Father Involvement in Schools. ERIC Digest.
by Nord, Christine Winquist
Until recently, fathers were the hidden parent in research on children's
well-being. Their importance to children's financial well-being was widely
accepted, but their contribution to other aspects of children's development
was often assumed to be secondary to that of mothers and was not usually
examined. Reflecting this bias in research on child development, many federal
agencies, and programs dealing with family issues, focused almost exclusively
on mothers and their children. In 1995, President Clinton issued a memorandum
requesting that all executive departments and agencies make a concerted
effort to include fathers in their programs, policies, and research programs
where appropriate and feasible (Clinton, 1995). Research stimulated by
the new interest in fathers suggests that fathers' involvement in their
children's schools does make a difference in their children's education
(Nord, Brimhall, & West, 1997).
This Digest looks at the extent to which fathers are involved in their
children's schools and the link between fathers' involvement and kindergartners'
through 12th-graders' school performance, using data from the 1996 National
Household Education Survey (NHES:96).
1996 NATIONAL HOUSEHOLD EDUCATION SURVEY
The NHES:96 was sponsored by the National Center for Education Statistics
(NCES). The involvement of fathers in two-parent and in father-only families
is presented and contrasted with that of mothers in two-parent and in mother-
only families. Information related to the link between father involvement
and student achievement is presented for children living in two-parent
and in father-only households. (The analyses are restricted to children
living with biological, step, or adoptive fathers. Children living with
foster fathers are excluded.)
The NHES:96 asked about four types of school activities that parents
could participate in during the school year: attending a general school
meeting, attending a regularly scheduled parent-teacher conference, attending
a school or class event, and serving as a volunteer at the school. Parents
are said to have low involvement in their children's schools if they have
participated in none or only one of the four activities during the current
school year. They are categorized as having moderate involvement if they
have participated in at least two of the available activities. Those who
have participated in three or four of the activities are said to be highly
involved in their children's schools. (Not all schools offer parents the
opportunity to be involved in each of these activities. Low involvement
may be due to failure to take advantage of available opportunities for
involvement or because schools do not offer parents opportunities for involvement.)
THE EXTENT OF FATHER INVOLVEMENT TWO-PARENT FAMILIES
The proportion of children living in two-parent families with highly
involved fathers is about half of the proportion with highly involved mothers--27%
and 56%, respectively. In other words, in two-parent families, children
are twice as likely to have mothers who are highly involved than to have
fathers who are highly involved in their children's schools. Nearly half
of children in two-parent families have fathers who participated in none
or only one of the four activities since the beginning of the school year.
In contrast, only 21% of children living in two-parent families have mothers
with such low participation in their schools.
Children living with single fathers or with single mothers are about
equally likely to have parents who are highly involved in their schools--46%
and 49%, respectively. Both fathers and mothers who head single-parent
families have levels of involvement in their children's schools that are
quite similar to mothers in two-parent families and are much higher than
fathers in two-parent families.
TYPES OF INVOLVEMENT
In two-parent families, there are two activities for which fathers'
involvement approaches that of mothers: attendance at school or class events
(such as a play, science fair, or sports event) and attendance at general
school meetings. Fathers may find it easier to attend these types of activities
because they are more likely than the other two to occur during nonschool
and nonwork hours. Fathers in father-only families are more likely than
fathers in two-parent families to participate in these and other activities,
so work constraints are not the sole explanation for low involvement among
fathers in two-parent families.
FATHER INVOLVEMENT AND STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT
Policymakers and educators agree that family involvement in children's
education is closely linked to children's school success (U.S. Department
of Education, 1994; Henderson & Berla, 1994). Many policymakers, school
officials, and families, however, often assume that family involvement
means that mothers' involvement in schools is important. This assumption
has some basis in fact in that mothers are more likely than fathers to
be highly involved in their children's schools, and the extent of their
involvement is strongly related to children's school performance and adjustment
(Nord, Brimhall, & West, 1997). However, an important question is,
does fathers' involvement matter, as well?
FATHER PARTICIPATION IN TWO-PARENT FAMILIES
Half of students get mostly A's and enjoy school, according to their
parents, when their fathers are highly involved in their schools compared
to about one-third of students when their fathers have low levels of involvement.
Students are also half as likely to have ever repeated a grade (7% vs.
15%) and are significantly less likely to have ever been suspended or expelled
(10% vs. 18%) if their fathers have high as opposed to low involvement
in their schools. After taking into account such factors as mothers' involvement,
fathers' and mothers' education, household income, and children's race/ethnicity,
it was found that children are still more likely to get A's, participate
in extracurricular activities, enjoy school, and are less likely to have
ever repeated a grade if their fathers are involved in their schools compared
to if they are not (Nord, Brimhall, & West, 1997).
After taking into account these other factors, it was found that mothers'
involvement, but not fathers' involvement, is associated with a reduced
likelihood of 6th- through 12th-graders having ever been suspended or expelled.
Children living in single-parent households are, on average, less successful
in school and experience more behavior problems than children living in
two-parent households (McLanahan & Sandefur, 1994). Most research on
single- parenthood focuses on children living with single mothers. However,
children living in father-only households also do less well in school than
children living in two-parent households.
Results also reveal that children in father-only households do better
in school, are more likely to participate in extracurricular activities,
enjoy school more, and are less likely to have ever been suspended or expelled
if their fathers are highly involved in their schools compared to if they
have only low levels of involvement. Nearly one-third of students get mostly
A's when their fathers are highly involved in their schools compared to
17% when their fathers have low levels of involvement in their schools.
Even more striking, only 11% of 6th- through 12th-graders have ever been
suspended or expelled when their fathers have high levels of involvement
in their schools compared to 34% when their fathers have low levels of
involvement in their schools. Although a similar pattern is observed for
grade repetition, the difference between children whose fathers have high
and low levels of involvement is not statistically significant.
Even after controlling for such factors as fathers' education, family
income, and children's race/ethnicity, it was found that children do better
in school and are less likely to have ever been suspended or expelled if
their fathers have high as opposed to low levels of involvement in their
The observed patterns of fathers' involvement in their children's schools,
linked to family structure, are consistent with existing research (Cooksey
& Fondell, 1996) and with the notion that there is a division of labor
in two-parent families, with mothers taking more responsibility for child-related
tasks, whereas in single-parent families the lone parent assumes the responsibility.
Fathers and mothers in two-parent families may be operating under the mistaken
assumption that fathers do not matter as much as mothers when it comes
to involvement in their children's school. The results also support research
showing that single fathers and mothers are more similar in their parenting
behavior than are mothers and fathers in two-parent families (Thomson,
McLanahan, & Curtin, 1992).
The low participation of fathers in two-parent families offers schools
an opportunity to increase overall parental involvement. By targeting fathers,
schools may be able to make greater gains in parental involvement than
by targeting mothers or parents, in general. This is not to say that schools
should not continue to welcome mothers' involvement, but because mothers
already exhibit relatively high levels of participation in their children's
schools, there is less room to increase their involvement.
The involvement of fathers in their children's schools is also important
for children's achievement and behavior. In two-parent households, fathers'
involvement in their children's schools has a distinct and independent
influence on children's achievement over and above that of mothers. These
findings show that fathers can be a positive force in their children's
education, and that when they do get involved, their children are likely
to do better in school. Unfortunately, many fathers are relatively uninvolved
in their children's schools (Nord, Brimhall, & West, 1997). These results
should encourage fathers to become more involved in their children's schools
and encourage schools to welcome fathers' involvement.
ADAPTED FROM: NORD, CHRISTINE WINQUIST. (1998, APRIL). How involved
are fathers in their children's schools? AND Students do better when their
fathers are involved at school. (ISSUE BRIEFS NCES 98-120 & 98-121).
Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.
Clinton, W. J. (1995, June 16). SUPPORTING THE ROLE OF FATHERS IN FAMILIES.
Memorandum for the heads of executive departments and agencies. Washington,
Cooksey, E. C., & Fondell, M. M. (1996). Spending time with his
kids: Effects of family structure on fathers' and children's lives. JOURNAL
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Henderson, A. T., & Berla, N. (Eds.). (1994). A NEW GENERATION OF
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Nord, Christine Winquist, Brimhall, DeeAnn, & West, Jerry. (1997).
FATHERS' INVOLVEMENT IN THEIR CHILDREN'S SCHOOLS (NCES 98-091). Washington,
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Thomson, E., McLanahan, S. S., & Curtin, R. B. (1992). Family structure,
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