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Barbara Otto and Julia Karbach

In the recent years, parental involvement in a child’s academic development has been of great scientific interest. As parental involvement is a broad term it encompasses many parental activities that need to be further specified. In line with this, no widely accepted theoretical framework of parental involvement exists so far. Moreover, in terms of assessment of parental involvement a large variety of instruments have been applied: Parental involvement has been assessed by behavioral observations, self-reports, or reports by others. In spite of a missing definition and widely accepted theoretical framework, a myriad of research has been conducted to identify determinants and correlates of parental involvement. In this context, several empirical studies have revealed that the way parents get involved in their children’s schooling depends on a diverse set of variables, which refer not only to the parents themselves, but also to the family setting and the school context. However, the main body of research has focused on the effects of parental involvement. Although it has been found to be a significant predictor for children’s academic success parental involvement also seems to show changes related to the child’s age and grade level. Moreover, the different dimensions of parental involvement seem to have differential predictive value for students’ academic outcomes. Less empirical studies have been done referring to the associations of parental involvement with academic outcomes other than performance. Moreover, the very few intercultural studies conducted in this field suggest there might be similarities but also differences between Western and Eastern parents in the way how they get involved with their children’s education. Based on the presented aspects, future research should aim at developing a consistent definition and widely accepted theoretical framework of parental involvement as well as further investigate underlying determinants and mechanisms.


Cristina Santamaría Graff and Brandon Sherman

For educators located in the Global North or South what it means to work with families in inclusive settings is often a reflection of fundamental conceptions of the very nature of schooling and learning. These conceptions, whether implicit or explicit theories, inform teacher practice, interaction, communication, and involvement when it comes to students’ parents, families, and communities. Understanding how theories of learning relate to family engagement and inclusive practices allows for (a) an accounting of established knowledge and practices and (b) more innovative future directions for engaging parents, families, and communities in schooling. Three specific theories of learning (behaviorist, sociocultural, and critical) demonstrate stark differences in how the roles of parents and family are understood in their children’s education. Each of these theoretical lenses produces different answers to the question of what it means to work with families. They entail different conceptualizations of parent/family engagement and inclusion, the challenges to this engagement and inclusion, and the tools used to address these challenges. Families can be positioned as passive recipients of knowledge, contributors to knowledge, or knowledge-makers. Regarding their child’s schooling, parents can be seen as supporters, contributors, or collaborators. They can be situated on the periphery of schooling or in the center. Contrasting and complementary elements of behavioral, sociocultural, and critical theories of learning provide insight into traditional, relational, and transformative approaches to working with families. These theoretical approaches entail practical implications as well, reflected in both standard educational practices and in extant findings in the field of educational research. This theoretical/practical approach allows for insight into why, in application, there is dissonance in perspectives among educators about how to work with families and what this work may entail and look like, and provides suggestions for how families and communities might come to play a more central role in the education of their children.


Parental involvement is frequently touted as a key part of any solution to the achievement gap in US schools. Yet the mainstream model of parental involvement has been challenged on the grounds that it neglects parents’ political agency, the cultural diversity of families, and the empirical evidence of limited efficacy. This article argues that to understand parental involvement’s promise and limitations, it is necessary to consider it in historical context. Accordingly, it traces the history of “parental involvement” as a policy goal through the past half century. It provides an account of the mainstream parental involvement research, as well as critiques. Ultimately, the article argues that parental involvement is neither boon nor bane. As an important aspect of the politics of public schooling, parental involvement has diverse effects, which can support or hinder equity and student success.