California Department of Education
Taking Center Stage – Act II

Parental, Family, and Adults-Who-Care Involvement

Parent and family involvement changes dramatically from elementary to middle school. During adolescence, young teens tend to distance themselves from authority figures as they try out new forms of independence. As a result, effective middle schools face the challenge of finding new ways to involve parents or significant adults as partners in each student’s learning. The National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform developed criteria for high performance. The School Self-Study and Rating Rubric is a tool designed by the Schools to Watch™-Taking Center Stage program to help schools analyze their progress toward excellence based on the National Forum’s criteria. It says that an effective middle school faculty "welcomes and encourages the active participation of all its families and makes sure that all its families are an integral part of the school.” Under “Developmental Responsiveness,” the rubric says, “Parents are welcomed at the school and consider themselves partners in their child’s learning. They are offered opportunities for involvement beyond fundraising.”

Educators today need to recognize the diversity of family structures when creating involvement opportunities for the adults in students’ lives. Students might live with parents, guardians, other relatives, or in multifamily households. Some students may be homeless, depend on friends and classmates for shelter, or move frequently from one family situation to another. Likewise, many parents cannot participate at school because of restrictions at their job, health limitations, or other reasons. Caring school professionals make every effort not to stigmatize children whose parents cannot attend school functions. For example, when inviting students to bring their parents to school functions, educators make sure to say “parents, guardians, or other adult who cares for you." In newsletters, Parent Night can be renamed Friends and Family Night or fliers may say, “Bring an adult who cares.”

A meta-analysis of 52 studies found that the academic achievement score distribution for secondary school students whose parents were highly involved in their education was substantially higher than that of counterparts whose parents were less involved. The study also found that (high) expectations had a greater impact on student educational outcomes than some of the more common aspects of parental involvement such as having household rules and parental attendance at school functions.1

Research shows that when parents or other adults take time to talk with children about learning, student achievement rises. In A New Wave of Evidence: The Impact of School, Family, and Community Connections on Student Achievement, researchers analyzed studies of high-achieving students from all backgrounds and "found that their parents encourage them, talk with them about school, help them plan for higher education, and keep them focused on learning and homework."2

The opposite is also true: Research indicates that a lack of parental involvement and interaction with children may increase children’s future risk of violence.3 However, other research shows that schools can help share the responsibility by working to involve families and caring adults by building on the cultural values of families and by fostering communication with them. Successful schools create an inviting environment for families and facilitate involvement by providing transportation, interpreters, and other similar services.4 However, schools are not equipped and should not be expected to take over the job of parenting. Instead, partnerships between school and home can help parents and family members rise to the challenge of ensuring student achievement.

California has been a leader in advocating partnerships between families, teachers, and schools to help children succeed academically and develop as socially, physically, and emotionally healthy individuals.

The State Legislature passed the first parental involvement law in the nation in 1990 (California Education Code (EC) sections 11500–11506, Chapter 16, “Programs to Encourage Parental Involvement”). This law requires all local school boards to develop and adopt a parental involvement policy for their district (EC 11504). In addition, the law requires districts with designated categorical programs to have a parental involvement program. The California Strategic Plan for Parental Involvement in Education (1992—ERIC abstract) (Outside Source) recommends ways in which all levels of the educational system may comply with state and federal mandates for parental involvement.5 In addition, State Board of Education (SBE) policy 89-01 (1994) (Outside Source) recommends that districts and schools initiate partnerships that support six effective roles for families and educators:

  1. Provide learning opportunities for educators to meet their basic obligation to work effectively with families and for families to meet their basic parenting obligations.
  2. Ensure systematic, two-way communication (school to home and home to school) about the school, school programs, and students’ progress.
  3. Provide learning opportunities for educators and families to work together so that both can fulfill a wide range of support and resource roles for students and the school.
  4. Provide educators and families with strategies and techniques for connecting children and learning activities at home and in the community with learning at school.
  5. Prepare educators and families to participate actively in school decision making and to exercise their leadership and advocacy skills.
  6. Provide educators and families with the skills to access community and support services that strengthen school programs, family practices, and student learning and development.

Education Code Section 51100(a) (Outside Source) states that “. . . the parents and guardians of pupils enrolled in public schools have the right and should have the opportunity, as mutually supportive and respectful partners in the education of their children within the public schools, to be informed by the school, and to participate in the education of their children.” Education Code sections 51100 through 51102 (Outside Source) then provide details about at least 16 rights included in the law.

Education Code Section 51101 also delineates the expected roles of family members and suggests that schools can help parents learn:

"(3)The manner in which the parents and guardians of pupils may support the learning environment of their children, including, but not limited to, the following:

(A) Monitoring attendance of their children.
(B) Ensuring that homework is completed and turned in on a timely basis.
(C) Participation of the children in extracurricular activities.
(D) Monitoring and regulating the television viewed by their children.
(E) Working with their children at home in learning activities that extend learning in the classroom.
(F) Volunteering in their children’s classrooms, or for other activities at the school.
(G) Participating, as appropriate, in decisions relating to the education of their own child or the total school program.

In the Spotlight

Alvarado Intermediate School, Rowland Unified School District, a 2004 Schools to Watch™-Taking Center Stage Model School
Alvarado has steadily built and strengthened community alliances and business partnerships that have contributed to the success of students’ transitions. Alvarado’s weekly newsletters, schoolwide parent conferences, parent representation in almost every school venue, homework hotlines, school Web sites, and over 100 percent PTSA membership are examples of the importance placed on school, parent, and student relationships at Alvarado.


Washington Post education writer Jay Matthews compiled seven tips for involving parents:

  • Stop using educational jargon that parents may not understand.
  • Visit parents in their own environments.
  • Ask parents to teach what they know (for example, sharing information about their country or culture).
  • Seek parent volunteers.
  • Offer educational opportunities for parents and students.
  • Get parents to observe classes.
  • Provide courses for parents.6

Teachers should always follow district or board home-visitation guidelines. Some of the tips suggested above may necessitate union contract negotiations.

Since parents, guardians, and families may have a different perspective about their role, schools may find it helpful to conduct a survey (through the telephone, mail, or personal interview) about their understanding and expectations about their role in educating their child.

In the Spotlight

Castaic Middle School, Castaic Union Elementary School District, a 2003 Schools to Watch™-Taking Center Stage Model School
The Castaic Middle School schedule provides a weekly Parents Night in the library. At that time, parents and their children can get access to resources and technology to succeed.


In spite of the many benefits of family involvement, a survey of research studies found that “. . . while middle grades reformers often call for more parental contact with teachers and administrators, the research on the effects of parent involvement turns out to be ‘contradictory and inconclusive.’”7

Related Links

Partnerships to Support Middle Grades Achievement

Homework help and academic expectations

1William Jeynes, “Parental Involvement and Secondary School Student Educational Outcomes: A Meta-Analysis,” The Evaluation Exchange (Outside Source), Vol. X, No. 4 (Winter 2004/2005 (Outside Source), 6.
2Anne T. Henderson and Karen L. Mapp,“A New Wave of Evidence—The Impact of School, Family, and Community Connections on Student Achievement, (PDF; Outside Source). Austin, Tex.: Southwest Educational Development Laboratory, 2002, 73.
3David P. Farrington, Early Predictors of Adolescent Aggression and Adult Violence, Violence and Victims, Vol. 4, No. 2 (1989), 79-100.
4Chris Ferguson, Reaching Out to Diverse Families—What Can Schools Do to Foster Family-School Connections? (PDF; Outside Source) Austin, Tex.: Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (SEDL), National Center for Family and Community Connections with Schools (September 2005), 1.
5Fact Book 2006 (PDF; 856KB; 137pp.). Sacramento: California Department of Education, 2006, 60.
6Jay Matthews, “Tips for a Better Parent-School Relationship" (Outside Source), Washington Post (October 17, 2006), A08.
7Academic Achievement in the Middle Grades: What Does the Research Tell Us? (PDF; Outside Source) Atlanta, Ga.: Southern Regional Education Board, 2003, 8.

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