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Amanda Witte
University of Nebraska-Lincoln,

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Amanda L. Witte


Presented to the Faculty of

The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska

In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements

For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy

Major: Psychological Studies in Education

Under the Supervision of Professor Susan M. Sheridan

Lincoln, Nebraska

May, 2015

Amanda L. Witte, Ph.D.

University of Nebraska, 2015

Advisor: Susan M. Sheridan

Children with social-behavioral problems are at high risk for developing long-

term, pervasive adjustment problems. Home–school relationships may be critical to

alleviating the negative effects of behavior problems and to fostering student success.

The environment or community in which homes and schools are situated represents an

important influence on the home–school relationship. Despite the evidence supporting

positive parent–teacher relationships and the association between community context and

educational practices and student outcomes, little is known about the relation between

community context and parent–teacher relationships. The manner in which cumulative

risk factors and child behavior problems influence the link between community type and

parent–teacher relationships also remains unknown. The purpose of this study was to

examine whether there were differences between parent–teacher relationships across

different community types (i.e., rural, town, city) for students who display disruptive

behaviors. Furthermore, this study investigated whether differences in the association

between parent–teacher relationships and community type were influenced by the

presence of cumulative risk factors and severity of child behavior problems. Results

indicated there was a significant overall effect of community type on teacher-reported

parent–teacher relationships (p<.0003). Specifically, teacher-reported parent–teacher

relationship scores were significantly higher for city teachers relative to those in towns

and rural schools. However, town and rural teacher scores did not significantly differ
from one another. There was no significant overall effect of community type on parent-

reported parent–teacher relationships. The relationship between community type and

parent–teacher relationships was not significantly influenced by cumulative risk or

behavior severity for this sample. The results of this study advance the parent–teacher

partnership research literature by specifically uncovering a significant link between

community type and parent–teacher relationships, an area that has not been previously

explored. Behavioral interventions that incorporate relevant contextual information may

be most effective in addressing student behavioral concerns leading to improved

outcomes for students.


This study was supported by federal grants awarded to Dr. Susan Sheridan by the U.S.

Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences

(Grant R324A100115 and R305F050284)



Abstract ................................................................................................................... ii

Grant Information .................................................................................................. iv

CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION ...........................................................................1

Study Purpose ......................................................................................................6

CHAPTER 2: LITERATURE REVIEW .................................................................8

Theoretical Basis..................................................................................................8

Overview of Parent-Teacher Relationship Research ...........................................9

Behavior Problems and Parent–Teacher Relationships .................................11

Cumulative Risk and Parent–Teacher Relationships .....................................12

Community Type and Parent–Teacher Relationships....................................17

The Current Study ..............................................................................................19

CHAPTER 3: METHODS .....................................................................................21


Setting ................................................................................................................21

Recruitment ........................................................................................................23

Study Variables and Measures ...........................................................................24

Screening Measure .........................................................................................24

Parent–Teacher Relationship .........................................................................25

Cumulative Risk.............................................................................................26

Behavior Problem Severity ............................................................................26

Covariates ......................................................................................................27

Procedure ...........................................................................................................27

Data Collection ..............................................................................................28

Data Entry ......................................................................................................28

Data Analysis .................................................................................................28

CHAPTER 4: RESULTS .......................................................................................33

CHAPTER 5: DISCUSSION ...............................................................................366

Main Findings ....................................................................................................36

Main Effect ..................................................................................................377

Moderation Results ........................................................................................40

Implications for Practice ................................................................................41

Limitations .....................................................................................................44

Future Directions .........................................................................................466

Conclusion .....................................................................................................47

References ..............................................................................................................48


Children with social-behavioral problems are at high risk for developing long-

term, pervasive problems. Behavioral skills deficits are associated with negative

academic outcomes (Fantuzzo, Sekino, & Cohen, 2004) and psychosocial problems

(Buhs, Ladd, & Herald, 2006). If such problems remain unaddressed, children

demonstrating negative social behaviors tend to follow a disadvantageous trajectory that

may include receiving low achievement scores and academic grades (Bub, McCartney, &

Willett, 2007), dropping out of high school (Vitaro, Brendgen, Larose, & Tremblay,

2005), and being suspended from school (Reinke, Herman, Petras, & Ialongo, 2008).

Children’s behavior problems are particularly salient within rural America where,

relative to their urban counterparts, children are more likely to have a mental health

problem (Leonardson, Ziller, Lambert, Race, & Yousefian, 2010), demonstrate

significant behavior difficulties (Barley & Beesley, 2007), and enter school with higher

overall adjustment problems (Henderson & Map, 2002). Rural students’ risk for behavior

problems is exacerbated by long-standing barriers to services in rural communities,

including insufficient mental health infrastructure, cultural differences, and stigma,

making access to treatment options challenging in rural settings (Sheridan, Koziol,

Clarke, Rispoli, & Coutts, 2014). Although rural communities may offer adaptive

features such as safety and proximity to extended family (Vogt, Burkhart-Kriesel,

Cantrell, & Lubben, 2014), some rural children experience behavior problems (Sheridan,

et al., 2014) that may be perpetuated by limited resources and intervention supports.

Similarly, students living in disadvantaged environments (regardless of

geographic setting) are more likely to have social-behavioral problems and are at risk for

negative academic outcomes. Students living in poverty have demonstrated fewer

adaptive skills, more disruptive behaviors, and lower academic competency than their

non-disadvantaged counterparts (e.g., Magnuson, Meyers, Ruhm, & Waldfogel, 2004;

Wu, Hou, & Schimmele, 2008). Beyond poverty, early exposure to social-demographic

risk factors such as low maternal education and language differences between home and

school predicts children’s behavior problems (Appleyard, Egeland, van Dulmen, &

Sroufe, 2005). The aggregation of risk factors seems to exert a particularly powerful

influence on academic and social outcomes as exposure to multiple risk factors impacts

children more than the experience of any one individual risk factor (Evans, Li, &

Sepanski Whipple, 2013). The more risk factors children experience, the more likely they

are to experience poor outcomes (Sameroff, 2000). The likelihood of experiencing these

risk factors may vary by community, as does the influence of these factors on outcomes.

Home–school relationships may be critical to alleviating the negative effects of

behavior problems and cumulative risk and to fostering student success. When families

and schools work together, students benefit emotionally, academically, and behaviorally.

Students whose families engage with schools enjoy school more than students whose

parents are disconnected from school (Adamski, Fraser, & Peiro, 2013). Parent–teacher

relationship quality has been positively correlated with student social competence,

adaptive behaviors, and teacher–child relationships. When parents have high-quality

relationships with teachers, they are more likely to participate in their children’s

schooling (e.g., Kohl, Lengua, McMahon, & Conduct Problems Prevention Research

Group, 2000; Waanders, Mendez, & Downer, 2007) which results in positive academic

outcomes for their children (e.g. Christenson & Reschly, 2009).


Negative home–school relationships have the opposite effect. Poor parent–teacher

relationships exert a strong negative influence on teachers’ ratings of student behaviors;

poor parent–teacher relationships may even supersede students’ behavioral history

(Serpell & Mashburn, 2011). Specifically, when teachers believe their own education-

related values conflict with those of the students’ parents, teachers tend to rate students

lower on academic competency and have lower expectations for students’ academic

success (Hauser-Cram, Sirin, & Stipek, 2003). Unfortunately, families of students with

social-behavioral problems tend toward disengagement from, or limited connection with,

schools (Dishion & Stormshak, 2006) and have poorer quality parent–teacher

relationships (Rimm-Kaufman, Voorhees, Snell, & La Paro, 2003). Without meaningful

partnerships with schools, these families have constrained abilities to access support for

their children’s social-behavioral problems. These findings suggest positive parent–

teacher relationships have significant weight, and understanding the factors that influence

parent–teacher relationships is important.

The environment or community in which homes and schools are situated

represents an important influence on the home–school relationship. The bulk of family–

school partnership research has focused primarily on student and family factors rather

than community factors; however, several rural education researchers have investigated

the benefits of family–school partnerships specifically for rural schools and students. In a

study of high-performing, high-needs rural schools, supportive relationships with families

and communities were among the most important factors associated with school success

(Barley & Beesley, 2007). In fact, strong parent involvement was identified as one of the

six key components that influence rural school success (Bauch, 2001). In a study of rural

African American youth, maternal involvement in children’s education was linked

directly to academic competence and mediated the relationship between low education

and SES and students’ self-regulation and academic skills (Brody, Stoneman, & Flor,

1995). Similarly, a longitudinal investigation of rural migrant families revealed that a

school–community partnership intervention for English language learning (ELL) students

and parents resulted in higher language scores for children whose families received the

family involvement training relative to students in the control group (St. Clair, Jackson,

& Zweiback, 2012). Moreover, a study of students in rural Appalachia found that

successful school efforts to involve parents were linked to a higher rate of student college

enrollment (King, 2012).

Family–school relationship studies conducted in urban and suburban communities

have shown a pattern of results similar to studies conducted in rural communities. For

example, two recent studies conducted in different large metropolitan communities

investigated family–school partnership interventions for students with attention

deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Pfiffner, Villodas, Kaiser, Rooney, and

McBurnett (2013) found that, after receiving a family–school partnership intervention,

fifth-grade students demonstrated improvements in teacher- and parent-rated ADHD

symptoms, organizational skills, and homework completion. Power et al. (2012) found

that, relative to students who received a parent support and education intervention,

students who received a family–school partnership intervention demonstrated greater

gains in homework performance. Furthermore, the families who participated in the

family–school partnership intervention experienced improved family–school

relationships and parenting behavior relative to parents in the control group. Similarly, a

randomized trial conducted in an urban community tested the efficacy of a family–school

partnership intervention for promoting behavioral competence and decreasing problem

behaviors of students with behavioral concerns. Students who received the intervention

demonstrated greater increases in adaptive skills and reduction in externalizing problems

over the 8-week intervention period relative to the control group (Sheridan et al., 2012).

There has been substantial family–school relationship research within specific

types of communities (e.g., rural, urban) but there remains a dearth of work investigating

the family–school relationship across or between community types. To date, the majority

of the empirical work investigating family–school partnerships, including family

involvement, has been conducted without consideration of the community type within

which the sample resided. Several parent involvement studies included samples from

both urban and rural communities (e.g., Conduct Problems Prevention Research Group,

2007; Xu, 2004); however, these studies did not directly focus on a comparison of the

urban and rural samples.

Although cross-community studies of family–school relationships have not been

conducted, several studies comparing student academic outcomes across the urban–rural

continuum are available. Some researchers have suggested that community type—urban,

suburban, or rural—influences important educational practices and student outcomes. For

example, rural teachers were less likely to refer students for special education evaluation

for inattentive or off-task behavior than their inner-city and suburban counterparts (Dunn,

Cole, & Estrada, 2009). Rural students have been shown to enter kindergarten with fewer

math (Lee & Burkham, 2002) and literacy skills (Grace et al., 2006) than non-rural

students. Rural families’ limited access to libraries and home computers was documented

to mediate the relationship between community type and rural children’s diminished

reading scores in kindergarten (Clarke, Koziol, & Sheridan, in submission).

Furthermore, differences along the urban–rural continuum have been found in the

link between family income and student early achievement with increases in family

income favoring students in large urban areas more than students in rural areas (Miller,

Votruba-Drzal, & Setodji, 2013). Miller and Votruba-Drzal (2013) found that students in

rural and large urban communities came to kindergarten less academically prepared than

their small urban and suburban counterparts.

These studies suggest rural, suburban, and urban communities differ both in

accessibility and impact of resources; economic characteristics; and collective human,

social, and cultural capital which may impact children’s development (Evans, 2006). Just

as factors such as student behavior problems have been shown to influence family–school

relationships, it can be hypothesized that community type may also exert influence on

parent–teacher relationships.

Despite the evidence supporting positive parent–teacher relationships and the

association between community context and educational practices and student outcomes,

little is known about the relation between community context and parent–teacher

relationships. The manner in which cumulative risk factors and child behavior problems

influence the link between community type and parent–teacher relationships also remains


Study Purpose

The purpose of this study was to examine whether there were differences between

parent–teacher relationships across different community types (i.e., rural, town, city) for

students with disruptive behaviors. Furthermore, this study investigated whether

differences in the association between parent–teacher relationships and community type

were influenced by cumulative risk and severity of child behavior problems. This study

addressed three primary questions: (1) Does community type (i.e., rural, town, city)

predict quality of parent–teacher relationships? (2) Does cumulative risk influence the

relationship between community type and parent-teacher relationships quality? and (3)

Does severity of child behavior problems influence the relationship between community

type and parent–teacher relationship quality? This author hypothesized that parent–

teacher relationships in rural communities would be of lower quality than parent–teacher

relationships in towns or cities. Furthermore this author expected that cumulative risk and

child behavior severity would exacerbate parent–teacher relationship problems for all the

participants, but the effect would be most pronounced for those in rural communities.


Theoretical Basis for Investigating Parent–Teacher Relationships Across

Community Types

The primary theory guiding family–school partnership research has been

Bronfenbrenner’s (1986) well-defined ecological-systems theory in which the individual

child influences and is influenced by four nested, interdependent systems of human

ecology: microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, and macrosystem. The microsystem

refers to the child’s immediate environments (e.g., home and school) and the mesosystem

is composed of the relationships among the microsystem environments (e.g., parent–

teacher relationships). As such, children’s social and behavioral competencies are a

function of not only immediate sources and settings within which they reside, but also of

the relationships between those systems. Broader community and cultural variables

(exosystems) impinge on the child indirectly through their effect on micro- and

mesosystems via the provision of opportunities to support children’s behavioral and

social-emotional development (e.g., the affluence of the community, availability of high-

quality child care, and parents’ workplace support of school involvement). Finally, the

macrosystem affects both the proximal learning environments (the microsystems of

home, preschool) and interactions and relationships among them (the mesosystem).

Political and ideological patterns and underpinnings (macrosystems) such as local or

federal policy regarding family–school partnership (e.g., No Child Left Behind,

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) subsume all other systems and subsystems

and indirectly affect the child and practices within his or her environments (e.g., home–

school practices; Bronfenbrenner, 1977).


Each of Bronfenbrenner’s interconnected systems influences the individual child

in a unique way. For example, rural culture (exosystem) may perpetuate stigma

associated with social-behavioral problems (Girio-Herrera, Owens, & Langberg, 2013),

which might affect a child’s access to behavioral services. Rural school boards

(exosystem) are increasingly choosing to consolidate schools across multiple rural

communities into one school district (Phillips, Harper, & Gamble, 2007) which might

mean an individual child must travel long distances to reach school, potentially reducing

school attendance and contributing to academic difficulties. Parent involvement at school

may also be reduced due to the travel time required to reach the school building. Rural

community members typically have multiple relationships (mesosystem) with each other

(e.g., serve together on committees, attend the same church) which could influence

parent-teacher relationships and ultimately a child. Guided by ecological theory, the

current study considers an individual child’s world from different levels and closely

examines the processes at work in the mesosystem (parent–teacher relationships) across

different community types (rural, town, city).

Overview of Parent-Teacher Relationship Research

Parents’ involvement in their children’s learning is clearly related to positive

academic and behavioral outcomes (for a review see Fan & Chen, 2001). Building on this

strong foundation, researchers have subsequently investigated fine-grained questions

such as why, for whom, and under what conditions parent involvement is most effective

(Pomerantz, Moorman, & Litwack, 2007). One outgrowth of this expanded line of

research is parent–teacher relationship investigations. To clarify the difference between

parent–teacher relationship and parent involvement, several researchers have made


distinctions between parent behaviors and activities and parent emotions and attitudes

(Kohl et al., 2000; Rimm-Kaufman, La Paro, Downer, & Pianta, 2005; Vickers & Minke,

1995). Parent involvement behaviors include volunteering at school, attending school

functions, and assisting with homework. Parent–teacher relationship quality refers to the

affective quality of the home–school connection, characterized by trust, mutuality,

affiliation, support, shared values, and shared expectations and beliefs about each other

and the child (Vickers & Minke, 1995). From an ecological perspective, parent–teacher

relationships represent a direct measure of key aspects of the home-school mesosystem

(Thijs & Eilbracht, 2012). The following paragraphs describe investigations into how this

understanding of parent–teacher relationships relates to teacher and student outcomes.

High-quality parent–teacher relationships tend to lead to more positive outcomes

for teachers. Many educators have recognized the importance of high-quality home–

school connections and frequently taken steps to foster strong relationships with the

parents of their students (Warren & Quintanar, 2005). Teachers have called for increased

attention to parent–teacher relationship practices in teacher preparation programs

(Warren, Noftle, Ganley, & Quintanar, 2011). Relationship building with parents has

been identified by teachers as a key benefit of teacher home visits for early elementary

children (Meyer & Mann, 2006). Teachers have typcially reported higher rates of

satisfaction with behavioral interventions when the method of intervention promotes

parent–teacher partnership compared to interventions that omit parent–teacher

relationship components (Garbacz et al., 2008).

The benefits of quality parent–teacher relationships for children’s developmental

outcomes have been well established (for a review, see Clarke, Sheridan, & Woods,

2009); parent–teacher relationship quality is closely associated with child behavioral,

social-emotional, and academic outcomes. Beyond uncovering links between parent–

teacher relationships and student outcomes, researchers have delved into nuanced

investigations of conditions that influence parent–teacher relationships. Several factors—

behavior problems, economic disadvantage, linguistic minority status, single parent

household, and low maternal education—have been shown to influence parent–teacher

relationships and are described in the following sections.

Behavior Problems and Parent–Teacher Relationships

Parent–teacher relationships influence and are influenced by student behavior

problems. Student behavior problems tend to lead to negative interactions and strained

relationships between teachers and parents (Sheridan & Kratochwill, 2008). Recurring

negative interactions often result in parental avoidance of the school and parent–teacher

relationships characterized by conflict (Hornby & Lafaele, 2011). For example, a Dutch

study (Thijs & Eilbracht, 2012) found a significant positive correlation between student

disruptive behaviors and parent–teacher relationship conflict. Parent–teacher relationship

quality correlated with teacher–student relationship quality, with positive parent–teacher

relationships predicting positive teacher–student relationships. Student behavior problems

were found to moderate that relationship, with negative parent–teacher relationships more

closely linked to negative teacher–student relationships when the students demonstrated

high rates of problem behaviors.

Fortunately, high-quality parent–teacher relationships appear to exert a positive

influence on student and parent behavior. When parents and teachers both perceive their

relationship to be positive, teachers tend to rate students higher in social skills and lower

in behavior problems compared to teachers with incongruent or non-positive congruent

parent–teacher relationships (Minke, Sheridan, Kim, Ryoo, & Koziol, 2014). A study of

students with behavior problems found a significant negative correlation between parent–

teacher relationship quality and student externalizing problems, and a significant positive

association between parent–teacher relationship quality and student adaptive skills (Kim,

Sheridan, Kwon, & Koziol, 2013). Parent–teacher relationships also mediated the

connection between parents’ motivation and competence for helping their child succeed

in school and students’ behaviors. Furthermore, parent–teacher relationship quality has

been shown to mediate the effect of a behavioral intervention (i.e., Conjoint Behavioral

Consultation; CBC) on child behavioral outcomes. In other words, high-quality

relationships between teachers and parents provide a likely causal explanation for the

positive effects of behavioral interventions (Sheridan et al., 2012). Thus parent–teacher

relationships may be one mechanism through which parents’ desires to support their

children is transmitted to children (Kim et al., 2013).

Cumulative Risk and Parent–Teacher Relationships

Risk factors are individual or environmental characteristics that place a child at

risk for negative developmental, social-emotional, behavioral, or academic outcomes.

Because children often experience many interconnected risks, a single risk factor does

not reflect the reality of most children’s lives (Gutman, Sameroff, & Eccles, 2002).

Therefore, cumulative risk (i.e., related risks that increase in effect with each added risk)

is a better predictor of child outcomes than any one factor (Evans et al., 2013).

Cumulative risk has been linked to such child outcomes as IQ (Sameroff, Seifer, Barocas,

Zax, & Greenspan, 1986), psychiatric disorders (Rutter, 1979), and academic

achievement (Gutman et al., 2002). Pertinent to the present study, the cumulative risk

literature has consistently indicated that as the number of risk factors increases, so too do

child behavior problems (e.g., Ackerman, Izard, Schoff, Youngstrom, & Kogos, 1999;

Jones, Forehand, Brody, & Armistad, 2002).

Although a multitude of different risk factors have been linked to children’s

behavior, the present study focuses on factors that have been linked to negative

behavioral outcomes and are hypothesized to be most salient for parent–teacher

relationships because they may reflect differences in attitudes about education or may

inhibit effective home–school communication. Specifically, risk factors will include (1)

coming from an economically disadvantaged family, (2) having a family who speaks a

primary language other than English (i.e., the predominant language of the school), (3)

living in a single-parent household, and (4) having a mother with low educational


Economic disadvantage. High-quality parent–teacher relationships appear to be

less common for low-income students than for higher-income students, and family

financial strain has been shown to hinder positive parent–teacher relationships (Kohl et

al., 2000). In a study of kindergarten students, Iruka, Winn, Kingsley, and Orthodoxou

(2011) found teachers were more likely to report stronger relationships with higher-

income parents. Specifically, teachers were likely to report stronger agreement, clarity of

communication, and trust with higher-income parents than lower-income parents. Horvat,

Weininger, and Lareau (2003) found that families with limited cultural capital (i.e.,

resources that families are able to access through their social ties such as informal parent

networks), typically low-income and ethnic minority families, were less likely to readily

comply with the expectations of schools or communicate with schools and teachers.

Furthermore, there is often mutual mistrust between low-income families and schools.

Many factors ranging from parents’ previous experiences with schools, lack of

knowledge about school practices and expectations, as well as schools’ lack of

comprehensive and clear communication contribute to mistrust (Hoover-Dempsey &

Sandler, 1997).

In a study of Head Start students, Waanders et al. (2007) found parents reporting

higher levels of economic stress and disorder in their neighborhoods tended to report

lower teacher-rated parent–teacher relationships. The stress of poverty and living in a

community with greater social disorder may exacerbate parents’ psychological distress,

likely leaving them with less energy for activities like developing relationships with their

children's teachers. Additionally, the time burden faced by low-income families trying to

make ends meet and the greater inflexibility of many low-wage jobs likely interfere with

opportunity for, and quality of, parent–teacher interactions.

Linguistic minority status. Cultural and language differences often impact

parent–teacher relationships for ethnic and linguistic minority families. Minority families

are less likely than their Caucasian counterparts to have strong home–school partnerships

(Valdés, 1996). For example, although Hispanic parents generally care about their

children’s education and want to be involved, they often feel alienated by their children’s

schools because of their inability to speak English and the school’s lack of

communication channels in a language other than English (Smith, Stern, & Shatrova,

2008). Limited communication contributes to disconnected relationships between

linguistic minority families and schools. Communication is especially difficult when


families and educators do not share a common language (López, 2001). Both parents and

teachers have reported that language barriers limit their ability to partner with one

another (Ruiz-de-Velasco, Fix, & Clewell, 2000). Parents reported feeling excluded,

intimidated, and demeaned by their children’s teachers (Shim, 2013), and teachers

reported feeling frustrated by lack of support and training for how best to teach ethnic

minority students and partner with their parents (Good, Masewicz, & Vogel, 2010).

Limited communication may also give rise to a lack of mutual understanding

which, in turn, may lead to conflict and disconnect between parents and teachers

(Epstein, 1995). Minority families report being hesitant to partner with Caucasian

professionals (Murry, Heflinger, Suiter, & Brody, 2011) or to share personal family

information with educators that may result in their children being negatively labeled

(Mukolo & Heflinger, 2011). Teachers report feeling under-educated in multiculturalism,

which impacts their ability to effectively partner with ethnic minority parents (Good et

al., 2010). Even after accounting for income, non-English–speaking families are less

likely than their English–speaking counterparts to engage with their children’s school

(Cheadle, Amato, & King, 2010). Barriers pertaining to school staffs’ lack of familiarity

with culturally and linguistically diverse families, as well as parents’ lack of familiarity

with U.S. schools can all impede effective parent–teacher partnerships (Waterman &

Harry, 2008).

Single-parent household. Although it is difficult to disentangle the influence of

poverty from other family characteristics, researchers have demonstrated that children

raised in single-parent families tended to fare worse in academic achievement, conduct,

psychological adjustment, and social behavior than children of consistently married


parents (Amato, 2001; McLanahan & Sandefur, 1994). Evidence linking number of

adults in the home with parent–teacher relationships is lacking; however, single

parenthood is associated with less parental involvement in school-related activities

(Cheadle, Amato, & King, 2010; Grolnick, Benjet, Kurowski, & Apostoleris, 1997; Kohl

et al., 2000; McLanahan & Sandefur, 1994). A study of preschoolers found single parents

were rated by teachers as less involved in their child’s education than married parents

(Arnold, Zeljo, Doctoroff, & Ortiz, 2008). This study only reported teacher perceptions,

and it may be that single parents were supporting their children’s learning in ways not

visible to teachers. Arnold et al. (2008) hypothesized that it is more difficult for single

parents to find time to participate in education-related activities and forge close

relationships with teachers because they are overwhelmed by completing their parenting

tasks alone. However, much like other parents, single parents who are involved in their

children’s education contribute to positive outcomes for their children (National Center

for Education Statistics, 2007).

Low maternal education. Low maternal education also has been identified

repeatedly as a risk factor in children's development (Burchinal, Peisner-Feinberg, Pianta,

& Howes, 2002) and is regarded as a possible barrier to high-quality parent–teacher

relationships (Hornby & Lafaele, 2011). Mothers' education level has been significantly

correlated with parental efficacy for helping their children learn (Hoover-Dempsey &

Sandler, 1997), and encouragement and support of their children’s learning (Hornby &

Lafaele, 2011). When parents had confidence in their ability to help their children (self-

efficacy), they were more likely to be involved in their children's education (e.g., Pelletier

& Brent, 2002; Shumow & Lomax, 2002). Parents who performed poorly in school or did

not achieve high levels of education may feel ill-equipped to collaborate with their

children’s teachers reducing the quality of the parent–teacher relationship.

Community Type and Parent–Teacher Relationships

Community characteristics that affect child educational outcomes and family–

school partnerships differ across community types (rural, town, city). Emerging evidence

suggests that rural students are more likely to experience behavioral and academic

problems than urban students. Rural students, on average, have demonstrated significant

behavior difficulties (Barley & Beesley, 2007), entered school with higher overall

adjustment problems (Henderson & Map, 2002) and less advanced academic skills

(Miller & Votruba-Drzal, 2013) relative to non-rural students. Isolation and limited

access to schools and support services is common in rural communities and technology

designed to overcome isolation (e.g., broadband) is less available in rural communities

than cities (Beede & Neville, 2013). Recent rural school consolidations have increased

the distance from homes to schools for many rural families (Phillips et al., 2007)

potentially decreasing communication between parents and teachers. Long distances

between home and school and lack of transportation inhibit parents’ involvement in

school activities (Weiss & Correa, 1996). Rural schools often face challenges related to

the availability of highly qualified or specialized staff with expertise in parent

engagement (Hammer, Hughes, McClure, Reeves, & Salgado, 2005). The “brain-drain”

in rural communities (i.e., a phenomenon wherein highly educated adults move to

urbanized areas) means that a disproportionate number of parents remaining in rural areas

are poorly educated and are more likely to have dropped out of high school than urban

parents (O’Hare & Johnson, 2004). O’Hare and Johnson (2004) reported 32 percent of

25-to-44-year-olds in urban areas have at least a college degree, compared to only 18

percent of those living in non-urban communities. Parents with limited education or who

had negative experiences in school are less likely to engage in positive communication

with schools (Hoover-Dempsey & Sandler, 1997). Therefore the combination of elevated

risk for behavior problems, lack of behavioral health resources, and limited home-school

communication make parent-teacher relationships particularly challenging in rural


Rural communities have closely connected professional and social networks,

which enable personal information to spread quickly among community members.

Parents may be reluctant to partner with teachers for fear that family members, friends,

and colleagues will learn about their family business (Larson & Corrigan, 2010). The

cultural emphasis on self-reliance in rural communities can also discourage individuals

from seeking help for parenting or behavioral difficulties (Osborn, 2012). Stigma,

defined as a perceived flaw resulting from a personal characteristic viewed as socially

unacceptable (Blaine, 2000), is often associated with the identification of and treatment

for behavioral health needs. Rural communities are particularly susceptible to the

negative impact of stigma (Beloin & Peterson, 2000; Owens, Richerson, Murphy,

Jageleweski, & Rossi, 2007). For parents of children with behavioral concerns, stigma

may influence whether or not parents decide to partner with teachers to address concerns

if doing so might result in feelings of shame about themselves (e.g., being judged as a

bad parent) or shame for their children (Dempster, Wildman, & Keating, 2012). Families

without generational ties to the rural community may experience social exclusion and be

less likely than other families to access the limited resources that are available (Elder &

Conger, 2000). Although these community differences have been noted, their impact on

parent–teacher relationships have not been directly studied.

The Current Study

Parent–teacher relationship research is well grounded in ecological-systems

theory (Bronfenbrenner, 1986), but deeper insight in the links between community type

(i.e., macrosystem) and parent-teacher relationships (i.e., mesosystem) would strengthen

theoretical underpinnings in the literature. The benefits of high quality parent–teacher

relationships in all community types have been documented, but differences in parent–

teacher relationships across community types have not been investigated. Uncovering the

varying influences on parent–teacher relationships will help inform home–school

partnership interventions.

The purpose of this study was to examine whether there were differences between

parent–teacher relationships across different community types (i.e., rural, town, city) for

students with disruptive behaviors. Furthermore, this study investigated whether

differences in the association between parent–teacher relationships and community type

were influenced by cumulative risk and severity of child behavior problems. This study

addressed three primary questions: (1) Does community type (i.e., rural, town, city)

predict quality of parent–teacher relationships? (2) Does cumulative risk influence the

relationship between community type and parent-teacher relationships quality? and (3)

Does severity of child behavior problems influence the relationship between community

type and parent–teacher relationship quality? This author hypothesized that parent–

teacher relationships in rural communities would be of lower quality than parent–teacher

relationships in towns or cities. Furthermore, this author expected that cumulative risk

and child behavior severity would negatively influence parent–teacher relationships for

all the participants, but the effect would be most pronounced for those in rural




The sample for this investigation was drawn from an existing database and

includes 414 5- to 9-year-old, kindergarten through third-grade students, their parents,

and their teachers. Of this sample 108 students and 59 teachers were from a rural setting,

133 students and 78 teachers were from towns, and 193 students and 83 teachers were

from a city. Demographic information for the rural, town, and city participants is

provided in Table 1. Consistent with prior research on children with behavior problems

(e.g., Kim et al., 2013) the students in this study were mostly male (75%). Parents

identified their children’s ethnicity, with 81% identified as Caucasian, 5% as Hispanic,

5% as African American, and 9% as other. More than half (53%) the students were

eligible for free or reduced lunch. Parents were mostly female (92%) and most

participating parents completed high school or equivalent, but only 37% obtained a

college degree. Teachers predominantly self-identified as Caucasian non-Hispanic (99%)

and female (96%). Only one parent per child completed questionnaires and only one child

per family was invited to participate.


Participants were recruited from three community types: rural, town, and city.

Community type was defined using the National Center for Education Statistics urban-

centric locale designation system whereby schools fall into a locale category based on

community population size and proximity to a densely settled urbanized area. This

system classifies territory into four major types: city, suburb, town, and rural.

Table 3.1
Demographic Characteristics of Rural, Town, and City Samples
Rural Town City
Student and Family Characteristics N = 108 N = 113 N = 193
Mean (SD) Behavior Problem 66.21 (12.12) 67.08 (9.78) 67.42 (11.07)
Mean (SD) Number of Risks 1.24 (.93) 1.64 (.98) 1.34 (1.04)
Risk Factors
Student Eligible for Free or Reduced 49% 62% 49%
Non-English Language Spoken at 1% 5% 4%
Maternal Education < College Degreec 63% 70% 57%
Fewer Than Two Adults in Homec 14% 30% 26%
Mean (SD) Student Age 7.02 (1.25) 6.88 (1.18) 7.00 (1.09)
Mean (SD) Student Gradea 1.57 (1.15) 1.45 (1.09) 1.31 (1.07)
Student Gender (Male[Female]) 76% [24%] 75% [25%] 73% [28%]
Student Ethnicityc
White/non-Hispanic 92% 77% 73%
Black/African-American 0% 6% 9%
Hispanic or Latino 5% 7% 4%
American Indian/Alaska Native 1% 1% 1%
Other 3% 8% 14%

Teacher/Classroom Characteristics N = 59 N = 78 N = 83
Mean (SD) Teacher Years of Experience 14.54 (11.39) 15.33 (11.24) 9.64 (9.88)
Mean (SD) Number of Students in
15.59 (3.62) 20.49 (3.62) 19.66 (4.73)
Teacher Highest Degreeb
College Degree 22% 27% 31%
Additional Formal Schooling 78% 73% 68%

Parent Characteristics N = 105 N = 113 N = 193

Mean (SD) Parent Agea 34.75 (7.18) 34.51 (7.53) 34.46 (7.75)
Paternal Education < College Degreec 82% 78% 66%
Annual Household Incomec
$8,001-$20,000 14% 27% 22%
$20,001-$35,000 23% 21% 25%
$35,001-$50,000 22% 25% 21%
over $50,000 42% 27% 31%

Note. a One-way between subjects ANOVA yielded no significant difference (p >.05)

between rural, town, and city samples. b Chi-square test of independence yielded no
significant difference (p > .05) between rural, town, and city samples. c Between group
comparison could not be conducted, expected cell count was less than five. d Rating of
severity by teachers on the BASC-2 Externalizing Problems Composite Score.

Cities and suburbs have three subcategories based on population size: large,

midsize, and small. Towns and rural areas are further distinguished by their distance from

an urbanized area. They can be characterized as fringe, distant, or remote (Schneider,

2006). Communities in three mid-western states were included.


A rolling enrollment procedure was used. Participants enrolled in the study at

different times over nine academic years from 2005 to 2014. Participants were recruited

from 220 classrooms across 106 different schools. Upon approval from school

administrators, all kindergarten through third-grade general classroom teachers were

invited to participate. Every teacher who consented to participate then nominated up to

five students from his or her classroom and completed a brief screener for each

nominated student. Students became eligible for participation if teachers rated them as

“moderately” to “greatly” in need of additional behavioral services, and their

externalizing behaviors were “moderately” to “extremely” severe and “moderately” to

“extremely” frequent. Students with a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder or

intellectual disability were excluded from the study. Once students were deemed eligible

for the study their parents were invited to participate. As many as three students per

classroom participated. If teachers nominated more than three students, the three most in

need of additional services were prioritized and the parents of these three students were

invited to participate. If any of those parents declined to participate, the fourth student’s

parents were invited; if they declined, the fifth student’s parents were invited.

Study Variables and Measures

The predictor variable in this study was community type (i.e., city, town, rural).

The outcome variable was parent–teacher relationships. Means and standard deviations

for the parent–teacher relationship measure are reported in Table 4.4. Moderating

variables were cumulative risk and child behavior problem severity. Means and standard

deviations for the moderating variables are reported in Table 3.1. See Figure 3.1 for

graphical representation of the model being tested in this study.

Behavior Severity Cumulative Risk

Community Type Parent-Teacher Relationship

(Rural, Town, City)

Figure 3.1. Moderation model being tested.

Screening Measure

All students were selected for participation in the study based on teacher-reported

concerns regarding the presence of disruptive behaviors. Teachers are asked to rate up to

five students in their classrooms who displayed externalizing behaviors on a brief

screening measure (Glover, Sheridan, Garbacz, & Witte, 2005). Teachers rated each

student’s behavior based on severity and frequency, as well as the teachers’ perception of

how much the student needed behavioral intervention. Teachers rated children’s

externalizing behaviors on a 9-point Likert-type scale in regard to their severity and

frequency. The severity item was rated with 1 indicating very mild, 3 somewhat mild, 5

moderate, 7 somewhat severe, and 9 very severe. Ratings of 2, 4, 6, and 8 were used for

responses that fall between the other anchors for severity of externalizing behaviors. The

frequency item was rated with 1 indicating very infrequent, 3 somewhat infrequent, 5

moderate, 7 somewhat frequent, and 9 very frequent. Ratings of 2, 4, 6, and 8 were used

for responses that fall between the other anchors for frequency of externalizing behaviors.

Teachers rated the need for additional intervention on a 5-point Likert-type scale, with

1indicating no need, 3 moderate need, and 5 significant need. Ratings of 2 and 4 were

used for responses that fall between the other anchors. Students were eligible for

inclusion in the study if they scored a 5 or higher for both severity and frequency of

problem behavior, and if they scored a 3 or higher on the perceived need for additional

intervention item.

Parent–Teacher Relationship

Parent and teacher perception of the quality of their relationship with each other

was assessed using the Parent–Teacher Relationship Scale (PTRS; Vickers & Minke,

1995). The PTRS consists of 24 items rated on a Likert-type scale with 1 indicating

almost never, 2 once in a while, 3 sometimes, 4 frequently, and 5 almost always. Higher

scores indicate a more positive perception of the relationship. The PTRS measures two

specific family systems constructs: cohesion (emotional bonding) and adaptability

(ability to change when needed), to the parent–teacher subsystem (Vickers & Minke,

1995). The scale assesses the overall quality of the parent–teacher relationship across two

factors: Joining and Communication-to-other. The 19-item Joining subscale includes

items to measure feelings of partnership between parents and teachers (e.g., We are

sensitive to each other's feelings; We cooperate with each other). The 5-item

Communication-to-other subscale is designed to measure parents and teachers

communication of information and feelings (e.g., I tell this teacher/parent when I am


pleased). Both parents and teachers completed this scale. Internal consistency for the

current sample was found to be high (α = .94 for teachers and .93 for parents).

Cumulative Risk

Demographic family, child, and school information was collected to quantify

family risk factors including: (1) economic disadvantage (i.e., qualify for free or reduced

lunch), (2) having a family whose primary language is other than English (i.e., the

predominant language of the school), (3) fewer than two adults in the home, and (4) low

maternal educational attainment (i.e., less than college degree). The variable of interest

for the current study is cumulative risk, defined as total number of family risk factors

reported for the child (ranging from 0 to 4).

Behavior Problem Severity

Child behavior problem severity was determined using teacher report on the

Behavior Assessment System for Children – Second Edition Externalizing Problems

Composite Score (BASC-2; Reynolds & Kamphaus, 2004). The Externalizing Problems

Composite examines the areas of hyperactivity and aggression for all students, and also

includes conduct problems for students 6 and older. The hyperactivity scale measures the

tendency to be overly active or act without thinking, the aggression scale measures the

tendency to act in a hostile manner that may appear threatening to others, and the conduct

problems scale measures the tendency to engage in anti-social rule-breaking behavior.

Each BASC-2 item consists of a statement pertaining to a child’s behavior. Teachers are

asked to indicate the frequency with which the student exhibits a behavior using a 4-point

Likert-type scale (N=Never, S=Seldom, O=Often, or A=Almost Always). The BASC-2


authors (Reynolds & Kamphaus, 2004) reported relatively high internal consistency for

the externalizing problems composite with a coefficient alpha of .90.


Teachers’ years of experience and class size served as covariates. Teachers’ years

of experience, measured by their report of the number of years they have been teaching,

is significant because teachers with more experience may have an easier time developing

relationships with parents. Class size, measured by teacher report of the number of

students in their class, is included as a covariate because higher parent involvement rates

have been reported in schools with larger classes and larger student-teacher ratios

(Griffith, 1998). Because data were collected from participants over nine academic years,

participation year was included as a covariate to account for any variance due to events

that occurred in a particular academic year.


The present study is part of a larger randomized controlled trial with random

assignment to either a treatment or control group occurring at the classroom level. Parents

and teachers of students in classrooms assigned to the treatment group experienced

Conjoint Behavioral Consultation (CBC; Sheridan & Kratochwill, 2008), a family–school

partnership intervention involving teachers working with parents and a consultant to

design and implement behavioral interventions collaboratively. Students assigned to

classrooms in the control condition experienced “business as usual.” The current study

employs data collected after randomization but prior to intervention delivery.


Data Collection

The PTRS, demographic questionnaire, and BASC-2 were collected via written

questionnaires which included other assessments that are not pertinent to the present

study. The questionnaires were either hand delivered, mailed, or presented as an on-line

questionnaire emailed to parents and teachers. Parents and teachers completing paper

questionnaires were provided with a postage-paid envelope by the study staff. Upon

completion and submission of each questionnaire parents and teachers received $50


Data Entry

The PTRS, demographic information, and BASC-2 data from on-line and paper

surveys were entered into a password-protected study database. Code numbers were used

to identify the data and no names were used in the database.

Data Analysis

The hypothesized associations between community type, cumulative risk,

behavior problem severity, and parent–teacher relationship was assessed using multilevel

modeling. Nested data frequently occur in educational research wherein data are

organized at student, classroom, and school levels. In particular, data nested within a

group tend to be more alike than data from individuals selected at random and not nested

within a group. Multilevel modeling accounts for the shared variance in hierarchically

structured data (e.g., students who share a teacher could have data that are more similar to

each other than to other participants in the sample) (Pedhazur, 1997). Therefore, a

multilevel modeling approach was appropriate for the nesting of data in this study that

included students nested within classrooms and classrooms nested within schools.

The direct effect of community type on parent–teacher relationship (as measured

by parent and teacher reports on the PTRS; Research Question 1) as well as the

moderating effect of cumulative risk (Research Question 2) and behavior problem

severity (Research Question 3) was assessed using a three-level multilevel model. The

multilevel model was implemented using SAS PROC MIXED (Singer, 1998) with

parents’ ratings of students (Level 1) nested within teachers (Level 2) nested within

schools (Level 3).

Moderation was statistically tested using interaction terms of cumulative risk by

community type, and behavior severity by community type, to determine whether the

effect of cumulative risk and behavior severity on parent–teacher relationship depended

on community type. Although this approach to testing moderation does not exactly reflect

research questions 2 and 3, it is in keeping with typical statistical tests of continuous by

categorical interactions and is statistically symmetrical in that both perspectives are tested

with the same analysis. Teachers’ years of experience, class size, and participation year

were entered as covariates. Community type served as the predictor variable, parent–

teacher relationship served as the outcome variable, and cumulative risk and behavior

problem severity served as moderator variables. The predictor variable was dummy

coded using rural as the reference. Rural was chosen as the reference because it is

hypothesized that parent–teacher relationships in rural communities will be of lower

quality than parent–teacher relationships in towns or cities for this sample. Therefore, the

comparisons of interest are with rural communities and other types of communities (i.e.,

town and city). The moderator variables as well as covariates were grand mean centered.

The direct effect of community type on parent–teacher relationship quality was

tested using the regression coefficient for community type. Subsequently, moderation

was statistically tested using the interaction term of community type by cumulative risk

(Level 1) and community type by behavior severity (Level 1) to determine whether

shared interaction qualities moderated the association between community type and

parent- and teacher-reports of the parent–teacher relationship.

A description of the three level multilevel statistical model follows (a . in the

subscript indicates the mean).

The Level 1 equation is:

TPTRSijk = Π0jk + Π1jk (BEHijk – BEH.jk) + Π2jk (CRISKijk – CRISK.jk) + rijk

The Level 2 equation is:

Π0jk = β00k + (BEH.jk – BEH…) β01k + (CRISK.jk – CRISK…) β02k + (β03k) (cov1) +

(β04k) (cov2) + r0jk

Π1jk = β10k

Π2jk = β20k

The Level 3 equation is:

β00k = 000 + 001(DTOWN) + 002 (DCITY)

+ 003(BEH..k – BEH…) + 004(CRISK..k – CRISK…)

+ 005(BEH..k – BEH…)(DTOWN) + 006(BEH..k – BEH…)(DCITY)

+ 007(CRISK..k – CRISK…)(DTOWN) + 008(CRISK..k –


17j 9 00 j covj + r00k

β01k = β010

β02k = β020

β03k = β030

β04k = β040

β10k = 100 + 101 (DTOWN) + 102 (DCITY)

β20k = 200 + 201 (DTOWN) + 202 (DCITY)

The parents i (Level 1), teachers/classrooms j (Level 2), and school k (Level 3),

model components are combined into a mixed model. In this model, TPTRSijk is the

teacher report of the parent–teacher relationship for parent i within teacher j within

school k, 001 (DTOWN) + 002 (DCITY) represents the main effect of community type,

003(BEHijk – BEH…) represents the level three direct effect of behavior severity and

004(CRISKijk – CRISK…) represents the level three direct effect of cumulative risk,

005(BEH..k – BEH…)(DTOWN) + 006(BEH..k – BEH…)(DCITY) represents the

interaction effect between community type and behavior severity, 007(CRISK..k –

CRISK…)(DTOWN) + 008(CRISK..k – CRISK…)(DCITY) represents the interaction

effect between community type and cumulative risk. The level three residual term is

represented by r00k. For this study, the direct effects of interest are the magnitude and

significance of 001(DTOWN) + 002(DCITY) + 003(BEH..k – BEH…) + 004(CRISK..k –

CRISK…) the regression coefficient and cross-product interaction term that capture the

difference in teacher reports of the parent-teacher relationship due to community type,

and 100 + 101 (DTOWN) + 102 (DCITY) and 200 + 201 (DTOWN) + 202 (DCITY) which

capture the moderating effect of behavior severity and cumulative risk, controlling for the

covariates of interest. This same model was repeated for parent report of the parent–

teacher relationship (PPTRSijk). Figure 3.2 contains a visual depiction of the relationships

tested in the multilevel model. Although the analyses for this study were not conducted

using structural equation modeling, Figure 3.2 provides a conceptual illustration of the

current study.

L1 Student Level

Risk L1

Teacher Level
L2 
Risk L2


 School Level

School Behavior School Risk


Figure 3.2. Conceptual three level path diagram.



Hierarchical linear modeling (HLM) was used to statistically analyze a data

structure where students (level-1) were nested within teachers (level-2) who were nested

within schools (level-3). For both parent-reported and teacher-reported outcomes, model

building started with an empty model (no predictors) to determine the unconditional

variance structure. The teacher-reported outcome model variance components shown in

Table 4.1 suggested schools did not differ significantly in parent–teacher relationship

scores. However, there was significant variation among teachers within schools.

Although school-level random intercept was not significant, it was retained to account for

any between school differences. Next, the full proposed model with covariates was

estimated. For teacher-reported outcomes the model was re-estimated removing two

covariates, class size and cohort, that had very little effect. Finally, the intercepts model

and slopes-as-outcomes model were simultaneously tested with all predictor variables in

the model to determine the presence of any interactions between predictor variables. As

shown in Table 4.2, there was an overall community-type simple effect on parent–teacher

relationship quality. Table 4.3 provides all fixed effects including interaction effects.

Table 4.1
Covariance Parameter Estimates
Cov Subject Estimate Standard Error Z Value Pr Z
UN(1,1) School 0.01226 0.01652 0.74 0.4582
UN(1,1) Teacher*school 0.1290 0.03511 3.68 0.0002
Residual 0.2936 0.02949 9.96 <.0001

Table 4.2
Type 3 Tests of Fixed Effects
Effect Num DF Den DF F Value Pr > F
L3_Pred_risk 1 81.5 0.38 0.5405
Community Type 2 68.9 9.01 0.0003
L3_Pred_Beh Sev_Community 2 81.2 1.72 0.1851
L3_Pred_Risk_Community 2 61.5 1.30 0.2812
Teacher Experience 1 133 4.39 0.0381

Table 4.3
Solution for Fixed Effects
Effect Location Estimate Standard DF T Pr>[t]
Error Value
Intercept 3.8175 0.09617 124 39.69 <.0001
L1 Beh Sev -0.00611 0.005437 135 -1.12 0.2634
L1 Risk -0.04105 0.05403 143 -0.76 0.4486
L2 Beh Sev -0.01504 0.005379 132 -2.80 0.0059
L2 Risk -0.1090 0.06272 167 -1.74 0.0841
L3_ Pred_Beh Sev -0.01585 0.01217 160 -1.30 0.1948
L3_ Pred_Risk -0.2118 0.1770 136 -1.20 0.2336
Town 2 -0.1502 0.1399 110 -1.07 0.2854
City 3 0.3106 0.09921 60 3.13 0.0027
Rural 4 0 . . . .
L3_Pred_Beh Sev*Town 2 -0.02956 0.01921 120 -1.54 0.1264
L3_Pred_Beh Sev*City 3 0.002760 0.01624 82.2 0.17 0.8655
L3_Pred_Beh Sev*Rural 4 0 . . . .
L3_Pred_Risk*Town 2 0.3386 0.2208 97.4 1.53 0.1283
L3_Pred_Risk*City 3 0.1472 0.1976 99.4 0.74 0.4580
L3_Pred_Risk*Rural 4 0 . . . .
Teacher Experience 0.008006 0.003822 133 2.09 0.0381

The primary purpose of the present study was to investigate whether there were

differences in parent–teacher relationship quality across different community types (i.e.,

rural, town, city) for students with disruptive behaviors. Descriptive statistics for PTRS

scores for each community type are displayed in Table 4.4. There was a significant

overall effect of community type on teacher-reported parent–teacher relationships

(p<.0003). Planned comparisons revealed that the difference between the city and rural

settings and the difference between city and town settings on parent–teacher relationship

was significant. Specifically, teacher-reported parent–teacher relationship scores were

significantly higher for city teachers relative to those in towns and rural schools.

However, town and rural teacher scores did not significantly differ from one another.

There was no significant overall effect of community type on parent-reported parent–

teacher relationships.

Table 4.4
PTRS Scores
Rural Town City
Teacher Report-PTRS N = 111 N = 122 N =183
Mean (SD) 3.94 (.64) 3.90 (.64) 4.21 (.64)

Parent Report-PTRS N = 103 N = 112 N =171

Mean (SD) 4.36 (.66) 4.28 (.59) 4.42 (.55)

This study also investigated a possible moderation effect of cumulative risk and

behavior severity. No significant interaction effect was found for cumulative risk and

community type on teacher-reported or parent-reported parent–teacher relationships.

Furthermore, no significant interaction effect was found for behavior severity and

community type for teacher-reported or parent-reported parent–teacher relationships. In

other words, the relationship between community type and parent–teacher relationships

was not influenced by cumulative risk or behavior severity for this sample.


In accordance with Bronfenbrenner’s (1986) ecological theory, high-quality

parent–teacher relationships are linked to positive outcomes for students and may be

particularly beneficial for students with behavior problems. Despite strong evidence

affirming the link between parent–teacher relationships (mesosystem) on micro-level

student outcomes, community-level influences on parent–teacher relationships have not

been investigated. The current study aimed to begin to uncover links between community

type and parent–teacher relationships, and whether characteristics of the student or

his/her behavior influenced these linkages. Understanding community-level differences

in parent–teacher relationships is critical for intervention development.

This study examined parent–teacher relationships across different community

types (i.e., rural, town, city) for students with disruptive behaviors. Furthermore, this

study investigated whether differences in the association between parent–teacher

relationships and community type are influenced by child cumulative risk and severity of

child behavior problems. Clarification of the specific factors influencing the gap between

the desire for home–school connections and the actual practice of family–school

partnership is considered a necessary precursor to the further development of home–

school partnership and parent involvement in education (Hornby & Lafaele, 2011). The

results of this study provide evidence that community type predicts parent–teacher

relationship quality.

Main Findings

Results of this study provide evidence that community type predicts parent–

teacher relationship quality for students with behavior problems. Considered within the

ecological-systems framework (Bronfenbrenner, 1986), these findings emphasize the

importance of exosystemic influences on the mesosystem (parent–teacher relationship).

The current study was the first to empirically investigate relationship differences across

community types.

Main Effect

Significant main effects indicated that parent–teacher relationship quality, as rated

by teachers, differed across community type with teachers in cities reporting more

positive parent–teacher relationships relative to teachers in towns and rural communities.

In other words, teachers in city schools experienced higher quality parent–teacher

relationships for students with behavior problems than teachers of similar students in

smaller, less densely populated communities. This finding provides evidence to support

the hypothesis that the structural characteristics of the community influence parent–

teacher relationships. Just as community type has been shown to influence student

academic achievement (Miller et al., 2013), and social-behavioral skills (Sheridan et al.,

2014), community type appears to impact quality of the parent–teacher relationship as


Perhaps the difference in parent–teacher relationship quality between urban and

non-urban communities is due to limited access to partnership-building opportunities and

support. For example, in some non-urban communities, the geographical distance

between school buildings and families’ homes limits parent and teacher time for

collaborative, relationship-building meetings (Kushman & Barnhardt, 2001). If parents

and teachers face long commutes to and from the school, time for face-to-face meetings

is reduced and communication may be limited to brief notes or phone calls home

(McBride, Bae, & Wright, 2002). These brief exchanges reduce communication to

reporting and informing on the child’s negative behavior rather than collaborating or

cooperative problem-solving. In the case of children with behavior problems, if

communication is limited to only unpleasant interactions it could be difficult to develop

positive relationships.

Histories of negative interactions between parents and their children’s teachers

may also hinder families’ desires to partner with school personnel. Due to the small size

of rural communities and multiple relationships among their residents, there may be

challenges associated with lack of privacy and fear of judgment from community

members (Beloin & Peterson, 2000; Owens et al., 2007). In small communities not only

does everyone know everyone, they also know each other’s extended families and may

have formed opinions dating back generations (Humble, Lewis, Scott, & Herzog, 2013).

Thus, parents and teachers in rural communities may have long-standing relationships

and histories of previous interactions (some predating current school situations) that

influence their initial abilities to work together as partners.

Rural teachers have limited access to family–school partnership interventions, and

have fewer opportunities for communication and collaboration with parents (McBride et

al., 2002). Rural parents of students with behavior problems may be hesitant to accept

offers for collaboration due to lack of privacy and potential for stigma (Owens et al.,

2007). Non-urban specialized service providers (e.g., school psychologists) who might

support parent–teacher partnerships and help repair relationships characterized by long-

standing conflict frequently work across multiple school districts and travel extensively

for their jobs (McLeskey, Huebner, & Cummings, 1984). The need to serve multiple

schools across large geographical areas limits service providers’ availability to provide

support or mediation (McLeskey et al., 1984). Non-urban school personnel (e.g., teachers

and administrators) who are more likely than specialists to be available to support parent–

teacher partnerships often lack training in how to effectively engage families as a partner

in students’ education, including effective communication strategies and cultural

sensitivity (Agbo, 2007; Dornbusch & Glasgow, 1996).

Although there was a significant main effect, no difference in parent–teacher

relationship ratings was found between teachers in rural communities and teachers in

towns. These results are somewhat surprising because it was anticipated, but not verified,

that teachers of students with behavior concerns in rural communities would have lower

parent–teacher relationship quality relative to teachers in towns and cities. Other

researchers found that suburban schools resembled rural schools much more than urban

schools in parent involvement levels (Ma, Shen, & Krenn, 2014). It may also be that in

the current sample rural communities and towns shared similar cultural characteristics

(e.g., attitudes about education and help-seeking) and access to resources. Similar cultural

characteristics might explain the finding that, although rural and town parent–teacher

relationship ratings differed from city ratings, they did not differ from each other. It is

possible that rural communities and towns are similar in terms of available resources or

cultural attitudes and practices that resulted in similar parent-teacher relationship quality.

Perhaps there is a population size cut-point at which a community is large enough to

support increased educational resources or adequate privacy and subsequent high-quality

parent–teacher relationships.

Significant main effects were found for teacher reports of parent–teacher

relationship quality. However, no significant differences were found for parent-reported

parent–teacher relationship quality. This finding is consistent with previous research

reporting that teacher ratings of parent–teacher relationships were significantly improved

by a collaborative intervention but parent ratings of parent–teacher relationships did not

show a significant change (Sheridan et al., 2012). Perhaps because teachers communicate

and form relationships with many parents as part of their role, they draw on previous

experiences with multiple relationships with parents when rating scales. On the other

hand, parents of children in early elementary school completing scales do not have

extensive experience with teachers (Sheridan et al., 2012). Also, it is possible that

teachers often have clear expectations for parental involvement whereas parents,

especially those living in poverty or with low educational attainment, have broad or

unspecified expectations for teacher practices. In this study, parent ratings of parent–

teacher relationships were higher than the teacher ratings on average and had slightly less

average variability than teacher ratings. Perhaps these average differences in relationship

ratings made it more difficult to detect significant differences between parent-reported

parent–teacher relationship scores.

Moderation Results

The non-significant interaction between risk and community type indicated that

the link between parent–teacher relationship quality and community type was not

moderated by the presence of risk. This result is somewhat contrary to previous research

focused on parenting. Specifically, previous risk studies have indicated higher levels of

risk predicted lower quality parenting in rural communities (Burchinal, Vernon-Feagans,


& Cox, 2008). Some studies indicated that risk is related to harsh, less responsive,

parenting (Conger et al., 1992). It is possible that the relationship between risk and

parenting hold regardless of community types. It could also be the case that risk does not

influence other aspects of parenting such as parental engagement with teachers. Because

risk has been linked to parent insularity, particularly in rural communities (Kitchen,

Williams, & Chowhan, 2012), this author hypothesized that risk may diminish the ability

of cumulative risk parents’ ability to form high-quality relationships with teachers.

However this hypothesized relationship was not born out in the current study. Perhaps a

measure of insularity (rather than risk) and community type would have produced

different results.

The relationship between community type and parent–teacher relationships was

also not influenced by behavior severity for this sample. This author hypothesized that

child behavior severity would negatively influence parent–teacher relationships for all the

participants, but the effect would be most pronounced for those in rural communities.

One reason this hypotheses was presented was due to the limited resources for addressing

behavioral problems in many rural communities. However, this hypothesis was not

confirmed. This study did not directly measure school resources for students with

behavior problems. It could be that, in the current sample, behavioral intervention

supports and resource availability did not vary by community type.

Implications for Practice

This study points to the importance of educators and psychologists to be aware of

the role community type (rural, town, city) has on how teachers experience their

relationships with parents of students with behavior concerns. Given the importance

placed on home–school partnerships and parent involvement for students with behavior

problems, it is important that education professionals are aware of unique challenges in

building home–school partnerships in non-urban communities. Although evidence points

to the significant benefits of home–school partnership programs to reduce students’

disruptive behaviors (Sheridan et al., 2012) and enhance educational outcomes (Jeynes,

2007), it may be difficult to implement effective home–school partnership interventions

in the midst of poor parent–teacher relationships.

Sheridan and Kratochwill (2008) suggest schools adopt a framework that reflects

a partnership oriented approach, attitude, and atmosphere. They argue relational

prerequisites (i.e., meaningful approach, constructive attitudes, and positive atmosphere)

lay the ground work for successful parent–teacher relationships and behavioral

interventions (Sheridan & Kratochwill, 2008). Although a strong partnership framework

may be beneficial for all schools it may be especially important for non-urban schools

where isolation and limited resources create unique partnership challenges (Barley &

Beesley, 2007).

Non-urban communities may consider investing in general practices to improve

parent–teacher relationships independent of any specific behavioral interventions. For

example, schools may provide access to tools and training to augment the skills and

competencies of rural and small town teachers in parent–teacher partnerships. Initial

partnership promoting practices could aim to ensure positive attitudes among community

members’ about family–school partnerships. Teachers may benefit from guided reflection

on their attitudes and beliefs about parent involvement. Rural school districts could

partner with local colleges and universities to increase parent–teacher relationship


training for pre-service teachers planning to work in rural schools. Professional

development workshops on home–school partnerships could be offered to in-service

teachers in rural schools. On-going coaching could be provided as necessary to bolster

teachers’ partnership skills. In order to create a welcoming atmosphere, non-urban

schools could create a home–school liaison position or develop a family center in the

school staffed by parent volunteers.

Early collaboration is preferable to waiting until there is a problem when parent–

teacher conflict is more likely (Rhode, Jenson, & Reavis, 2010). Thus, schools might

consider investing in programs to establish positive relationships with parents early when

children are young. When positive parent–teacher relationships exist in the absence of

behavior problems it is easier for parents and teachers to find common ground if behavior

problems do arise. Forming partnerships early may be particularly challenging in rural

communities where center-based care is unavailable (Gordon & Chase-Lansdale, 2001).

Perhaps rural schools could sponsor events for pre-school aged children and their parents

or simply invite pre-school families to school events. Opportunities for home–school

interactions may pave the road to positive relationships even before children enter

kindergarten. Two-way communication systems, starting in kindergarten, between school

staff and parents could be used for relaying positive information. Such a system may

normalize home–school communication thereby providing an avenue for parents and

teachers to work together at the first sign of trouble.

To be maximally effective, parent–teacher relationship training and interventions

need to be context-sensitive. Training should emphasize the unique challenges of

partnering with families and with parents of children with behavior problems in all

communities. Special efforts to address isolation might include educational practices such

as home visits or virtual face-to-face meetings via distance technology (e.g., Skype).

A collaborative approach wherein parents are treated as equal partners and work

together with the teacher to identify behavior concerns and contributing factors may be

beneficial for all schools. Especially for young children, parents should be instrumental in

developing a specific plan to address the student’s negative behavior and in evaluating

the success of the plan. Methods for two-way positive communication between home and

school should be established. This study’s finding that non-urban teachers tended to

report lower parent–teacher relationship scores than urban teachers suggests the need for

teacher training and support in non-urban schools. To alleviate problems associated with

overlapping relationships and historical conflict, teachers and school administrators could

be trained in structured problem-solving processes focused on the student’s specific

needs. Clearly defined meeting objectives and goals as well as mutually agreed-upon

roles and responsibilities can help facilitate productive parent–teacher interactions.


This study’s results are important for understanding the connections between

community type and parent–teacher relationships. However, this study has several

limitations that may influence the interpretation of the results and inform future research

directions. First, all data are based on informant reports. This study’s outcomes are based

on teachers’ and parents’ reports of their relationship. No direct measure of their

relationship was conducted. Similarly, child behavior problem severity was rated by

teachers and no parent report of behavior severity or direct observation of student

behavior was collected. Direct behavioral observations may offer more precise

information (Nock & Kurtz, 2005) but were not available for this study. Cumulative risk

factors were reported by parents and no independent verification of presence or absence

of risk was made. Although self-report demographic surveys are subject to erroneous

reporting (Podsakoff & Organ, 1986) independent verification was beyond the scope of

this study. Furthermore, this study used qualification for free or reduced lunch as a risk

indicator rather than an alternative indicator such as income ratio relative to the federal

poverty line (O’Hare & Johnson, 2004). The items used to collect information on income

and need were changed in the larger study from which the current study’s data were

drawn, midway through the study. Therefore, eligibility for free and reduced lunch was

used in the current study because it was assessed in a consistent manner across all years

of the larger study. Many of the parents in this sample also experienced fluctuations in

their income and responding to a single dichotomous item (i.e., Does your child qualify

for free or reduced lunch?) may be more easily answered.

Second, this study was confined to a single geographic region (i.e., one state and

communities along its border). Significant variations in rural contexts exist (e.g.,

agricultural rural communities vs. manufacturing rural communities) and it is likely that

parent–teacher relationships and interactions between behavior severity, cumulative risk

and community type also vary regionally. Therefore, this study’s results cannot be

generalized to other regions.

Third, interaction effects can be difficult to detect with relatively small samples.

Therefore, the current study may have been underpowered to detect moderation effects. A

larger sample size may be necessary to determine if the link between community type and

parent–teacher relationships is influenced by cumulative risk or behavior severity.


Future Directions

This current study is derived from secondary data from a study that was not

designed to test the link between community type and parent–teacher relationship nor the

moderating influence of risk or behavior severity. Therefore, although the results of this

study are promising, future investigation is needed to explain how and why community

type relates to parent–teacher relationships. Specifically a larger sample is needed to

explore potential moderation effects. A larger sample may help clarify the differences in

how behavior severity and risk operate across community type. Further exploration

between cumulative risk, community type, and social isolation is needed to better

understand the influence of cumulative risk on parent–teacher relationships. Also, the

link between cumulative risk and parenting practices was not explored in this study.

Future investigations exploring community type differences in parenting practices,

especially regarding parent education involvement and under conditions of high risk,

would lend important insight into this line of research. For example, future research

might test a mediation model exploring the role of parenting practices potentially linking

community type and parent–teacher relationships as well as student outcomes.

The constructs under investigation should be further defined. Specifically, risk

and behavior severity could be more precisely measured and a direct measure of parent–

teacher relationships could be collected in future studies. Furthermore, the current study

used only population density and community size to define community type. Previous

research has taken place largely in urban areas and, although some family involvement

research has focused on rural communities, distinctions between rural communities and

small towns have not been common. Few studies have compared education-related

outcomes across community types and clear definitions of community type are often

lacking. A deeper understanding of the ecological, social, economic, demographic, or

other variables in these contexts, which might explain relationship differences, should be

investigated in the future. For example, what influence does the community’s primary

income source (e.g., agriculture, manufacturing, mining) have on home–school

partnerships? How might the demographic make-up of the community influence parent

involvement? How does a community’s overall economic health impact parent–teacher


Finally this study focused on students with behavior problems. Although this

population is of great interest to educators, future studies exploring the community type

and parent–teacher relationships with general student populations or students with

academic concerns would provide valuable comparison information.


In conclusion, results from this study provide evidence that community type

predicts parent–teacher relationship quality for students with behavior problems.

Specifically, teachers in towns and rural communities reported poorer parent–teacher

relationship quality than teachers in cities. The results of this study advance the parent–

teacher partnership research literature by specifically uncovering a significant link

between community type and parent–teacher relationships, an area that has not been

previously explored. Behavioral interventions that incorporate relevant contextual

information may be most effective in addressing student behavioral concerns leading to

improved outcomes for students.



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