ERIC Identifier: ED408143
Publication Date: 1997-06-00
Author: Maynard, Stan - Howley, Aimee
Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools Charleston WV.
Parent and Community Involvement in Rural Schools. ERIC Digest.
Researchers and educators have long agreed that when parents get involved in
education, children try harder and achieve more at school (e.g., Epstein, 1995).
Parents who help and encourage their children to learn at home, and who help
develop positive attitudes toward school, contribute to the personal growth and
academic success of their children.
Various approaches have been developed to help schools gain greater parent
involvement. These approaches have several features in common: programs that
focus on parenting skills and the development of home conditions that support
learning; school-to-home and home-to-school communication about school programs
and children's progress; the use of volunteers at school or in other locations
to support the school and students; and participation by families in
decision-making, governance, and advocacy (Bauch, 1994; Davies, 1991).
These approaches, however, were not developed with rural communities in mind.
Rural communities differ from urban and suburban ones, and they also differ from
one another (Flora, Spears, & Swanson, 1992). Parent involvement programs
for rural communities work best when they respond to particular features of the
communities they serve.
OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES
Despite variability among
communities, research does point to characteristics that are more common in
rural areas than elsewhere and affect educators' efforts to involve parents. It
is not clear, however, that rural communities are any more or less likely than
urban or suburban ones to involve parents in the educational process. Research
provides conflicting findings. A study of 296 schools in Missouri (Sun, Hobbs, & Elder, 1994), for example, found that parent involvement was higher in
rural than in urban communities. In contrast, findings from a large national
survey of eighth-grade students suggest that parent involvement tends to be
higher in urban and suburban communities than in rural communities (National
Center for Education Statistics, 1994). Johnson (1990), by contrast, found that
suburban parents from middle- and upper middle-class communities were the most
Even if parent involvement turns out to be more prevalent in rural than in
urban and suburban schools, rural educators may still face special challenges
often associated with rural life. Among these challenges are isolation, poverty,
and lack of job opportunities. Isolation restricts rural schools and communities
from making use of urban-based resources that might enhance educational
programs--museums, research libraries, and colleges and universities (Capper,
1993). Furthermore, the poverty of many rural communities limits parents'
ability to provide for their children and to augment their children's education
with resources in the home. Finally, the lack of job opportunities makes it
harder for rural students to see any financial benefit to attendance or success
in school (Bickel & Lange, 1995).
These circumstances lead some educators to conclude that rural families place
a low value on the education of their children. This conclusion gains support
from the finding that rural parents have lower educational attainment than their
urban and suburban counterparts. As the argument goes, parents who lack personal
experience of education beyond basic skills often fail to see its importance for
their children. Further, they may feel intimidated by school procedures and
expectations (Capper, 1993).
However, other evidence demonstrates the high value that rural residents
often place on their schools. Not only do they view schools as a central focus
of community life (Herzog & Pittman, 1995), residents in many rural areas
support their schools with higher tax rates than those imposed in urban and
suburban districts, where property values are higher (Stern, 1994). Educators
can draw upon this community support to expand parent involvement programs in
rural schools. In some rural communities, such programs have mobilized residents
to work toward the combined revitalization of schools and rural economies
BENEFICIAL PROGRAM FEATURES
Taking into account both the
opportunities and challenges posed by conditions of rural life, educators can
work to involve parents by setting up programs that include features with
well-documented, positive results (see, e.g., Bauch, 1994; Davies, 1991; Hinson,
1990; Swick, 1991). Among the features most often recommended are
*parent enrollment in adult education and parenting education programs;
*cooperative strategies for extending the school curriculum beyond the school
*efforts to help parents provide learning experiences at home;
*home visits by personnel trained to facilitate home-school communication;
*in-classroom involvement of parents, business leaders, and citizens;
*summer enrichment programs for both parents and children;
*use of school facilities for community activities; and
*university participation in an advisory and supportive role.
Programs that combine these features are indeed extensive, recognizing both
strengths and weaknesses that parents may bring to partnerships with their
children's schools. Such programs recognize that parenting improves when parents
feel effective in a variety of adult roles. But they also take into account the
fact that schooling improves when a variety of adults share their talents and
model successful strategies of life management. Moreover, when community and
business organizations have a visible presence in classroom life, students are
more likely to see a meaningful connection between their studies and their
eventual success in the workplace.
A number of ongoing efforts
demonstrate ways that parent-school partnerships can work to improve education
in rural areas. These approaches include Even Start, the Total Village Project,
and the Teacher-Parent Partnership for the Enhancement of School Success. Noting
the effectiveness of projects such as these, educational reform movements in
rural states--the Kentucky Education Reform Act, for example--incorporate
parent- and community-involvement activities into systemwide efforts to improve
Even Start, which was piloted in rural Montana, had as its expressed purpose
"to improve the educational opportunities for children and their
parents...through cooperative projects using existing education resources"
(Center for Community Education, 1989, p. 2). Building on the key roles that
parents play, the pilot project emphasized parents' participation as
communicators, supporters, learners, teachers, advisors, and advocates. The
project relied on a team of dedicated teachers and administrators who provided
direct and indirect support--including focused training--to parents. The pilot
demonstrated that the activities and materials developed by the R&D team at
Montana State University were useful in getting parents more fully involved in
their children's education.
The Total Village Project, which is being implemented in rural West Virginia,
advocates a community effort to educate children. Through a family center,
coordinated family services, home visits, parent-teacher action teams,
mentoring, tutoring, and assistance to teachers, the project seeks to achieve
its integrated objectives. These objectives include increases in parent
attendance at meetings and activities, quality and quantity of parent
involvement at home and school, student self-esteem, and regular attendance.
Other objectives aim for improvement in standardized test results and parent,
community, and school communication. (For more information contact Stan Maynard
at the Department of Education at Marshall University in Huntington, WV.)
The primary purpose of the Teacher-Parent Partnership for the Enhancement of
School Success was to "implement a school and home based program for young
children which raises student achievement and increases educational opportunity"
(Swick, 1991, p.1). To achieve its primary goal, the project also worked to
improve parents' self-confidence, increase parent-child interactions, improve
home support for education, and strengthen the relationship between school
personnel and families. Implemented in rural South Carolina, the project was a
collaborative effort between the University of South Carolina and 18 rural
school districts. It included training activities for teachers, parents, and
children; intensive parent involvement activities; home-school workers; and a
summer enrichment program (Swick, 1991).
The promising approaches discussed here all follow Herzog and Pittman's
(1995, p. 118) advice: "For rural schools to be successful in combating their
problems, they will have to capitalize on their community and family ties." This
advice cautions rural educators to view parents and businesses as part of the
solution, not as part of the problem. Such a perspective need not overlook the
fact that some parents may need special types of assistance, nor does it make
the assumption that every community business will contribute positively to the
schools. It does, however, favor positive action rather than unproductive
blaming. Too often, rural communities are blamed for their problems.
Stereotypical images replace thoughtful consideration of these places, their
residents, and the problems they face. Projects that bring communities together
have the potential to support school improvement, economic revitalization, and a
renewed investment by community members in the vigorous traditions of rural
Bauch, J. P. (1994). Categories of parent
involvement. The School Community Journal, 4(1), 53-61.
Bickel, R., & Lange, L. (1995). Opportunities, costs, and high school
completion in an Appalachian state: A near-replication of Florida research.
Journal of Educational Research, 88(6), 363-370.
Capper, C. A. (1993). Rural community influences on effective school
practices. Journal of Educational Administration, 31(3), 20-38.
Center for Community Education. (1989). A model for rural schools to involve
parents in the education of their children. Bozeman, MT: Montana State
University. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 329 395)
Davies, D. (1991). Schools reaching out: Family, school, and community
partnerships for student success. Phi Delta Kappan, 72(5), 376-380.
Epstein, J. L. (1995). School/family/community partnerships: Caring for the
children we share. Phi Delta Kappan, 76(9), 701-712.
Flora, C. B., Spears, J., & Swanson, L. (1992. Rural communities: Legacy
and change. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Herzog, M. J., & Pittman, R. B. (1995). Home, family, and community:
Ingredients in the rural education equation. Phi Delta Kappan, 77(2), 113-118.
Hinson, K. S. (1990). Increasing business and parental involvement in grades
4-7 by forming partnerships between school and local businesses. (ERIC Document
Reproduction Service No. ED 330 520)
Johnson, S. M. (1990). Teachers at work: Achieving success in our schools.
New York: Basic Books.
Miller, B. (1995). The role of rural schools in community development: Policy
issues and implications. Portland, OR: Northwest Regional Educational
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Miller, B. A. (1991). Distress and survival: Rural schools, education, and
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National Center for Education Statistics. (1994). Parent involvement in
education (Indicator of the Month). Washington, DC: Office of Educational
Research and Improvement.
Stern, J. D. (1994). The condition of education in rural schools. Washington,
DC: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and
Sun, Y., Hobbs, D., & Elder, W. (1994, August). Parental involvement: A
contrast between rural and other communities. Paper presented at the annual
meeting of the Rural Sociological Society, Portland, OR. (ERIC Document
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Swick, K. (1991). A rural teacher-parent partnership for the enhancement of
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