California State University, Long Beach
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Education Expert Stresses Parental Involvement

One of the hottest topics in education is the value of parental involvement and one of the nation’s top experts in the topic is Teacher Education’s William Jeynes.

Jeynes spoke at the White House Summit on the Education of Inner City Children in Washington D.C. in 2008 on “The Academic Contributions of Faith Based Schools” in which his meta-analysis of nationwide data sets argues that faith-based schools reduced racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps.

He published research in 2005 in the journal Urban Education that ranks in the top eight most-cited articles in the journal’s 43-year history and ranked as the journal’s most-read article for over a year. His study of minority parent involvement was the second most-read article for 18 months in the journal Education in an Urban Society and also ranks in the top 10 most-cited articles in that journal’s 42-year history. He gave a 90-minute press conference on his research at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., and made other presentations to the Departments of Education and Justice. He works closely with and has spoken for the Harvard Family Research Project about his research.

“Parental involvement is an extremely fundamental predictor of academic achievement,” said Jeynes, who joined the university in 2001. “What is important is for teachers to give guidance where parents are not involved.”

One of the keys to Jeynes’ research is meta-analysis. In statistics, a meta-analysis combines the results of several studies that address a set of related research hypotheses. In Jeynes’ case, his meta-analysis combines all the quantitative studies on parental involvement. “Meta-analysis is especially valuable in an era where time is short,” said Jeynes. “What this does is take, for example, 75 studies and combine them to discover what the overall body of literature has to say. That’s why a meta-analysis is more likely to be read than a typical article because people are always looking for a way to save time.”

One of the obstacles to involvement research is what Jeynes perceives as caution on the part of the educational establishment to address the issue of reluctant parents. “There are parents who say raising their child is what they pay taxes for and there are parents who just can’t keep their noses out of the classroom” he said. “At the same time, there are educators who work to include parents and there are educators who see themselves as professionals who limit parent participation. They argue that they are as professional as lawyers and that lawyers' clients do not involve themselves in court. I always try to remember the advice of a doctor who said the most important quality a doctor could have was to listen to patients. There is no teacher who can replace a parent. I am more than willing to do my part but raising the child is the job of the parent. The best teachers are those who listen. Educators need to be more open to parental involvement.”

WIlliam Jeynes
Photo by Victoria Sanchez

Jeynes received his master’s from Harvard and his Ph.D. in 1997 from the University of Chicago. The New York City native lived three miles from the World Trade Center and watched it being built.

The more subtle aspects of parental involvement are difficult to teach. “I’ve talked to parents who confess to using the word ‘stupid’ in connection with their kids,” he said. “It is difficult to change the pattern of years. When a parent uses words like ‘stupid,’ it means the word was used with them. It goes on from generation to generation. Patterns are very had to break. If we become smarter about what aspects of parental involvement work best, hopefully, teachers will begin to bridge the gap between parental involvement that is voluntary and the parental involvement demanded by school programs.”

One of Jeynes’ insights is into the success of faith-based schools in bridging student achievement gaps. His research revealed that some faith-based schools reduced the achievement gap by 25 percent. “I wanted to find out why and noticed three big factors,” he said. “One was the willingness of minority children to enroll in a challenging class load in private rather than public school. A second emphasis was on the role of faith in the families. The school culture is the third factor. There were fewer racial fights and a lower gang presence in faith-based schools with minority enrollments. Teachers appeared to care more.”

The future of support for faith-based schools is promising, Jeynes said. Recent pledges by the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama to continue support for such schools demonstrates to Jeynes that the issue is not limited to one party. “There are those who look at faith-based schools and see a focus on evangelicals,” he said. “But even they are on both sides of the issue. The evangelicals are not as monolithic as they are often portrayed.”

Jeynes is satisfied that his research points to the excellence of faith-based schools. “They narrow the achievement gap,” he said. “Students of color excelled more than their counterparts in public schools. This is based on a meta-analysis including a nationwide survey of 25,000 students. The data indicated that African American and Latino students have more of an advantage in private than public schools.”