Angela Katenkamp, Ph.D. (December 2009)
(Mentor: Susan Sonnenschein)
Many researchers, educators, and policymakers agree that increasing parents’ involvement in their children’s educations will benefit students. In order to increase parents’ involvement we need to know what factors influence parents’ involvement, and whether this differs depending upon demographic factors such as parents’ race/ethnicity or income. This study examined parents’ beliefs about their role in their children’s educations and teachers’ perceptions of these beliefs. Parents’ educationally-relevant beliefs and characteristics of their life context have been shown to be related to children’s educations. Research has not yet considered teachers’ perceptions of parents’ beliefs or the relation between what teachers and parents think.
Parents’ self-efficacy and role construction were examined in this study. Parents’ self-efficacy is their perceptions that their educationally-relevant actions will produce the desired results. Parents’ role construction refers to parents’ beliefs about what educationally-relevant activities fall within their role. The two life context variables examined were parents’ knowledge and skills, and time and energy. Knowledge and skills refers to parents’ knowledge of involvement opportunities and skills available to participate in such activities. Time and energy refers to the time and energy parents have available for involvement. Two forms of parents’ involvement were examined- - a global measure of parents’ involvement at home that included several different activities in which parents may participate (i.e. reading with their children, talking with their children about the school day, helping their children study), and a more specific focus on parents’ assistance with their children’s homework.
Seven hundred and fifty parents of 1st through 5th graders in seven Baltimore County Public Elementary Schools completed surveys assessing their self-efficacy, role construction, knowledge and skills, time and energy, and involvement. Parents were either African American or European American. Their children attended low income or middle income schools. Forty-seven teachers reported their perceptions of the beliefs, life context, and involvement of two families of students within their classrooms.
Parents’ race/ethnicity was related to their involvement with their children’s homework but not to their global home-based involvement. African American parents reported more involvement with their children’s homework than European American parents. African American parents also reported higher self-efficacy and a stronger belief that certain activities were consistent with their role as parents. This finding suggests that African American parents have a set of beliefs conducive to their involvement with their children’s educations. This finding is interesting considering African American children still underperform compared to European American children. Parents’ time and energy was the only belief or life context variable related to parents’ involvement. Parents’ income was not related to their involvement; however it was related to their self-efficacy.
Teachers’ perceptions of parents’ self-efficacy, role construction, knowledge and skills, and time and energy were related to parents’ income. Teachers viewed parents with higher incomes as more strongly believing that certain educationally-relevant activities fall within their parental role and as having greater self-efficacy, knowledge and skills, and time and energy. This suggests that teachers may underestimate some of the beliefs and life context characteristics of low income parents.
Three aspects of teachers’ practices were related to parents’ beliefs and involvement- - teachers’ communications with parents, teachers’ expectations for parents’ involvement, and teachers’ knowledge of a parent. When parents’ perceived there to be more communication between teachers and themselves, the relation between teachers’ and parents’ perceptions of parents’ self-efficacy was stronger. Similarly, when parents perceived there to be more communication between teachers and themselves, the relation between teachers’ and parents’ perceptions of parents’ time and energy was stronger. When teachers had high expectations for parents’ involvement and when teachers had more knowledge of a parent, they believed parents were involved regardless of their actual levels of involvement. This suggests that some aspects of teachers’ practices, such as teachers’ knowledge of and communications with parents, are important. Teachers’ perceptions of parents’ beliefs are more consonant with parents’ actual reports when there is more communication between them. It is important that teachers have an understanding of parents’ beliefs, life context, and involvement. Without such an understanding it will be difficult for teachers to involve parents in ways that promotes students’ best interests.