A woman and man watch their son doing his homework


Shortly after taking the helm of the National School Boards Association (NSBA), new Executive Director and CEO John Heim stated: “The voices of parents should and must continue to be heard when it comes to decisions about their children’s education, health, and safety.” 

Researchers have long posited that education decision-makers must get to know the parents in their jurisdictions to build strong family partnerships and navigate changes not only created by the pandemic but also brought about by technology-led innovation. To build a strong partnership between school leaders and parents, the former needs a profound understanding of the latter.

For decades, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has conducted the Parent and Family Involvement in Education (PFI) Survey. The survey collects data about public school students (including public charter school students) who are enrolled in kindergarten through grade 12 in a physical or virtual school or are homeschooled for equivalent grades. It asks questions about various aspects of parental involvement in education, such as help with homework, family activities, and parent involvement with school, such as attending a school or class event. 

The 2019 data show that 97 percent of parents considered the quality of teachers, principals, or other school staff as an important or very important reason when they chose schools for their children. Other reasons reported as important/very important when choosing certain schools for their children are safety (including student discipline), the curriculum focus (e.g., language immersion, STEM focus), the academic performance of students (test scores, dropout rates, and so on), and the number of students in the classrooms.

The data also tell us why parents enrolled their children in online, virtual, or cyber courses before the COVID-19 pandemic. Among parents of students who were being homeschooled or enrolled in virtual schools, 81 percent reported that online learning best fit their children’s learning style, and 84 percent preferred online learning for their children. More than one-third enrolled their children in online courses because of physical and/or mental health issues.

Conversely, among parents of regular school students who were enrolled in online courses, nearly half (45 percent) reported that online learning best fit their children’s learning style, and about 42 percent enrolled their children in online courses because it was required by their children’s schools. 

In the survey, parents were asked whether they received newsletters, emails, or phone calls from their children’s schools. The most common methods for schools to connect with parents are school newsletters, superintendent or administrative memos/emails/notices, and emails or phone calls from their children’s teachers or school administrators.

When parents were asked how they found their school, 2 in 3 regular public school parents found their children’s schools because they were located in their neighborhood. One in 5 got to know their children’s schools through teachers, school counselors, or district staff. For charter school parents, many reported that they found their children’s schools through friends, family members, websites about school ratings, and social media (e.g., newspaper/magazine articles, advertisements, and fliers). 

Communicating with parents is a step up from connecting with parents. When schools communicate with parents, they not only share information but also exchange ideas with parents. More than half of regular school parents reported that their children’s schools were doing very well at letting them know how their child had performed in school during the semester. 

More than 40 percent of the parents considered that their children’s schools were doing very well at providing information on (a) parent’s role expected by their children’s schools, (b) how to help their children with homework, and (c) why their child was placed in a particular group or class.  

The data show that 55 percent of regular school parents participate in fundraising for their children’s schools; this percentage is significantly higher than that of charter school parents (48 percent). Overall, during the 2018-19 school year:

  • 1 in 3 parents met a guidance counselor in person.
  • 2 in 5 parents served as volunteers in their children’s schools.
  • 1 in 10 parents served on a school committee.

Nationwide, 97 percent of parents surveyed consider quality of teachers, principals, or other staff as an important or very important reason when they choose schools for their children. Safety, advanced curriculum, and academic performance are also the most important factors for parents to make decisions on their children’s schools.  

The data suggest that appropriate interaction with parents helps to build strong relationships between parents and schools. Additionally, the data show that parents do support public education. Most public school parents, including charter school parents, actively participate in fundraising and other important school events, and some even serve on school committees. In brief, connecting, communicating, and collaborating with parents are valuable strategies for schools to better serve all students.

Jinghong Cai (jcai@nsba.org) is the senior research analyst at NSBA’s Center for Public Education.

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