at Peabody College, Vanderbilt University
The Social Context of Parental Involvement: A Path
to Enhanced Achievement
Study I: What Motivates Parents to Become
Involved in Their Children’s Education?
Brief report: November, 2002
This report summarizes initial results of the first study in a three-year research project on parental involvement in children’s
education. We gratefully acknowledge the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement
(OERI), for funding, and the Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools for support of the project. We especially thank the parents,
teachers, and principals whose participation made the study possible. Contact information: Kathleen V. Hoover-Dempsey and
Howard M. Sandler, Principal Investigators; Joan M. T. Walker, Ph.D. Student, Senior Research Assistant; Darlene Whetsel,
Project Coordinator; James Dallaire, Research Analyst; Andrew S. Wilkins, Research Assistant; Department of Psychology and
Human Development; Box 512, Peabody College, Vanderbilt University, TN 37203. Kathleen V. Hoover-Dempsey: 615-343-
4962; firstname.lastname@example.org; Darlene Whetsel: 615-343-4896; Darlene.email@example.com; fax: 615-
Study I: What Motivates Parents to Become
Involved in Their Children’s Education?
Because parental involvement is linked to improved student achievement, schools are often
asked to increase their efforts to involve parents in children’s education. Many schools have
responded positively, and have experienced considerable success. Many others have tried, but
have found more questions than answers about what ‘works’ in parental involvement. Drawing
on earlier research, we have suggested that schools can be most effective in involving parents
only when they understand why parents become involved, what kinds of things they do when
they’re involved, and how their involvement influences several student outcomes. In the first of
four studies designed to investigate each of these ‘steps’ in the parental involvement process, we
focused on the question: Why do parents get involved? We examined four variables that we think
motivate parents to become involved in their children’s education:
What parents believe they should do to help their child succeed in school;
What parents believe about the likely effectiveness of their involvement activities;
What parents perceive about the school’s invitations to parental involvement;
What parents perceive about the child’s invitations to involvement.
Because earlier research has also suggested that teachers who hold stronger beliefs in their own
effectiveness and more positive perceptions of school support for parental involvement do more
to involve parents, we also included these teacher beliefs in our study.
Who participated in the study?
Parents and teachers in six public schools—four elementary and two middle schools (5th and 6th
grades only)—participated in the study. The schools were located in various parts of the district
and served an economically and ethnically mixed population. Questionnaires related to study
variables were sent to the parents of 2,031 students in these schools. One thousand thirty-one
parents (1,031; 45% response rate) returned Questionnaires. Full responses to all items were
received from 889 parents; this is the group of parents included in this report. The group
included 630 parents of elementary and 259 parents of middle school 5th and 6th students. Ninety-
four (94) parents were from Spanish-speaking ELL families (these parents responded to a
Spanish version of the Questionnaire). One hundred five (105) teachers also participated in the
What did we find?
Some general findings and preliminary ideas about what the findings might mean for schools are
summarized below. Specific reports on findings for each participating school are also available;
more specific suggestions for improving parental involvement are included in the individual
Why do parents get involved in their children’s education?
We found in general that all of the parent variables were positively related to parents’ decisions
about being involved:
The stronger parents’ beliefs that they should be involved in their children’s education—
especially the stronger their belief that they and the school together, in partnership, are
responsible for children’s school outcomes—the more they choose to be involved;
The stronger parents’ beliefs that their involvement will be effective—that is, will make a
difference in the child’s educational outcomes—the more they choose to be involved;
The stronger parents’ perceptions that the school wants their involvement, the more they
choose to be involved;
The stronger parents’ perceptions that their children need or want their involvement, the
more they choose to be involved.
These findings mean that each of these variables—all of which can be influenced by school
action—can be used in efforts to increase parental involvement. For example, as suggested in
more detail below, schools can: (a) increase efforts to communicate the importance of
partnership with parents (e.g., focus on two-way communication between home and school,
where schools not only give parents information but also seek information from parents); (b)
increase communications with parents about some of the specific ways in which parental
involvement activities make a difference in student outcomes; (c) improve school climate for
involvement (e.g., take steps to ensure that parents feel that their involvement—at
school or at home—is welcome; (d) increase school assignments that include student questions
to parents or other family members.
What’s the most important influence on parents’ decisions about involvement?
What parents believe they should do to help their child succeed in school was the most important
parental variable motivating involvement. In particular, parents who believe that parents and
school together are responsible for students’ educational outcomes (a partnership role
orientation) reported greatest involvement levels. This was true for elementary and middle
school parents. This means that many schools could improve parental involvement by
developing a more explicitly partnership-focused approach to parental involvement.
Schools can take steps to increase parents’ beliefs that they have an important role to play in
their children’s school success. They may do this by offering: clear and effective invitations to
involvement; clear information about the specific benefits of involvement; clear suggestions for
time-limited involvement activities at home. In offering such suggestions, schools might also
stress three fundamental mechanisms of parent involvement’s influence on student outcomes,
any one of which may help students learn: modeling (e.g., reading, asking questions, thinking
‘out loud’ about how to solve a problem); reinforcement (e.g., offering praise for good school
performance); and instruction (e.g., offering specific ideas and suggestions about how to study,
how to think about answering a question).
Schools can take also steps to increase parents’ and teachers’ sense of mutual (partnership)
responsibility for student educational outcomes. They can do this in several ways. For example,
schools may: (a) conduct discussions among school faculty and staff about specific ways in
which student learning is enhanced by parental involvement; (b) communicate with parents about
how and why their involvement is important (c) give teachers the time and tools needed to
involve parents more effectively (e.g., setting up email accounts, having sufficient computers on
internet to allow for efficient communication; providing an adequate supply of phones; allocating
time for teachers’ development of regular notes home to parents); (d) work with teachers and
parents to increase communications about students’ learning needs and school suggestions for
parental support of student learning; (e) develop first-day-of-school events to include parent
orientation focused on the importance of parents returning to school during the year,
communicating with teachers about the child’s progress, helping the child’s learn at home.
These findings underscore the critical role of home-school communication in improving parental
involvement. School faculty and staff need to believe and communicate that parents’ and
teachers’ suggestions, activities, and opinions are valued. The findings suggest the importance of
increasing the ‘customer service’ orientation of the school as one means of building
partnerships between school and home. For example, a school’s entryway and office often give
first-time visitors a powerful impression of the school. In some schools, the impression is open,
welcoming, and interested; in others, it may be brusque, disinterested, and ‘closed.’ If office staff
are stressed and overwhelmed (e.g., asked to ‘greet’ all visitors while answering phones,
dispensing medication, completing paperwork, making copies, sending faxes, and responding to
students or parents who may be upset), all visitors, including parents, may easily conclude
they’re unwelcome and in the way. A well-trained parent or community volunteer ‘greeter’
might be very helpful in ‘directing traffic’—ensuring that people who come in to the school
aren’t ignored or caught up in the multiple issues that often fill school entries and offices.
How were teachers’ beliefs related to parents’ involvement decisions?
Across the six participating schools, we found that strong teacher efficacy beliefs (teachers’
beliefs about how effective they are in teaching) were related to parents’ reports of a positive
school climate for involvement, parents’ reports of a partnership relationship with the school, and
parents’ reports of higher rates of involvement overall. We also found that positive teacher
perceptions of the school’s climate for parental involvement were related to parents’ reports of a
partnership orientation toward the school, parents’ perceptions of school invitations to
involvement, parents’ reports of their effectiveness in helping the child succeed in school, and
parents’ reports of involvement overall.
These findings are quite important because they point to the often critical role of school support
for not only for parents but for teachers in efforts to improve parental involvement. Schools may
increase parental involvement in part by supporting stronger teacher efficacy (i.e., offer
systematic feedback and support for teacher development and effectiveness. Schools may also
support parental involvement by developing a school climate in which teachers and parents know
that the administration values and rewards teachers’ efforts to involve parents.
The findings also suggests that schools might well consider developing a specific school-wide
plan for parental involvement, including goals, ideas for enacting those goals, and resources
needed to reach those goals. Central, system-wide leadership in this effort may be most useful; for
example: developing a parental involvement guidebook for parents and teachers that includes
information on what’s expected as well as tips and suggestions from teachers and parents about
‘what works;’ developing cluster workshops for teachers and parents to increase and support
teachers’ sense of efficacy in teaching and in working with parents. Schools with higher levels of
parental involvement—at school and at home, across varied socioeconomic and cultural school
populations—might well be asked to share ideas with teachers, staff and parents from other
What kinds of involvement do parents most often engage in?
Because parental involvement includes many different kinds of activities, we examined parents’
reports of involvement decisions in two different categories of parental activity: involvement
activities intended primarily to help the child (child-specific involvement: e.g., helping with
homework, talking with the child about the school day), and involvement activities intended to
help the school more generally (school-general involvement: e.g., attending a school program,
helping with fund-raising). We found that parents at both elementary and middle school levels
reported much more child-specific than school-general involvement.
This finding is important because it suggests that a large proportion of parental involvement in
many families goes on at home (where school personnel are unlikely to ‘see’ it). It also suggests
that schools might increase parental involvement (and its effectiveness) by focusing more
strongly on helping parents know what they can do at home to help their children learn, even as
they work to improve the school’s climate for in-school involvement.
The findings also suggest that schools may increase child-specific involvement by emphasizing
the effects of parents’ involvement activities, and developing assignments that ask students to
connect with their parents or other family members in some way (e.g., talk about one homework
problem, listen to the student read for five minutes). Schools might also develop ‘hotline’
services that not only tell parents about homework for the day, but also include suggestions for
helping the child, through modeling, reinforcement, and instruction activities. (A recorded phone
message or email may be less intimidating for some parents than direct calls to teachers.)
The finding also suggests the importance of schools’ understanding that the majority of parental
involvement in many families goes on at home. Thus, a parent’s commitment to his or her child’s
learning should not be measured solely by his or her appearances at school. Similarly, the
success of a school’s involvement program should not be measured solely by parental attendance
at school-based events.
Were findings for elementary and middle schools similar?
We found that elementary and middle schools were similar in two ways: (a) parents in both types
of schools reported similar rates of child-specific and school-general involvement, and (b)
parents in both types of schools were similar in variables that predicted their school-general
involvement decisions. Specifically, in both elementary and middle schools, school-general
involvement was related primarily to parents’ beliefs about what they are supposed to do to help
the child succeed in school; a partnership role orientation was especially important. This means
that parents’ school-general involvement—involvement intended primarily to help the school in
general—was strongly related to parents’ beliefs about being in a partnership with schools in
support of student learning.
We also found that elementary and middle school parents were different in one way: the
variables that predicted parents’ child-specific involvement decisions were different for the two
groups. Elementary parents’ decisions to engage in child-specific involvement activities were
predicted by all of the parental variables we examined: parents’ beliefs about what they should
do in the child’s schooling, parents’ sense of effectiveness in helping the child succeed in school,
parents’ perceptions of the school’s invitations to involvement, and parents’ perceptions of child
invitations to involvement. However, middle school parents’ decisions to engage in child-
specific involvement activities were related primarily to parents’ beliefs about what they are
supposed to do to help the child succeed in school. In particular, middle school parents who
reported highest levels of child-specific involvement also recorded beliefs that parents and
school together are responsible for students’ educational outcomes (a partnership role
The findings for elementary parents’ child-specific involvement suggest that elementary school
teachers and principals may work on increasing parental involvement by addressing
improvements in each of variables that influence that influence their decisions to be involved in
child-specific activities (beliefs about what they should do in their children’s education,
especially partnership-focused beliefs; beliefs about the effectiveness of their involvement
activities; perceptions of school invitations to involvement, and perceptions of child invitations
to involvement). The findings for middle school parents’ child-specific involvement choices
suggest that middle schools may experience most success in increasing child-specific parental
involvement if they focus on improving parents’ sense of a family-school partnership, a step that
often involves more frequent, focused, and two-way communications with families.
Where can we get more specific information on suggestions to
increase parental involvement?
More specific suggestions for acting in each of these areas may be found in two of the resources
noted at the end of this summary: Hoover-Dempsey & Walker (2002; also available at
www.nashville.k12.tn.us/general_info_folder/HooverDempsey_Walker.pdf) and Hoover-
Dempsey, Walker, Jones, and Reed (2002).
What are next steps in the research project?
The next study in the research project is focused on variables that shape parents’ choice of
specific involvement activities. In the Fall, 2002, we will investigate ways in which several
variables influence parents’ choice of involvement activities. These variables include:
Parents’ skills and knowledge;
Parents’ interest in and enjoyment of involvement activities;
The demands on parents’ time from work and family (e.g., young child care, elder care);
Parents’ perception of specific invitations to involvement from the school;
Parents’ perception of specific invitations to involvement from the child.
Based on theory and related research, we expect that these variables will predict the types of
involvement that parents choose. We expect these findings to shed more light on the variety of
involvement activities that parents choose, at school and at home, and on understanding why
parents choose specific types of activities. We also expect these findings to offer schools more
guidance in most effective ways of increasing parental involvement in students’ schooling.
For more information
Additional sources of information on the variables examined in Study 1 include the following:
Models explaining why parents become involved and how their involvement influences student
Grolnick, W. S., Benjet, C., Kurowski, C. O., & Apostoleris, N. H. (1997). Predictors of parent
involvement in children’s schooling. Journal of Educational Psychology, 89, (3), 538-548.
Hoover-Dempsey, K.V., & Sandler, H.M. (1995). Parental involvement in children's education:
Why does it make a difference? Teachers College Record, 97, 310-331.
What parents believe they should do to help the child succeed in school (parental role
Biddle, B.J. (1986). Recent developments in role theory. Annual Review of Sociology, 12, 67-92.
Hoover-Dempsey, K.V., & Sandler, H.M. (1997). Why do parents become involved in their
children's education? Review of Educational Research, 67, 3-42.
What parents believe about the likely effectiveness of their involvement (parents’ self-efficacy for
helping their children learn)
Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. NY: W. H. Freeman.
Hoover-Dempsey, K.V., Bassler, O.C., & Brissie, J.S., (1992). Explorations in parent-school
relations. Journal of EducationalResearch, 85 (5), 287-294.
What parents perceive about the school’s invitations to parental involvement
Hoover-Dempsey, K.V., & Walker, J.M.T. (2002). Family-school communication. A paper
prepared for the Metropolitan Nashville/Davidson County Board of Public Education. Also
available at (www.nashville.k12.tn.us/general_info_folder/HooverDempsey_Walker.pdf).
Hoover-Dempsey, K.V., Walker, J.M.T., Jones, K.P., & Reed, R.P. (2002). Teachers Involving
Parents: Results of an in-service teacher education program for enhancing parental
involvement. Teaching and Teacher Education, 18(7), 1-25.
What parents perceive about the child’s invitations to involvement
Balli, S. J., Demo, D. H., & Wedman, J. F. (1998). Family involvement with children’s
homework: An intervention in the middle grades. Family Relations, 47, 149-157.
Xu, J., & Corno, L. (1998). Case studies of families doing third-grade homework. Teachers
College Record, 100(2),402-436.
Teacher beliefs about their teaching effectiveness (sense of self-efficacy for teaching)
Hoy, W.K., & Woolfolk, A.E. (1993). Teachers’ sense of efficacy and the organizational health
of schools. The Elementary School Journal 93(4), 355-372.
Woolfolk, A., Rosoff, B., & Hoy, W. (1990). Teachers’ sense of efficacy and their beliefs about
managing students. Teaching and Teacher Education, 6, 137-148.