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The Disparity in Parental Involvement: Its Significance, Causes, and Solutions

Kalden Namgyal (August, 2022)


The significance of parental involvement in children’s K-12 schooling has been extensively documented globally. Although it may have different impacts depending on age/grade level and background, parental involvement is essential to a child's academic achievement and wellbeing. When policymakers develop education policies, especially concerning communities that have been historically underserved and disadvantaged, parental involvement as a research area and policy option has been explored extensively as a means of closing the achievement gap and also addressing student wellbeing (Desimone, 1999; Marschall & Shah, 2016). According to Desimone (1999), parental involvement is viewed as an attractive intervention because it is far more accessible and pliable compared to other inequalities in the education system, such as racial/ethnic and income disparities. Schools are directly involved in the policy implementation and can, therefore, readily alter program interventions when needed to broaden parental participation (Desimone 1999). The policy traction, coupled with the wealth of research attributing enhanced parental involvement in a child’s education to positive academic achievement and overall wellbeing has made parental involvement a persuasive educational intervention.

However, even with considerable attention, the rhetoric-action split has resulted in the persistence of the gap in parental involvement, especially among communities with a large minority population (Johnson 2015; Dolph 2016;). Given that policies tend to be one-size-fits-all and based on the dominant narrative and understanding of parental involvement, existing efforts to increase parent participation severely overlook and marginalize nondominant practices (Souto-Manning & Swick 2006). Subsequently, without reconsidering the current practices and paradigm in parental involvement, the disparity in parental involvement itself will only exacerbate and perpetuate inequality in involvement and achievement gap. Therefore, it is vital to understand these barriers and challenges that inhibit parental involvement among marginalized families and address them to reduce the parental involvement gap.

With the help of ample literature, the paper adds to the limited body of literature studying the disparity in parental involvement and the barriers and challenges that drive that gap. In six sections, we explore parental involvement and its significance in student outcome and wellbeing, focusing on Black and Brown low-income families. By reviewing the roles of parental involvement in a child's schooling and its impact on academic achievement and wellbeing, we establish the severity of the unrealized gains and disadvantages the low-income minority children face in the absence of “parental involvement.”

The first section briefly explores the normative understanding of parental involvement and its complex nature and then gradually focuses on the disparity. It is then followed by two separate sections discussing the overwhelming significance of parental involvement, which also informs the severity of its absence in a child’s education and development. The two sections explore the link between parental involvement and academic achievement and student wellbeing. The following section critically examines the normative understandings of parental involvement and how it inherently fosters inequitable practices that adversely affect the nondominant, low-income minority families while privileging the dominant, white, middle-income group. After discussing the systemic inequalities entrenched in the prevailing notion of parental involvement, we examine the barriers and challenges extensively. This section is structured into two parts. The first section is a mini-literature review studying hurdles and challenges to parental involvement. Using Dr. Epstein’s framework of six types of parental involvement, in the second section, we delve into each type of parental involvement and analyze potential barriers and challenges low-income minority parents may encounter that deter or prevent them from participating in specific involvement activities under the six main types. The six types of parental involvement are parenting, communicating, volunteering, learning at home, decision making, and collaborating with the community (Epstein 2016). And the final section shares recommendations that schools can implement to gradually transform the understanding of parental involvement by expanding ways for parents to be involved equally in dominant and nondominant practices, making it community-oriented, accessible, and inclusive.

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