What The Survey Says About Parent Involvement In Education

A newly released report, First Look, collected data on students in the United States attending kindergarten through grade 12. The focus of the report is on parent and family involvement in the students’ education during the 2018–19 school year, as reported by the students’ parents. It must be noted that the data was collected before the Coronavirus pandemic and all associated restrictions.

The data was collected from the Parent and Family Involvement in Education (PFI)Survey, administered as part of the 2019 National Household Education Surveys Program(NHES:2019),  using a nationally representative address-based sample covering the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The survey was conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau from January through August 2019. The 2019 administration of NHES, a repeating cross-sectional survey, included a screener survey and two topical surveys; the Early Childhood Program Participation Survey, and the PFI. The screener survey asked for an enumeration of household members and was used to select an eligible child to be the focus of a topical survey.

The PFI survey collects data about students who are enrolled in kindergarten through grade 12 in a physical or virtual school or are home-schooled for equivalent grades and asks questions about various aspects of parent involvement in education, such as help with homework, family activities, and parent involvement at school, such as attending a school or class event. For home-schooled students, the survey asks questions related to students’ homeschooling experiences, the sources of the curriculum, and the reasons for homeschooling. For students taking virtual courses, the survey asks about parents’ reasons for choosing virtual schooling and the cost and the amount of time each week the student takes virtual courses.

The selected findings of this report indicate the following:

  • In the 2018–19 school year, school communication with parents, as reported by parents, most commonly occurred through school-wide newsletters, memos, e-mails, or notices. This type of communication, addressed to all parents, was reported for 89 percent of students in kindergarten through grade 12. Receiving emails or notes specifically about the student was reported for 66 percent of students and receiving phone calls about a specific student was reported for 40 percent of students.
  • On average, students in kindergarten through grade 12 had parents who reported
    participating in 6.5 school related activities in the 2018–19 school year. The most common school-related activity was attending a general school or parent-teacher organization or association meeting (reported for 89 percent of students). That was followed by attending a school or class event (79 percent) and attending a parent-teacher conference (75 percent).
  • About 8 out of 10 students in kindergarten through grade 12 (77 percent) had an amount of homework that their parents said was “about right.” Parents also reported being “very satisfied” (the highest on a four-point scale) with the following school characteristics: the school overall (64 percent of students); the student’s teachers (63 percent); the academic standards of the school (61 percent); the order and discipline at the school (59 percent); and the school staff’s interaction with parents (56 percent).
  • For students whose parents considered more than one school for the student, the factors most frequently rated as “very important” when choosing a school were the quality of teachers, principal or other staff at the school (selected for 79 percent of students); and safety, which includes student discipline (71 percent).
  • According to parents, a higher percentage of students attended a community, religious, or ethnic event (50 percent) with their family in the past month than attended an athletic or sporting event (38 percent); visited a library (34 percent); went to a play, concert, or other live show (33 percent); visited a bookstore (32 percent); visited an art gallery, a museum, or a historical site (24 percent); or visited a zoo or an aquarium (20 percent).

This First Look report presents selected descriptive information. Readers are cautioned not to draw causal inferences based on the results presented. It is important to note that many of the variables examined in this report may be related to one another, and complex interactions and relationships among the variables have not been explored. The variables examined here are just a few of the variables that can be examined in these data; they were selected to demonstrate the range of information available from the study. The release of this report is intended to encourage in-depth analysis of the data using more sophisticated statistical methods.

Schools can use this information to help guide their efforts to establish meaningful partnerships and authentic engagement with parents and caregivers of students enrolled in their academic programs. Careful consideration should be given to the presence of bias when interpreting these results, although researchers determine it to be statistically low.

What is of greater importance to schools is to examine the existing areas of greatest parental involvement in school and community-related activities and discover the newer ways that they may increase their efforts to reach and partner with parents in education. Additionally, it is important to plan and implement programs, activities and events that are aligned with the characteristics of each specific community population. Empowerment and shared leadership must frame the types of collaborative experiences to establish and sustain authentic engagement within the school-family-community partnership.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach in optimizing parent engagement. Trust and cultural relevance are primary and require intentional consistency underlying a sense of ‘buy-in’ with parents[and staff], rather than ‘allowed in’. Parents must feel welcomed, respected, valued and connected in the learning environment as the hub of every community it serves. This applies to traditional in-person and virtual or both, and is critically important in light of the new norms created by the COVID-19 health crisis. Schools must continue to evolve and adapt to the increasing demands for social and economic justice, including the demand for equity in education.

For readers interested in appendixes with tables of estimates, definitions of terms used in the findings and tables, and additional information about the survey from which the findings are drawn, please see the “View full report” link at


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