Understanding Under-Involvement: The Educational Involvement Decisions of Motivated, Low-SES Parents Department: Submitted January 19, 2007

This research was made possible in part by support from the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program, Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts, College of Arts and Letters, and the University of Notre Dame.

Understanding Under-Involvement: The Educational Involvement Decisions of Motivated Low-SES Parents Numerous studies have found that parents’ involvement in their children’s education is an important component of student achievement (e.g., Compton-Lilly, 2003; Lareau, 2000; Shields, Gordon, & Dupree, 1983; Walker, Wilkins, Dallaire, Sandler & Hoover-Dempsey, 2005). Specifically, Greenwood and Hickman (1991) found that parental involvement enhances a child’s attitude, sense of well-being, and educational aspirations while also improving grades and readiness for school. In addition, Anderson (2000) observed that parental involvement decreases the likelihood that students will be placed in special education, repeat a grade, and or drop out. Other studies have found that parental involvement increases student motivation (GonzalesHaas, Willems & Doan Holbein, 2005) and decreases instances of behavioral problems (Domina, 2005). Policymakers also understand the importance of parental involvement. In 1987, the US Department of Education released What Works: Research about Teaching and Learning. This guide to effective educational methods regards parents as “children’s first and most influential teachers” (p. 5), and advocates that parents read to their children frequently and incorporate literacy and numerical skills into home activities. More recently, the US Department of Education (2004) stated that parental involvement is a key factor in creating successful schools and increasing student achievement. Additionally, in a 2002 USA Today article entitled “Schools Can’t Improve Without Help of Parents,” then Secretary of Education Rod Paige called energetic and enthusiastic involvement from all parents “the most important help of all” in achieving effectiveness for the No Child Left Behind Act.


Despite researchers’ and policymakers’ vehement endorsement of parental involvement, school structures continue to be most conducive to the involvement of middle-class parents (Goodwin & King, 2002), ironically shutting out the low-income parents whose children are often most in need of support. Other research (Englund, et al., 2004; Lareau, 2000) confirms that parents of low-socioeconomic status (SES) tend to be less involved in their children’s education than higher-SES parents, as measured by traditional forms of involvement such as classroom volunteerism and working with children at home. In particular, Lareau found that low-SES parents are less likely to supplement curriculum with closely related work at home, to challenge teachers’ expertise, and to communicate with other parents about their children’s education. However, other studies have demonstrated that low-SES parents are just as eager to help their children succeed in school as their higher-SES counterparts (e.g., Handel, 1999; Lareau, 2000). For instance, Handel writes about students in her developmental reading class for adults. While her students, many of whom were low-SES parents, seemed disengaged with course material, they would eagerly crowd around her desk after class to ask questions about reading to their children. Furthermore, Lareau found that low-SES parents value education as much as middle/high-SES parents. Similarly, Compton-Lilly’s work (2003) challenges mainstream discourse that says urban, low-SES parents do not care about education. She explains that these parents attempt to support their children academically from within their difficult social context. As a result, their methods of involvement are often different from the mainstream, causing their dedication to be mistaken for apathy or inability. The somewhat conflicting findings summarized above beg the question of why low-SES parents are less involved in their children’s education despite being highly motivated. In order to answer this question, it is necessary to understand the factors contributing to parents’


involvement decisions. In what follows, I combine the work of previous scholars who have noted the differences in involvement by middle/high-SES and low-SES parents and others who have developed models to explain parents’ decisions about involvement. Specifically, my study shows that certain characteristics and experiences common to low-SES parents affect their involvement decisions and lead to low levels of traditional involvement activities, such as volunteering in the classroom, helping with homework, and reading with children.

Methods This study builds upon a study conducted by the principal and Title I Family and Community Specialist at Diamond Primary School1, a significantly low-income elementary school. After surveying parents’ concepts of involvement, they determined that parents fall into three main categories. First, a very small group of parents does not believe that parental involvement is an important component of a child’s education. The next group of parents understands the importance of involvement and is effectively involved in their children’s education. Finally, a “middle group” of parents believes that parental involvement is important, but is not effectively involved. According to this study, the majority of parents fall into the middle group. Diamond’s Title I Family and Community Specialist, Ms. Ford, describes the middle group as “parents who care, but don’t know what to do.” They fit the description of low-SES parents put forth by Handel, Lareau, and Compton-Lily and discussed above, in that they are motivated to be involved but are unsure about how to do so. My research seeks to better understand the involvement decisions of this group of parents in light of theoretical models by


All names of people and places have been changed.


Hoover-Dempsey and Sandler (1995) and Walker, et al (2005), which have proposed specific factors that contribute to parents’ decisions about involvement in education. By understanding what factors affect the decisions of low-SES parents and in what ways, educators and policymakers can to develop more effective programs to increase involvement.

Previous Theoretical Models The first two stages of Hoover-Dempsey and Sandler’s model deal with decision-making in parental involvement. The first level of the model looks at parents’ decisions to become involved in their children’s education. According to the model, this decision is shaped by three main factors: parental role construction, which refers to parents’ belief that it is part of their role as a parent to be involved in their children’s education; sense of efficacy, which refers to parents’ confidence in their ability to help children succeed in school; and general opportunities and invitations for involvement, presented by both children and the school. The next level deals with parents’ choices about specific methods of involvement, which occur after the initial decision to become involved. It credits self-perceived specific skills and knowledge, total demands on time and energy, and specific requests for involvement as the main factors of those choices. Furthermore, these factors are affected by parents’ direct experience, vicarious experience, verbal persuasion, and emotional arousal. Figure 1 below summarizes the first two stages of Hoover-Dempsey and Sandler’s model.


Figure 1: Levels 1 and 2 of Hoover-Dempsey and Sandler’s Model
Level 2 Parents’ Choice of Involvement Forms

Parents’ Perceived Skills and Knowledge

Total Demands on Time and Energy

Specific Opportunities and Invitations for Involvement

Level 1

Parents’ Decision to Become Involved

Parental Role Construction

Parents’ Sense of Efficacy

General Opportunities and Demands for Involvement

Direct Experience Vicarious Experience Verbal Persuasion Emotional Arousal

Presented by Children

Presented by School

Recreated by the researcher based on Hoover-Dempsey & Sandler (1995)

A more recent follow-up to that study (Walker, et al., 2005) reorganized the model somewhat, but retained its original factors. Walker and her colleagues found that three categories of beliefs contribute to parents’ choices of involvement activities. These three categories are parents’ motivational beliefs, defined as parental role construction and perceived efficacy; parents’ perceptions of invitations for involvement from others, defined as perceptions of general school invitations, perceptions of specific child invitations, and perceptions of specific teacher invitations; and finally parents’ perceived life context, defined as self-perceived time and energy and self-perceived skills and knowledge. Figure 2 below summarizes this model.


Figure 2: Walker, et al.’s Model

Source: Walker, et al. (2005)

School and Community Context Diamond Primary School is a significantly low-income school located in a medium-sized, Midwestern city and enrolling approximately 275 students in grades K-4. It is a school-wide Title 1 school with 86% of its students qualifying for free lunch in 2005-2006. Preliminary data for the 2006-2007 school year estimate the following racial make-up: 48% Black, 21% Hispanic, 15% White, 12% Multiracial, and 4% Asian. Diamond’s 2004 No Child Left Behind Report Card, contained in Appendix A, shows passing rates on state standardized tests to be below both district and state rates in every category except one. Data from the 2000 Census help to shows the SES of Diamond parents. Although Census data describes the SES of this community to be lower than the district, state, and nation by most indicators, this is nevertheless an optimistic representation due to the existence of a well-known university in the area. While many middle/high-SES faculty members from the university live within Diamond’s boundaries, bringing up demographics on income and educational attainment,


very few children associated with the university actually attend Diamond. Appendix B summarizes demographics for the community that Diamond serves and compares these data against those of the district, state, and nation.

Data Collection Procedure The most significant section of data was collected through three focus groups consisting of nine parents from the middle group at Diamond Primary School. The focus groups were taperecorded and later transcribed. Because a significant number of Diamond parents do not speak English fluently, one focus group was conducted in Spanish with the help of a translator. After each focus group, parents completed a short survey of questions relating to the study. Parents were chosen based on prior survey data and suggestions from Diamond faculty. In particular, I sought parents from the middle group. Certain parents also volunteered to participate, which influenced selection. Of the nine selected parents, eight were mothers, and one was a father. One participant was White with multi-racial children; five participants were Black; and three participants were Latino/a. Four parents did not graduate from high school or earn a GED; three parents did not graduate from high school, but later earned a GED; one parent attended some college; and the final parent graduated from a four-year college. On a scale of 110, all parents rated their parental involvement between 8 and 10, showing that they believed their involvement to be at least adequate. Data gained from focus groups was combined with and supported by survey data from a broader sample of Diamond parents and interviews with faculty. These data contributed additional informational about parents’ involvement decisions through free-response and multiple-choice questions and conversational interviews with faculty.


Data Analysis I developed focus-group questions around the two theoretical models, asking questions about factors of parental-involvement decision-making. I began with general questions, such as, “How are you involved in your child’s education, both at home and at school?” I then moved to more specific questions about factors in the model. For example, I asked parents, “Would you like to be more involved, but other things prevent you?” in order to understand how their perceptions of demands on time and energy affected their involvement decisions. In addition, my progression of questions differed among focus groups based on parents’ responses. For instance, parents from the first focus group were more involved so I focused questions on how they chose their involvement activities while parents from the second focus group were generally less involved so I asked questions aimed at understanding what prevented their involvement. Appendix C contains a list of questions asked at English-speaking focus groups. For the Spanish-speaking focus group, I asked parents some of the same questions that I asked at previous focus groups, but I concentrated on how their language barrier affects their parental-involvement decisions. For example, I asked these parents, “What special difficulties does not speaking English create in terms of your involvement at school?” Appendix D contains a list of questions asked at the Spanish-speaking focus group. In analyzing surveys data and interviews with faculty, I looked for factors of involvement decision-making that may be present at Diamond but not captured by the small sample of nine focus-group participants. I also looked for factors that parents might have been uncomfortable discussing in the setting of the focus group, such as lack of resources. Interviews with Diamond faculty were especially helpful in understanding some of the effects of poverty and low SES on parental involvement decisions.


Results The results of my research show that certain factors from Hoover-Dempsey and Sandler’s (1995) and Walker, et al.’s (2005) models are especially significant in the involvement decisions of low-SES parents. These factors are parental role construction, sense of efficacy, general opportunities and invitations for involvement, demands on time and energy, perceived skills and knowledge, and direct experience. Other factors from the models appeared, but less frequently. Furthermore, research revealed the role of factors outside the model; namely awareness, reactive attitude, and characteristics related to low SES. Although my results share many similarities with the previous theoretical models, the true importance of my findings lies in their deviance from other studies. Because the previous researchers focused on a general understanding of involvement decisions, their results best explain the actions of middle-SES parents. My results, however, reveal those factors that most influence low-SES parents as well as factors not uncovered previously. Below, I describe in more detail the factors that affected parents most and offer examples of the models at work among Diamond parents. Appendix E gives the number of references made to influencing factors along with the methods of research in which these references occurred.

Parental Role Construction Parental role construction, which appears in both previous models, refers to parents’ belief that it is part of their role as parents to be involved in their children’s education. For example, Lareau (2000) found that low-SES parents who lack proper role construction defer to teachers on educational decisions because they believe teachers have expertise, which makes them better able to understand children’s needs.


Most Diamond parents reflected Lareau’s observations in that they believed teachers to possess special knowledge that superseded parents’ own knowledge. When asked to describe the school/teacher’s job and the parents’ job in terms of education, most parents answered in hierarchical terms that described the teacher as leader and the parent as supporter of the teacher. For example, one parent answered that the school/teacher’s job is “to teach them [students] what they need to know to go the next grade.” This same parent then said that the parents’ job is to “reinforce” what the teacher does. Two other parents offered similar supporting roles for parents, including, “to help [the teacher],” and “to back them [the teacher] up.” Only one parent at this focus group described a relationship between equals by characterizing the roles as “teamwork.” A more specific example arose as two parents expressed their disappointment with previous schools and teachers. One mother believed that her child might not have needed to repeat second grade if she had had a different teacher. When asked if she would question the teacher or request a transfer for her child if a similar situation occurred in the future, the mother felt uncomfortable with the idea of challenging a teacher: Monica: I don’t think I would [question the teacher]. I don’t know. I would really have to talk with the teacher before I just question her. You know, you [the teacher] are the one that’s teaching. You know what she’s [Monica’s daughter] doing and what she can and can’t do. I’m not just going to say, “No, you’re wrong.” Monica’s statement agrees with Lareau’s findings about the role construction of low-SES parents. She believes that teachers possess a level of expertise not to be challenged by parents. Most interestingly, Monica believes that her daughter’s teacher has a better grasp of what her daughter can and cannot do than she has.


Although Lareau’s findings about low-SES’s parents’ reluctance to challenge teacher’s expertise were common among Diamond parents, some parents showed a willingness to oppose teachers. For example, when Allison disagreed with a previous school’s methods of instruction and assessment of her daughter, she had her transferred to Diamond. Allison: I didn’t like that school. [They would say] she couldn’t spell, but she could spell at home, anything she wanted to spell. She read stuff that she saw on TV. She could read a book to me and her brothers and sisters. How were they going to keep sitting there and telling me that she couldn’t spell and she couldn’t read? …I took her out of there and put her here. It was just to the point where, “No, it’s not working.” Allison’s role construction was strong enough that was able to trust her own assessment of her daughter’s ability over that of the school and to evaluate the quality of the school. Jackie also possesses a strong role construction. She characterizes her perception of the important part she plays in her daughter’s education in this excerpt, which describes the roles of teacher and parent as a partnership in which both parties contribute: Jackie: We’re trying to build each other up, you know. It’s like bricks. [The parent] puts the brick on this side. I give it to the teacher. She puts it on her side. You know, we’re trying to build that foundation, so I’m just looking at it like, “Here, you stack this brick on this side to get [my daughter] in line.” You [the teacher] tell me, “Here stack this brick. This is how you get her in line.” I’m telling her about the behavior problem. She’s telling me about the teaching problem. You know what I’m saying, we’re just steady going up, steady going up. Jackie’s comment signifies that she does not believe the teacher is the leader in education. Rather, she sees herself and the teacher as equals specializing in different areas of her daughter’s education and well-being. She believes that sometimes the teacher gives her specific tasks to reinforce her child’s learning, but just as often, she helps the teacher to better understand her daughter's needs.


Sense of Efficacy Parents’ sense of efficacy for helping children succeed in school refers to parents’ belief that they have the skills and knowledge necessary to help their children, that their children can learn from them, and that they can find alternative sources of help if necessary. In keeping with the models, those Diamond parents who seemed most involved had the greatest sense of efficacy, while those who were under-involved possessed a weak sense of efficacy. For example, Susan, who was the most involved of the parents in the study, explained how important even seemingly slight involvement activities are to children. Susan: A lot of people don’t realize, and a lot of parents don’t realize that your child’s self-esteem starts there [with parental involvement]. You know with school, being able to say, “Yeah, my mom will be here for parent-teacher conferences; Yeah, my mom will volunteer; Yeah, my mom will bake cookies.” That’s something that’s very important to a child, and I think a lot of people don’t realize that… [Lack of involvement] almost makes you feel as if, “What am I doing this for? If nobody’s excited and supporting me…what am I doing it for?” And I think that’s how a lot of kids get lost, because they don’t get that support. I think it’s just so, so important. Susan’s remark shows her strong sense of efficacy. She believes that parental involvement, from considerable activities like parent-teacher conferences and volunteerism all the way down to simple activities like baking cookies, encourages and motivates children, leading to high academic achievement. Other parents expressed similar feelings of efficacy. Interestingly, all parents who spoke of efficacy did so in terms of children’s self-esteem, confidence, or effort. No parents mentioned any belief in their ability to help children learn material. Rather, they believed that they could encourage children to focus and try hard in school through exhibitions of interest and involvement.


General Opportunities and Demands for Involvement Diamond parents were very much affected by general opportunities and demands for involvement. According to Hoover-Dempsey and Sandler and Walker and colleagues, for opportunities for involvement can be presented by both children and schools. For example, if children eagerly ask parents to be involved and schools create a welcoming atmosphere for parents, parents will be more likely to become involved. Research showed that general opportunities presented by the school had an especially large effect on parents’ involvement decisions. Specifically, those parents who felt welcome frequently came to school to attend events or check the progress of students. However, those parents who did not feel welcome came to school only when necessary. For example, parents who knew Ms. Ford, who says the essence of her job “is to make a positive school climate for our parents,” felt very welcome at Diamond. They attributed their frequent presence at school to her practices of sending out invitations, making reminder phone calls about meetings and events, and her overall willingness to help parents. Unfortunately, some parents had not experienced the welcoming atmosphere created by Ms. Ford. Missy waited until parent-teacher conferences to meet her son’s teacher because she did not feel welcome at the school at other times. She described one time when she attempted to meet with the teacher without an appointment: Missy: Well, I just met my son’s teacher at the parent-teacher conference. I think we missed back-to-school night so I didn’t get a change to meet her then…But as far as getting in contact with them…I was down there. I don’t think they wanted me to come down. I wasn’t, you know…I just wanted to come down to bring his homework and talk to his teacher, try to explain to her [why they hadn’t met before]. But they just said, “Well, just leave it in the mailbox.” So that’s what I did.


Missy interpreted this action by one of the school’s secretaries, which was probably meant to save Missy the time of walking to her son’s classroom, as unwelcoming and discouraging. She waited until two months into the school year to return to school and finally meet her son’s teacher.

Demands on Parents’ Time and Energy My research reflects Hoover-Dempsey and Sandler’s findings on the effects of demands on parents’ time and energy. Their findings are significant because they contradict the common belief that low-SES parents are unable to become involved in their children’s educations due to considerable demands from work and family responsibilities. On the contrary, Hoover-Dempsey and Sandler assert that these demands affect parents’ decision on “how to become involved, not whether to become involved,” (p. 318). Once parents have decided in favor of involvement, they will choose methods of involvement that fit their schedule, no matter how busy. For example, parents who work fulltime may read to their children before bed even though their work schedules prevent them from volunteering in the classroom. For example, many Diamond parents’ responses on surveys expressed an inability to volunteer at school due to work or school schedules. Other parents said the demands of being a single parent kept them from volunteering. However, instead of saying that they had no time to be involved, this group consistently expressed their belief that their involvement was extremely important because of their significant influence on their children as a single parent. Similar issues relating to demands on time and energy came up in focus group discussions, though less frequently than in survey responses. In fact, less than half of focus group participants said that lack of time or energy kept them from being as involved at the


wanted to be. Parents who did cited working long hours, being a single parent, attending other activities, and taking care of sick parents as obstacles to their involvement. For example, Missy said, “I don’t really have an excuse other than sometimes just being tired.” A majority of parents did not perceive demands on time and energy from other responsibilities as obstacles to their involvement. Several mothers either did not work or worked jobs that allowed them to be with their children after school hours. The one father who participated in the focus groups worked, but did not believe this prevented him from being involved. Jackie, who was currently looking for a job, explained that her job would have to be conducive to her involvement with her daughter’s education: Jackie: Yeah, I’m out filling out job applications now and whoever hires me is going to have to do loopdy-doop-bridge roller coasters. I tell all the jobs, I got stuff I need to do with the kids. I need the money, but that’s not my first priority. My kids, I’m sorry…I know I need my money, but I can work 3rd shift. I know I need my money, but I need my memories…I am a memory person. Money is cool, but I don’t base my life on money. If I have it, I have it. If I don’t, I don’t. As long as my bills are paid and my kids are taken care of… I need my kids. It’s about my kids. Jackie’s comment shows the dedication exhibited by many low-SES parents, which is often overlooked by mainstream discourse that assumes low-SES parents are simply too busy to be as involved as middle/high-SES parents. Although Jackie’s situation as a single mother of a fiveyear old daughter and 4-year old twins is very demanding, she finds ways to juggle her schedule in order to remain very involved.

Self-Perceived Specific Skills and Knowledge According to the concept of self-perceived specific skills and knowledge put forth in the models, parents choose involvement activities at which they believe they will be successful. For example, athletic parents who performed poorly in academics may offer to help coach a sports


team rather than help their children with homework. Similarly, shy parents may prefer homebased activities, such as reading with their children, to school-based activities, such as participation in the PTA. Survey data show that Diamond parents’ reflect the above findings. For example, in response to a question that asked about parental involvement activities, one parent said that they help their child at home but do not come to school because they are shy and uncomfortable in large groups. Another parent said they themselves need help with basic literacy, but they do the best they can to help their child. Some parents expressed similar tendencies at focus groups. In particular, Spanishspeaking parents chose methods of involvement that did not require English. These parents frequently chose involvement activities that related to extracurricular activities, such as sports and music. In addition, Clara, who volunteered at the school sometimes, suggested that the school offer involvement activities that would include parents who could not speak English: Clara: I wish they also encouraged parents more to help make the school better. I volunteer here sometimes, but if other parents could help paint or plant trees to make it greener, I think that would really make things better for the students. Those are the kinds of things I can help out with because they don’t require English skills. Direct experience My research suggests that direct experience directly affects parents’ decisions to become involved. In particular, many parents linked their involvement decisions, both positive and negative, to their own experiences. This finding contrasts with those of Hoover-Dempsey and Sandler, who link direct experience to sense of efficacy. They suggest that parents who have been successful in school, parents who recognize that their own parents’ involvement helped


them succeed in school, and parents who have previously helped children succeed are more likely than parents without these experiences to have a strong sense of efficacy. Diamond parents often had negative experiences in terms of parental involvement and school. The effects of these experiences have been positive in some instances but negative in others. For example, Susan and Missy have chosen to be involved in their children’s education precisely because they missed their own parents’ involvement while they were in school. However, other Diamond parents choose not be involved at school because of their own negative experiences as students. Susan described how her parents’ lack of involvement influences her own involvement decisions: Susan: My parents weren’t [involved], and that’s why I think I am so much. I grew up in a lot of different foster homes, and when I look back on that…I mean I was involved in a lot of sports, and school came natural to me, but just having that…I mean even something as simple as a school play and being able to look up and know someone was there to support you. In this comment, Susan expresses the disappointment and discouragement she felt growing up without any parental support in her education. Susan has chosen to become involved so that her own children do not experience these same feelings. In a separate focus group, Missy expressed a similar link between her own direct experience and her decision to be involved in her son’s education: Missy: Yeah, I believe that [you model parenting after your own parents]. But as far as parental involvement—as far as school and my mom—she really didn’t really go, and she didn’t really participate. We weren’t real involved in sports or band or anything. I am raising my kids like she raised me, but as far as school, she really didn’t come out and be involved…I just want to see what’s going on from the inside and try to make sure I know what’s going on so that when my son comes home, I can be able to relate to him. And also, you know, I want to play a part because my mom didn’t. And I know how it felt not to have your mom there, or dad there. So I want to be a strong support for him in school.


Although she maintains a close relationship with her mother and believes she models many of her parenting techniques after those of her mother, Missy says educational involvement is one aspect of parenting in which her actions differ from her mother’s, largely because she recognizes the effect that lack of involvement had on her own school experience In contrast, the negative experiences of other parents cause them to be under-involved. Ms. Ford talks about the negative experience that many parents probably had and its possible repercussions: Ms. Ford: The experiences that a lot of our families had as kids in school are not the best. A lot of parents are coming from corporal punishment in schools. We only eradicated that in like ‘94 from our corporation. So I’m sitting here thinking, “Why would you want to go into school if the last time you were in school, you were being spanked.” Ms. Ford suspects that because many parents had negative experiences, such as corporal punishment, as students, they are reluctant to return to school as parents. They see school as a place where they do not belong or want to be. Characteristics of Low SES My study also revealed some causes of under-involvement among Diamond parents that the pervious models do not address. The first of these causes, which can be described as characteristics of low SES, emerged through an interview with Ms. Ford. She cited the following causes of under-involvement, which she has observed through her interaction with parents: Ms. Ford: Our parents feel so disenfranchised. Parents have often a lot of learned helplessness, and that happens a lot with poverty. And also…plain old availability of resources [is missing]. When I say that, I guess I am referring to [resources] like telephones. Not all of our parents have working telephones. So they can’t call the teacher or call other parents and ask them questions. And phone numbers are disconnected and reconnected. So even if you had a phone and you had another parent’s phone number, is their phone going to be working?


Awareness Some parents seemed to lack a general awareness about what types of activities constituted parental involvement in education. For example, when asked what they do to be involved in their children’s education, parents from the second focus groups answered, among other things, that they take their children to the movies, the mall, and the skating rink. They mentioned helping with homework and reading to children only after being prompted. Moreover, most parents worried that they would not know how to help their children as they reached higher-grade levels despite feeling comfortable at the elementary-school level. Others explicitly stated that they felt unsure about how to be involved.

Reactive Attitude Some parents exhibited a reactive attitude toward parental involvement that caused them to become involved only after students began to have problems in school. For example, Monica believed that her older child, who was having difficulty in school, required her involvement in school, but not her younger daughters, who were doing well. Monica: They’re not the two… My 12 year-old is the one I really have to worry about. And she’s at [a local middle school]. I really have to stay on her about her homework and stuff like that. But the two that are here, I don’t. Monica believes that parental involvement is most important and most effective to students who are having difficulty in school. She is unaware of the links between parental involvement and student enrichment or increased achievement.


In another example, Monica told Jackie not to worry about her Kindergartener who had started school somewhat behind other children because she had not been able to attend Head Start. She gave Jackie this advice: Monica: Did you say she’s in Kindergarten? Oh, she’s going to be all right. She’s going to catch on. While Jackie was employing impressive involvement methods, comparable to those expected from middle/high-SES parents, to ensure the academic success of her daughter, Monica told Jackie that these measures were not necessary. Rather, she believes young children will simply grow out of academic difficulties on their own.

Discussion and Implications In this section, I synthesize the information uncovered through my research and summarized in the previous section by suggesting a revised model of parental-involvement decision-making that focuses on low-SES parents and by identifying important distinctions between the previous and revised models. I then explain how educators and policymakers can use my findings to increase parental involvment and offer suggestions for further research. My model of low-SES parental-involvement decision-making is a single level model in which a variety of factors affect parents’ choices of parental involvement methods. The factors are divided in two categories: factors from previous models and factors specific to low-SES parents. The first category contains factors originally found in Hoover-Dempsey and Sandler’s or Walker, et al.’s models and signifies which of these factors are most prominent. The second category contains original factors uncovered in this study that relate to low-SES parents’ specific life context. Figure 4 below summarizes the model.


Figure 4: Model of Involvement Decision-Making for Low-SES Parents
Parents’ Choice of Involvement Forms

Factors from Previous Models
Parental Role Construction Parents’ Sense of Efficacy

Factors Specific to Low-SES Parents
Vicarious Experience Verbal Persuasion Emotional Arousal Awareness Reactive Attitude e.g., Lack of Resources, Learned Helplessness, Disenfranchisement, Lack of Education Characteristics of Low-SES

Most Prominent

General Invitations/ Feeling Welcome Self-Perceived Skills and Knowledge

e.g., Language Barriers

Demands on Time and Energy Direct Experience Specific Invitations for Involvement

Created by the researcher.

This model is a positive and necessary addition to the previous research because previous models addressed parental-involvement decision-making of mainstream, middle-SES parents. Because low-SES parents often face very different life-contexts than typical parents, the previous models failed to capture many of the significant factors affecting their involvement decisions and which factors were most prominent. My research was useful in confirming that many of the factors in Hoover-Dempsey and Sandler’s and Walker, et al.’s models affect low-SES parents as well as typical middle-SES


parents. For example, my research found examples of all factors of the previous models, with parental role construction, sense of efficacy, general opportunities and invitations for involvement, perceived skills and knowledge, and demands on time and energy being most prominent. Direct experience was also very prominent among focus-group participants, but it functioned as an independent factor rather than an influence of a factor as Hoover-Dempsey and Sandler have suggested. My research also showed that some unique factors affect low-SES parents. These factors include lack of awareness, a reactive attitude toward educational involvement, and characteristics related to low SES. This section of my revised model should be most useful to educators at schools serving low-SES communities because it offers new findings in this area of research. Although this study offers a beneficial new perspective to the field of research pertaining to parental involvement, more research remains to be done. Armed with this improved understanding of the specific factors influencing low-SES parents’ involvement, others must now develop research strategies to identify effective methods of targeting these factors to increase involvement. For example, given the finding of this study that low-SES parents tend to have a reactive attitude about parental involvement, what can be done to change this attitude? With a more complete understanding of how to target factors of involvement decision-making among low-SES parents, educators and policymakers will be able to develop programs that channel the motivation of low-SES parents into increased student achievement.


References Anderson, S. (2000). How Parental Involvement Makes a Difference in Reading Achievement. Reading Improvement, 37(2), 61-86. Compton-Lily, C. (2003). Reading families: The literate lives of urban children. New York: Teachers College Press. Englund, M., Luckner, A., Whaley, G., & Egeland, B. (2004). Children's Achievement in Early Elementary School: Longitudinal Effects of Parental Involvement, Expectations, and Quality of Assistance. Journal of Educational Psychology, 96(4), 723-730. Domina, T. (2005). Leveling the Home Advantage: Assessing the Effectiveness of Parental Involvement in Elementary School. Sociology of Education, 78(3), 233-233. Gonzalez-DeHass, A., Willems, P., & Holbein, M. (2005). Examining the Relationship Between Parental Involvement and Student Motivation. Educational Psychology Review, 17(2), 99-123. Goodwin, A., & King, S. (2002). Culturally Responsive Parental Involvement: Concrete Understandings and Basic Strategies. Greenwood, G., & Hickman, C. (1991). Research and Practice in Parent Involvement: Implications for Teacher Education. Elementary School Journal, 91(3), 279-288. Hoover-Dempsey, K., & Sandler, H. (1995). Parental Involvement in Children's Education: Why Does It Make a Difference?. Teachers College Record, 97(2), 310-331. Indiana Department of Education. (2006). School Snapshot. Retrieved November 1, 2006, from http://mustang.doe.state.in.us/SEARCH/snapshot.cfm?schl=7613 Lareau, A. (2000). Home advantage: Social class and parental intervention in elementary education (2nd ed.). Lanham, MA: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. Paige, R. (2002, April 8). Schools can’t improve without help of parents, USA TODAY, pp. 13A. Parental Involvement: Title I, Part A. Non-Regulatory Guidance. (2004). US Department of Education. Petr, C. G. (2003). Building family-school partnerships to improve student outcomes: A primer for educators. Lanham, MA: Scarecrow Press, Inc. Shields, P. H., J. G. Gordon, & D. Dupree. (1983). Influence of parent practices upon the reading achievement of good and poor readers. The Journal of Negro Education, 52 (4), 436-445. United States Census Bureau. 2000 Census. http://www.census.gov/ United States Department of Education. (1987). What works: Research about teaching and learning (2nd ed.). Walker, J., Wilkins, A., Dallaire, J., Sandler, H., & Hoover-Dempsey, K. (2005). Parental Involvement: Model Revision through Scale Development. Elementary School Journal, 106(2), 85-85.


Appendix A Demographic Information about the Community that Diamond Primary Serves

Source: US Census, 2000


Appendix B Diamond Primary’s NCLB Report Card


Appendix C Questions Asked at English-Speaking Focus Group* What is your name? How many kids do you have at Diamond? What grades are they in? What do you do to be involved? Why did you choose to do these things? What is the school’s job and what is the family’s job? Were your parents involved? Do you talk to other parents about school? How does it make you feel when your child does well in school? Does your child ask you to be involved? Is your child resistant to working at home? Do you feel comfortable communicating with teachers and other people at school? Is there anything the school could do to change or increase your involvement? Do you feel able to help your child with their schoolwork? All subjects? Would you like to attend refresher courses on certain content? Would you like to be more involved, but other things prevent you?
*Questions are not in order. These questions were asked at one or both English-speaking focus groups.


Appendix D Questions Asked at Spanish-Speaking Focus Group What is your name? How many kids do you have at Perley? What grades are they in? What activities do you participate in to be involved in your child’s education, both at home and at school? What has made you choose to participate in these activities? How did you know to do these things? What was your own school experience like? Were your parents involved? What special difficulties in terms of involvement do you face in being involved due to language? How do you deal with problems that arise because of language? What could the school do to help? Would you like to be involved but other things prevent you, outside of the language barrier?


Appendix E Instances of Factors


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