-Figuerola et al., 2020). Therefore, researchers treat FP as a complex phenomenon requiring inter-institutional collaboration.
FP’s effects on learning include its ability to increase children’s chances to succeed academically in secondary education. Evidence from quasi-experimental research suggests that school-initiated family education focused on barriers to learning increases students’ social capital, thus causing improvements in school performance (Santos Rego et al., 2018). As per Santos Rego et al. (2018), FP can promote better performance indirectly by ensuring the student’s more positive self-image, attitudes to school, school habits conducive to knowledge retention, and a sense of support. Current evidence suggests a strong positive relationship between FP and multiple academic variables. For instance, in a longitudinal study involving more than 19,000 adolescents, George and colleagues conclude that FP strengthens students’ ability to enter college successfully by improving their school performance (Camarero-Figuerola et al., 2020). In another study with a sample exceeding 15,000 adolescent school students, Benner and colleagues reveal a significant relationship between FP (parents communicating academic expectations) and school grades (Camarero-Figuerola et al., 2020). Notably, FP’s beneficial effects are stronger for children from lower-class families (Camarero-Figuerola et al., 2020). Overall, the current literature demonstrates a growing consensus about FP’s role in promoting optimal academic performance.
FP is also hypothesized to improve students’ academic prospects and learning by promoting discipline and preventing school dropouts. Dropouts resulting from repeated academic failures are a prominent concern in secondary education, especially in low-income areas. Between 3,4% and 4% of secondary school students discontinue school education, and families’ insufficient attention towards their children’s academic challenges is listed among the reasons for such disruptions (Paul et al., 2021). Dropouts relate to multiple interconnected variables, including grade repetition, failed exams, disengagement, absenteeism, untreated illness, disruptive behaviors in the classroom, and other predictors (Paul et al., 2021). Many of these factors depend on parental support and positive attention toward their children’s school life. Therefore, researchers theorize suboptimal FP and families’ inability to engage in school-family communication to increase the likelihood of disrupted schooling (Paul et al., 2021). According to cross-sectional research, the prophylaxis of dropping out of secondary school requires optimal parental involvement levels (Camarero-Figuerola et al., 2020). Thus, family training to improve the parent-perceived significance of FP could be a promising approach to minimize the number of students failing to graduate from school.
Popular research-based ideas surrounding FP also emphasize its potential in ensuring better learning by preventing unhealthy classroom events, such as bullying by peers. In a randomized controlled trial exploring the Friendly Schools Friendly Families intervention, Lester et al. (2017) demonstrate that school-initiated FP can increase bullied children’s readiness to seek advice and help from adults. In the FSFF program, parents of students in grades two, four, and six were involved in school-initiated bullying prevention efforts. They gained access to resources and training focused on recognizing the signs of bullying, helping the child, and teaching children to respond to bullying. It resulted in an increased frequency of parent-child discussions of school life and psychological climate in the classroom (Lester et al., 2017). Considering that bullying and psychological stress at school can make studying challenging for a victim, such efforts’ indirect effects might include the reduction of barriers to academic success linked with poor relationships with peers and social exclusion.
Finally, concerning the phenomenon’s large-scale effects on society, adequate FP can be a measure of reducing racial and economic inequality. In their study published in 2008, Bhargava and colleagues argue that FP strategies targeted at economically disadvantaged Latino immigrant families in the U.S. could reduce this group’s disproportionately high school dropout rates (Camarero-Figuerola et al., 2020). In their literature review, Camarero-Figuerola et al. (2020) treat FP promotion in populations at high risk of social exclusion or poverty as an important theme in family involvement research. Based on four studies published between 2008 and 2017, education researchers generally agree that FP reduces “socioeconomic adversity in academic variables,” thus improving disadvantaged students’ chances in life (Camarero-Figuerola et al., 2020, p. 61). Based on these pieces of evidence, efforts to promote FP could support the school system in ensuring better academic and life outcomes among students across diverse prosperity levels.
A high level of FP results in diverse learning-related benefits for children. Among them are better grades, psychological well-being, and reduced risks of dropping out of school. The degree of FP explains more than 6% of the variance in academic achievement, and children from families extremely involved in education tend to earn better grades (Camarero-Figuerola et al., 2020; Otero et al., 2021). One part of parental involvement is the ability to support children psychologically and understand their interpersonal and academic struggles. In this context, children from actively involved families display healthier study habits and self-image, which influences learning positively (Lester et al., 2017; Santos Rego et al., 2018). The effects of FP, especially homework supervision, are tremendously high, resulting in the reduced risks of dropping out of school due to academic failure in secondary school (Paul et al., 2021). Parents’ active involvement has tremendous positive influences on children in terms of grades and further life and career prospects.
Conversely, students from non-involved families can face a number of challenges due to the lack of parental control and support. From longitudinal observational research, parents’ inability to attend parent-teacher association meetings, engage in teacher-initiated discussions of individual performance, and supervise the child’s homework increase the risk of academic failure (Paul et al., 2021). The three variables make students aged 15-18 1.15, 1.14, and 1.17 times more likely to drop out of school, respectively (Paul et al., 2021). Maternal deprivation and parents’ limited attention to children’s school life result in reduced educational attainment, whereas motivating children to “do their best in whatever activities they like” boosts achievement (Paul et al., 2021, p. 2). Another peculiar form of FP is the so-called academic socialization or parent-initiated communication of learning as a value and corresponding expectations. Secondary school students from families displaying no academic socialization have lower academic achievement levels compared to more involved parents’ children (Otero et al., 2021). The existing studies are rather heterogeneous in terms of the studied populations and FP’s components of interest; still, all of them communicate insufficient FP’s detrimental impact on learning and well-being.
Overall, FP’s value in supporting children’s learning does not seem to be a debatable topic, and current theories and research ideas linked with FP’s various forms and children’s success and behaviors at school are primarily positive. Specifically, they position parent-initiated and school-initiated parental engagement as one of the pillars of success in learning. Multiple studies regard a vast array of FP strategies, including individual or group communication, parental involvement in homework activities, and parent education programs, as efforts to effectively support optimal achievement in primary and secondary school. Taking that into consideration, paying more attention to solutions for suboptimal FP levels and barriers to achieving adequate parental involvement in every family is crucial.
Despite FP’s inequality reduction effects, parents’ poverty is among the potential barriers to adequate parental involvement. The National Household Education Survey of 2016 reveals a series of trends linked with school-initiated FP and family characteristics (McQuiggan & Megra, 2017). Specifically, among all K-12 students whose parents reported school-initiated FP, there were around 8.9 million children from low-income households, whereas the number of non-poor individuals exceeded 42 million (McQuiggan & Megra, 2017). With regards to specific FP methods, 54% of poor and 64% of non-poor families reported receiving e-mails or notes related to their child’s performance (McQuiggan & Megra, 2017). The difference is more striking in relation to FP measures aimed at all parents, including memos and newsletters; the percentage of poor and non-poor families reporting receiving them was 79% and 92%, respectively (McQuiggan & Megra, 2017). The cited survey and scholarly research fail to explain the reasons for such differences in an adequate manner. One possibility is that FP methods in schools in low-income areas slightly differ from those in wealthier neighborhoods. Resolving the barrier could, therefore, require efforts to make school-initiated communication with parents easier to organize.
The U.S. is among the world’s most diverse places, and linguistic differences between families present another potential barrier to school-initiated FP. The National Household Education Survey conducted in 2016 sheds light on schools’ FP promotion efforts as reported by families with different numbers of proficient English speakers. According to the results, in 2016, between 53% and 55% of families with one or more parents not speaking English received individual e-mails and notes from their children’s teachers (McQuiggan & Megra, 2017). In contrast, families that consisted only of English speakers were approached using these FP methods and received individual information in 64% of cases (McQuiggan & Megra, 2017). Also, Camarero-Figuerola et al. (2020) mention insufficient acculturation and language proficiency levels among “the biggest barriers” to FP for schools to consider (p. 67). Therefore, certain populations have more access to FP’s essential benefits than the others based on the presence of language barriers. Families’ levels of English proficiency can reduce parental participation in school activities, but current studies do not provide many possible solutions for this problem.
The solutions that the studies offer to maximize the promotion of FP in school settings generally fall into two categories: parent literacy and minority inclusion. In the U.S., the situation with FP levels is not catastrophic. Nevertheless, there is room for improvement in terms of promoting homework-based parental involvement and empowering minority families to participate in children’s education (McQuiggan & Megra, 2017). Many culturally diverse families may find traditional FP practices in the U.S. overly foreign and insensitive to their child-rearing practices, thus introducing the need for more inclusive FP programs and efforts (Davidson & Case, 2018). For some parents, the unwillingness to engage in the child’s school life through communication and homework checking stems from the lack of knowledge on FP’s benefits. Addressing both gaps is pivotal to increasing the number of families displaying appropriate support and control behaviors.
The first essential component of more inclusive approaches to FP is the educators’ readiness to gain new cultural knowledge and expand beliefs regarding minorities’ and recently immigrated parents’ perspectives on education and FP. According to Davidson and Case (2018), knowledge expansion and the recognition of deviations from “white middle-class norms” in child-rearing practices are the first steps towards inclusive FP (p. 50). As an example, if educators in a certain area serve many Mexican families, learning about the concept of educación and incorporating it into FP strategies is pivotal. Rather than being linked only with academic outcomes measured by school grades, the term refers to both achievement and children’s socio-emotional and moral development (Davidson & Case, 2018). If this cultural value is ignored, educators will be likely to overestimate the role of actual achievement in FP when working with Mexican-origin Hispanic families. Meanwhile, these families’ perspectives on education can involve participation in church or consultations with trusted community members instead of being limited by achievement (Davidson & Case, 2018). Therefore, fostering educators’ cultural awareness is a promising approach to achieve better inclusion in FP promotion.
Novel family partnership models, such as the Family and Educators Together program, can support FP practices in ethnic minority parents in both primary and secondary education. Targeted at schools with high proportions of multilingual and ethnic minority students, the FET approach involves sharing decision-making power between families and educators (Davidson & Case, 2018). Based on the assumption that middle-class parents are already involved in education, the approach emphasizes recruiting parents from marginalized ethnic and social groups to participate in FET school teams (Davidson & Case, 2018). Its other components are group events and dance classes for families to build a sense of community (Davidson & Case, 2018). To improve minority families’ literacy regarding rights and participation in school activities, the FET introduces school-based information nights (Davidson & Case, 2018). Considering this, to promote FP in minority populations, school districts can use multi-component programs that go beyond traditional parent-teacher meetings.
Finally, various FP literacy promotion events are gaining momentum nowadays. “The sensitization of parents through teachers, schools, and community” and spreading awareness among parents regarding the role that their participation plays in their children’s success can encourage FP promotion (Paul et al., 2021). In 2016, only 66% of K-12 students had an adult checking that their homework was done on time, so delivering information on homework-based FP’s benefits is important (McQuiggan & Megra, 2017). Parent education interventions for promoting FP can exceed the limits of homework checking and incorporate whole-school approaches to bullying prevention based on parent education (Lester et al., 2017). Other innovative programs that maximize FP, for instance, the ECO-FA-SE project, emphasize family education. This particular project involves school-based family education programs with sessions devoted to techniques for supporting adolescents in learning, communicating educational expectations, and promoting helpful habits (Santos Rego et al., 2018). In spite of their benefits for families, these solutions for FP promotion may vary in cost-effectiveness and the required resources, but no studies analyze different awareness-building initiatives comparatively, thus hindering recommendation development.
In summary, current evidence suggests that various forms of FP influence children’s learning positively and increase the chances of academic success in both primary and secondary school students. Parent- and school-initiated efforts to maximize FP are predictive of better grades and performance, reduced risks of academic failures leading to school discontinuation, and the child’s positive attitudes to learning, school, and classroom processes. Another crucial effect of FP on students is its ability to reduce the achievement gap between non-poor racial majority populations and their peers belonging to disadvantaged or marginalized groups. This can influence such groups’ life after graduation from school. Specifically, in high school, involved parents’ children outperform their peers in college readiness, so FP can be essential for promoting individual success even after graduation. Considering these positive influences on learning, limited or non-existent FP can be costly for K-12 students.
Current FP promotion practices that educators and researchers advocate for center parents’ awareness and literacy regarding FP and programs to empower minority families to participate in their children’s school life. Pilot projects with promising preliminary results include the FET project, which is a multi-component intervention to maximize FP in linguistically diverse schools. Learning about minority families’ unique perspectives on FP and its role in child-rearing philosophies is another proposition to reduce cultural barriers to parental participation. Complex literacy promotion interventions, such as the ECO-FA-SE project, support positive attitudes to FP among the general population by spreading information on FP’s benefits and practices for supporting children’s achievement. However, further research and comparative studies might be necessary to single out the most effective participation promotion approaches.
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