Arkansas

With additional monies necessary for education reform, some Arkansans are wondering if academic performance will improve and exactly what should be done to ensure that it does.

Educators say a positive correlation exists between a child's academic performance and parental involvement. But, what is the current level of parental involvement, and what is deemed parental involvement?

With a grant from the U.S. Department Agriculture (USDA) 1890 Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service (CSREES), Dr. Shandra R. Terrell, assistant professor and researcher at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB), has studied parental involvement, focusing on parent and school dynamics, in two central Arkansas school districts.

Terrell reports that very few parents, only 15 percent, believe that teachers are totally responsible for educating children. Most parents, 82 percent, help their children with homework. Only 30 percent believe they could devote more time to helping their children with homework.

While most parents, 75 percent, believed they have enough time to help their children, 80 percent indicated that if teachers helped them to understand the homework, they could help their children more. Also, 80 percent believe that the school assigns too much homework.

Terrell says that the state of Arkansas is proactive in its attempts to help parents and schools connect by passing Act 603 which requires schools to create a parental involvement plan and holds schools accountable to include activities that encourage parental involvement.

Some 91 percent of parents had a specified bedtime for their children and 79 percent had a specific time and place for them to do homework. Only 76 percent were satisfied with their children's progress, however, 83 percent believe their children were on grade level.

A relatively high percentage, 93 percent, were satisfied with their communication with teachers and 83 percent were satisfied with the assistance the school provides them with parental involvement activities.

A little more than half of the parents, 54 percent, said they volunteer as much as possible and 83 percent said that they or another guardian attended school meetings.

Terrell says that perhaps low volunteerism can be associated with the fact that only 66 percent receive time-off from work to attend school functions. She says that this is significant in Jefferson County, Arkansas, where more than 9,000 working families have school-aged children. Odd work schedules, multiple jobs and lack of "extended family care" also play a role.

While only 29 percent participated in school decision-making, 78 percent said they would like to be more involved in decisions affecting their children. Terrell says this is significant for communities where school decision-making has historically been left up to school administrators and school boards, and poor and minority parents were unwelcome. She said that most researchers and the U.S. Department of Education recognize school decision-making as an area where parents should be involved.

Release time from work to attend school functions would be a big step in increasing parental participation, says Terrell. She said that for working families without benefits, taking a day off, even if permitted, translates into a smaller paycheck.

Terrell also says that release time to attend school functions and parents' interest in school decision-making are important in central Arkansas and points to a need for a systems perspective in planning parental involvement activities.

Parents considered walking their children to the bus stop, participating in school functions, arranging for a tutor or arranging for transportation to attend school meetings as parental involvement while teachers had other parental involvement expectations.

In her study, Terrell defines parental involvement as a collection of activities at home, in the community and school that promotes academic and personal enhancement among children.

Dr. Terrell discovered during her interviews with parents that they are angered by what teachers say in the presence of their children. Parents and teachers have diverse definitions of parental involvement and both parents and teachers understand each other's difficulties.

She says that human science professionals can help families become aware of specific strategies to incorporate school-related activities into family life.

Terrell believes it is time to end the debate on whether or not parental involvement is important to a child's academic achievement and to shift the focus to specific ways schools can involve families. She thinks Act 603 is a step in the right direction and Arkansas can lead other states.

As a result of Terrell's research, a committee at UAPB is exploring the possibility of offering a graduate course on parental involvement to help bridge the gap between families and schools.

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