The school alone cannot ensure the academic success of students. More than 30 years of research has shown that the involvement of families in the school life of their children contributes significantly, but in a variety of ways, to their academic performance1. This is true regardless of families’ race/ethnicity or socioeconomic status2. Schools that invite and support family involvement report better socio-emotional wellbeing of their students, greater academic aspirations, fewer behavioral difficulties, and higher rates of high school graduation and enrollment in post-secondary education3. School-family collaboration is recognized as particularly critical for children who experience a difference in norms and cultures between their school and their family, such as those from socioeconomically disadvantaged families or immigrant families4.
Family involvement can generally be reflected in a range of attitudes and practices at home (e.g., checking homework, supporting children’s school choices, providing a quiet place to study), or by participating in various school activities. Although these two levels of parental involvement are both correlated with better school performance of children5, contrary to the dominant perception, the former is proven to be a better predictor of academic achievement than the latter6.
In 2016, Blackboard revealed a considerable drop over only one year in parents who believe that face-to-face parent-teacher meetings were the most effective way to communicate information to them. Parents now prefer remote methods of communication, like online student portals, and they are less likely to attend parent-teacher conferences or school activities7. Research informs that this growing reliance on digital communication can be positive and actually help parents stay informed, become more involved, and be better able to support their children—all factors driving better student engagement and performance8. In addition, digital technology is also helping improve equity in the engagement of parents, countering socioeconomic or linguistic barriers to their relationship with school. That being said, many families struggle with supporting their children in edtech use for learning at home. For example, in 2016, Blackboard revealed that the top challenge reported by schools who implemented blended learning was educating parents on their role in supporting blended learning for their children9. Similarly, a survey of more than 700 teachers in 40 U.S. states conducted in the spring of 2020, just after schools first shifted to remote instruction due to the COVID-19 pandemic, shows that parents’ lack of digital literacy skills was a hurdle to the transition to online instruction10.
Families, even those who might not be tech-savvy, have something to offer their children in terms of appropriate and purposeful use of technology. They can support children’s use of technology by developing an understanding of how they can help children take care of their devices, when children need to have access to their devices, how school is already protecting children’s data, how to protect children’s privacy and security, and even when to ask children to put down the device to engage in physical activities. Schools that support family engagement in boosting student at-home digital use can expect better outcomes11.
Strategies for success:
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many Verizon Innovative Learning Schools created regular virtual opportunities for parents to learn about what was going on in the school and to learn skills for supporting their children during distance learning. For example, a middle school in Louisville, Kentucky, held biweekly virtual parent engagement nights which covered a variety of topics. Other schools, like a pair of middle schools in Compton, California, and Cleveland, Ohio, conducted virtual cooking classes with parents to promote engagement and help parents become more comfortable with the technology their children were using. A middle school in Silver Spring, Maryland hosted virtual parent town hall meetings in the evenings and held breakout rooms by language, so parents could participate and provide feedback in their primary language without needing to use translators for the entire event. As a result, parent participation increased tenfold.