Parental engagement to improve children's schooling
Engaging parents to help their children succeed at school is a low-cost strategy to improve educational outcomes. Research by J-PAL affiliates Marc Gurgand (Paris School of Economics) and Eric Maurin (Paris School of Economics), together with Francesco Avvisati, Dominique Goux, and Nina Guyon, has shown that a program of structured group meetings between parents and school leaders increased parents’ involvement in their children’s education, which in turn improved student behavior and reduced dropout rates. Based on the research, the French Ministry of Education has encouraged schools to foster parental involvement during decisive moments of their children’s schooling and, in 2015, made a parental involvement program available to all French public schools wishing to participate.
Parental involvement in their children’s education is widely believed to bolster student performance, but many parents face barriers to supporting their children’s schooling.
Education is an important mechanism for improving disadvantaged children’s chances for success as adults. However, many children in industrialized societies graduate from school without mastering basic skills, in part due to problems of poverty, absenteeism, and disengagement among students. In addition, poverty and low levels of education among parents are strongly linked with lower academic achievement among their children.
Better educated parents tend to be more involved in their children’s education, have better knowledge of how school is structured, and have more educational materials at home—all of which can support a child’s schooling. If disadvantaged parents are unaware of the school’s structure or unsure of how to support and monitor children with homework and schooling decisions, then parental involvement programs could improve educational outcomes.
Engaging parents to help their children succeed in school increased parents’ interactions with schools, improved student behavior, and reduced dropout rates.
From 2008 to 2013, J-PAL affiliated researchers and co-authors conducted a suite of randomized evaluations in France to investigate whether a series of structured group meetings between parents and school leaders could motivate parents to become more engaged in their children’s education and improve student performance.
The program, called La Mallette in French, consisted of three, two-hour group sessions open to all parents of grade 6 students. Discussions were generally facilitated by the principal, drawing upon precise guidelines designed by the district’s educational experts. Facilitators showed a DVD explaining the role of different school personnel—available in ten languages to reach parents who were not native French speakers—and distributed documents explaining the functions of the various school offices. The facilitators encouraged parents to become involved in their children’s education, explained the school’s structure and processes, and provided practical advice on how to support and monitor children with homework.
Researchers found that parents who attended meetings became signficantly more involved in their children’s learning: they were more likely to make individual appointments with teachers, participate in parents’ organizations, and be involved in their children’s education at home. This increase in parental involvement led to a large improvement in student behavior. The children of parents who participated were less likely to be absent or sanctioned for disciplinary reasons, and improvements were seen even in classmates whose parents did not attend meetings.
In a follow-up evaluation, researchers evaluated a similar program that aimed to help parents navigate the school system and get involved in their children’s schooling decisions during grade 9, when students choose their high school track. Principals invited parents of low-achieving students to attend two group meetings where they discussed the education options for their children. Where applicable, principals provided targeted information on alternatives to grade repetition or dropout, such as vocational high schools and apprenticeships. The program helped parents and their children make more realistic educational choices, reducing dropout rates from 20 to 15 percent.
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From Research to Action
Based on the research, the French Ministry of Education expanded the program to all public schools wishing to participate.
Based on the findings published in the final evaluation report, in 2010 the French Ministry of Education issued a circular to announce the expansion of the program to all grade 6 classes across 1,300 public middle schools.1 The findings of the grade 9 student study encouraged the government to include the program in its 2014–2017 plan to reduce school dropout.2 At the start of the 2015 academic year, the Ministry made the program available to all public schools.3 The program is encouraged at three decisive moments in a student’s schooling: in grade 1, when students enter primary school and start learning to read; in grade 6, at the beginning of middle school; and in grade 9, when students choose their high school track. The Ministry has made the program materials available to all schools and included guidelines for running the sessions on the Ministry’s website.
In 2013, J-PAL affiliated researchers evaluated a replication of the program by The General Motors Foundation for South Africa in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. The randomized evaluation found mixed results on parental involvement and no impacts on student learning and development. The researchers suggest that parental engagement programs like La Mallette may be less effective in developing country contexts where parents face a host of additional constraints, such as the parents’ lower education levels, their effectiveness in controlling children’s behaviors, and the difficulties faced by students in under-resourced schools. These factors can constrain both parents’ participation in such programs and their ability to monitor their children’s activity after class. The researchers conclude that a more intensive program or a different approach might be needed to see the expected impacts in developing country contexts.
Avvisati, Francesco, Marc Gurgand, Nina Guyon, Eric Maurin. 2014. "Getting Parents Involved: A Field Experiment in Deprived Schools." Review of Economic Studies 81(1): 57-83. https://doi.org/10.1093/restud/rdt027.
Goux, Dominique, Marc Gurgand, and Eric Maurin. 2017. “Adjusting Your Dreams? High School Plans and Dropout Behavior.” The Economic Journal 127(602): 1025-1046. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/ecoj.12317.
Bouguen, Adrien, Kamilla Gumede, Marc Gurgand. 2015. “Parent’s Participation, Involvement and Impact on Student Achievement: Evidence from a Randomized Evaluation in South Africa.” https://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/halshs-01241957/document.