Dr. James Harden of Chicago Illinois Discusses Involved vs. Empowered: The Impact of Parents have on Academic Success

The concept of “equity” in public education has received much notoriety over the past three decades. Though there has been plenty of academic research on equity, how the research translates into daily practices still presents a challenge. Though educators understand the concept of equity and there are a variety of tools to measure equity; somewhere between the awareness and outcomes there is an clear disconnect.

Teaching children is not an easy process. Educators regularly compare the process of educating students to a three-legged stool. In order for this stool to stand, all three legs must support the platform. Using this example, the platform represents the student. The teacher/school represents one leg of the stool. The community represents a second leg of the stool. The third leg of the stool is the family/home. There are various fibers that create each leg of the stool. In order for children to be successful fibers such as sufficient curriculum, adequate funding, strong delivery of instruction, and parental support must also be in place. If any leg of the stool is compromised, then the chances of the student to advance academically are in jeopardy.

With so many variables that can impact student achievement, there may never be a thorough and fully exhaustive study best equitable practices. The focal point of teacher preparation programs rightfully remains the best practices for the delivery of instruction. The focal point of education leadership programs is understandably the daily governance of the academic process. The third leg of the stool suggest that parents have a responsibility in the academic process; however, very little emphasis is placed on the importance and impact of parents. This study will dissect the parent/family leg of the stool and provide practical solutions for school communities to follow.

Statement of Problem/Review of Literature (3 pages)

In a perfect world, the inputs for every student would be similar and every student would have the same opportunity to be successful. Since this is not the case, public schools have been tasked with the responsibility of creating systems to enhance the probability of equitable outcomes. Laws, mandates and even funding are now attached to the creation of equitable outcomes. According to _______ (2015), every since the launching of Sputnik, equitable education has been on the platform of most elected politician in the United States of America. Further, federally mandated programs have either been named for, or have implications of equity (ie. Every Student Succeeds Act, No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, A Nation at Risk). In each of these acts consideration is given and required for a more active role for parents in low performing schools.

The justification is that if underperforming schools target the parents of underperforming students, then the student would magically perform better. This “three magic bean” way of thinking has governed school efforts to increase parent involvement. Though research supports the importance of parents being involved, not all involvement produces the desired impact of improved academics. According to Epstein (1987) parental involvement in schools can be divided into six different subgroups ranging from volunteerism to collaboration. Hoover-Dempsey and Sandler (2011) suggest that additional factors, such as parental circumstances and life priorities, must be taken into account when considering parental involvement at school. Though the research models are plentiful, there are three major tenets that appear in each model; surveillance, engagement and empowerment.

(Each subgroup has a unique theoretical lense and produces a unique effect. At the end of the section)

Theoretical Perspective (add to the end of the section)
Social Capital theory is defined as a collection of resources developed from relationships between parents, students and schools. (Stevens & Patel, 2015) This theory contends that the creation of relationships between parents and teachers increases the trust and that students will benefit from this relationship.

Surveillance (parent student focused, school self-focused) (The Police)

The concept of surveillance is to keep a close watch on someone, or something. Surveillance is associated with conflict, a lack of trust, and pits one side against another side. In terms of parent involvement at school parent engage in a surveillance approach when they do not trust the teacher, the administration, or their student. The sole purpose of this form of involvement is compliance. In an authoritarian manner, the parent is seeking the compliance of all parties involved ( — — ). This approach is only as good as the distance the parent is from the school. Many practitioners refer to these parents as “helicopter parents” because they regularly hover around the school looking for an issue; just as a helicopter hovers overhead immediately ready to respond to a crisis.

Involvement by surveillance is easily identifiable due to the “if this, then that” relationship between the parent and all other parties involved ( — — ). For example, if you do not complete your homework, then you will not be allowed to play with your friends. Or, if my son does not get a good grade, I will ask the principal to change his teacher.

Surveillance parents use punishment, arbitrary check points and regularly seek “gotcha moments.” According to ________ (2010), though they may be annoying, administrators must seek to understand these parents, as many of them are advocating in the manner in which they have been taught. Yet other “surveillance parents” may have had adverse experiences when they were a student and want to ensure their children are not subject to the same treatment. In both cases, the parents understand the importance of academics, they want the best for their children, they just do not trust the school and/or their child.

According to ________ (2017), this approach to parent involvement is not necessarily a bad thing. In a national study of ____________, it was found that this approach works well in the early-grades. Students in earlier grades may not have been fully exposed to the structure and organization of formalized schooling. Imposed discipline from their parents and the consistent messaging between the parents and school assists in teaching the student rules, roles and expectations of the classroom.

As students get older, this approach greatly loses its effectiveness. According to ______ ( — — ), surveillance fails to build a love for discovery, learning and curiosity within children. _________ (2011) all assert that the academic process is for the student, thus it is imperative that the student understand the process and be intrinsically motivated to achieve, rather than being intimidated into completing tasks. In some instances, it can even have a negative impact on the student’s academic performance, trust in adults and desire to learn.

Theoretical perspective: militarism, imposed discipline, no trust in child, teacher, or system, show-up and shame
Parent: I don’t trust you as a school, or I don’t trust my student
School: Ms. Smith, please come because we cannot get Jaylon to comply behaviorally and/or academically
-discipline related
-reviewing report cards
-Activity based -do this… do that

Engaged Parent (Parent-self focused, School System focused) (The PTO President)

Parents that are “engaged” with the activities of the school are important to the school itself. Schools are large organizations and many times are in great need of helpers and volunteers. _______ (2011) note that as a profession, education has the highest and fastest rate of burn-out. School officials regularly invite parents in to assist. Many school leaders have brought into the thought that if parents volunteer at the school then their children will perform better academically.

Though there are lots of ways for parents to be engaged with a school, the best descriptor of an engaged parent is the Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO) president.

Formal parent organizations like the PTO have been in existence for over 100 years. Plainly, the mission of the organization is to help the school in any way possible. _______ (2019) suggests that participation in such organizations have more to do with the parent’s need for power and less to do with actually helping the school. In his study, he found PTO’s to be elite groups of empowered community members. (BLAH< BLAH> BLAH>>>)

Other opportunities to engage with the school include chaperoning events, being a room parent and being a recess monitor. Each of these positions are essential to the functioning of school; however, by the nature of the position, these positions are filled by a parent that can financially afford to be available between the hours of 8:00am-3:00pm. Not only are these parents involved with the school, they receive favorable treatment by the administration and serve on committees that create governing policies for all families. In these situations, the needs for all students are not equally represented and student advocacy only happens for a financially empowered base of families.

Though much needed for the school; there is no evidence that parents “engaged” with the school impact their child’s academic performance. Engaged parents are very helpful to the school, only from an organizational perspective. -________ (2010) contends that often schools sell engagement activities to parents with the false assertion that if the parent is around the school more, than the student will perform better. Studies performed by_______ and _________ (2012) evidence that the individual academic impact of parent engagement activities is nominal at best.

Theoretical perspective:
Parent: I am better than you, soccer mom, social capital School: we need parents to help the system as a whole… (school will exchange parental-popularity and power for help making the school look good)
-PTO, chaperone, event organizer
-“power”amongst peer group and school community

Empowerment (Parent and School STUDENT focused) (The Partner)
*BEST model because parent and school are student focused
Theoretical perspective:
Parent: I agree to learn your language… I trust the school’s system
School: We want you to be an equal partner to make Jaylon successful. Transparency “How can we work together?”


According to ________ (2016), most parents of school aged children believe that education is necessary for their child to have a successful future. According to _______ (2017), the overall academic success of a student is predictable as early as the first day of kindergarten. In short, some children enter school with the academic skills of a second grader, while other children enter school lacking the academic skills to be successful in a preschool program. If this is indeed predictable within the first days of kindergarten, then offering solutions, intervention and correction should be easily made available.

In efforts to maximize student success, Schools employ various curricular and cocurricular strategies.

Since the inception of organized schooling parental involvement has been considered a primary intervention for assistance. Mothers were schoolers at home while men went to work…..PTA invented….. In the 70s women went to work…..

Parent involvement evolved into a social club.
(Social capitol)

Data aligned that involved parents had better performing students.

Title 1 got involved and mandated grant funding go toward parent involvement.

No one looking to see what works…..
This study lists common parent involvement activities and measures their impact.

*List of strategies: home visits, homework help,
Limitations: identifying families, getting to parents, resources, funding (cost of childcare) (Parents have to work to pay childcare!)
*Student that goes to childcare vs. sitting on grandma’s couch
*How to “play school”

Research Question
This study seeks to answer provide educators and parents with practical strategies to enhance academic outcomes.

Methodology (2 pages)
Considering the literature… (3 types of involvement)
-Surveyed 1000 teachers
-Common themes (of partnership)
-triangulated teacher suggestions with best practice research.

Findings (4 pages)
Teacher suggested the following:
*Reminder… GOAL….we want better academics, NOT just more adults at the school

Recommendations (3–4 pages)
List of vocabulary by school level
Specific questions
Plan for implementation

Andrea Martins is a writer and traveler, I blog about just about everything and sometimes food.