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The Harvard Family Research Project separated from the Harvard Graduate School of Education to become the Global Family Research Project as of January 1, 2017. It is no longer affiliated with Harvard University.

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About Family Involvement Research Digests

Harvard Family Research Project's (HFRP) Family Involvement Research Digests summarize research written and published by non-HFRP authors and/or written by HFRP authors but published by organizations other than HFRP.  To learn more about the research summarized in this digest, please contact the authors at at the addresses below. For help citing this article, click here.

Research Background

Many studies have examined types of parent involvement and their effect on student learning and behavior; only a few, however, have studied the factors that motivate parents to become involved (Lanthier, Wright-Cunningham & Edmonds, 2003; Reed, Jones, Walker & Hoover-Dempsey, 2000). Hoover-Dempsey & Sandler (1995, 1997) identified three critical factors as determinants of parent involvement: (1) parents' role construct (that is, their beliefs about their need to be involved in their child's education), (2) parents' sense of self-efficacy—that they have the knowledge and skills to be involved, and (3) school invitations.

Other research has found that cultural and socioeconomic factors strongly influence immigrant families' role construct or perceptions about parental involvement (Carrasquillo & London, 1993; Delgado-Gaitan & Trueba, 1991). Furthermore, these studies suggest that immigrant parents need opportunities to learn about the school system and their roles and rights in their child's education (Chrispeels & Rivero, 2001; Valdés, 1996). Our study draws from this literature and presents models of factors influencing Latino parent involvement in elementary and secondary schools before and after they participated in a parent education program.¹

Before parents participated in the program, our data, based on a presurvey of participating parents, confirmed the importance of role construct as a primary predictor of parent involvement. Post-program survey data showed that role construct can be influenced by a culturally sensitive education program.

Research Methods

A sample of 1,156 parents from 20 California schools was surveyed before and after participating in a 9-week education program offered in the winter of 2002. The surveys included 31 items that assessed seven areas related to parent involvement: (1) home learning activities (e.g., reading to child), (2) parenting practices (e.g., praising child), (3) home-school connections (e.g., attending PTA meetings), (4) parents' knowledge (e.g., knowing academic standards), (5) sense of self-efficacy (e.g., able to help child be successful in school), (6) parental role construction (e.g., parents believe they have to be involved in child's education), and (7) college expectations (e.g., expect child to go to university).

The analysis included two phases: (1) determining effect sizes to know how much the program influenced parents' knowledge, beliefs, and actions, and (2) structural equation modeling² to determine the pathways (factors) by which Latino parents become involved at the elementary and secondary levels (Slaughter-Defoe & Brown, 1998).

Research Findings

A significant difference in parent knowledge, beliefs, and practices was found after parents attended the 9-week parent education program.

The program had a significant effect on most parent involvement factors, especially on parents' knowledge (1.06 elementary and .89 secondary). All areas fell in the medium-to-large effect size, except for the home-school connections. The short duration of the program may be one reason for the minimal effect on home-school connections, which did not allow for opportunities for the school or teachers to change their practices and invitations. The table below displays the effect sizes.³

Construct Level of Effect Elementary Schools Secondary Schools
Parents' knowledge Large (>.80) 1.06 .89
Parents' self-efficacy Medium (>.20 <.80) .42 .34
Home learning activities   .32 .31
College expectations   .32 .34
Parental role construction   .31 .27
Parenting practices   .25 .20
Home-school connections Small (< .20) .11 .08

Knowledge gained in the program is the strongest predictor of Latino parent involvement with their elementary-aged children after participating in the program.

After the 9-week course, parents' knowledge was the strongest predictor of parent involvement, having a direct effect on all factors. Parenting practices was the strongest predictor of home learning activities, mediating parental role construct. A possible explanation may be found in the program content, which strongly stresses the importance of positive parenting practices and encourages parents to support the social-emotional development of their child as well as to engage in home learning activities. Chrispeels and Rivero (2001) previously found that after participating in this education program, parents reported dramatic changes in their parenting behaviors, such as praising their child, engaging in less physical punishment for mistakes, and establishing rules and limits to television viewing, which supported more time for learning activities. College expectations were directly affected by knowledge, parenting practices, self-efficacy, and role construct. The strong focus of the education program on the importance of setting college expectations early and engaging in parenting practices toward college during elementary school helps to explain the paths found in this study.

Increases in knowledge about how to help their children and how the school system works also is the strongest predictor of Latino parent involvement with their secondary-aged children.

In the secondary schools, after the program, knowledge also showed a direct effect on all factors of parent involvement. Parents' beliefs about their role at the secondary level seemed to be more related to parenting practices than to home learning activities. The direct path from role construct to college expectations was expected because of the programs' strong focus on planning for college attendance. We found that when parents participated in school activities, it affected their parenting practices. The knowledge gained through the program directly influenced their decisions to contact the school. The direct path from home-school connections to college expectations may depend on school invitations and may also require a longer time frame for parents to meet with school counselors and attend college prep meetings.

Implications for Practice

This study introduces a new construct: parents' knowledge based on Chrispeels and Rivero's (2001) framework, which has not been extensively explored in the literature as a factor influencing parent involvement. The study shows that a parent education program can have a significant effect on motivators of parent involvement at both elementary and secondary levels by increasing parents' knowledge of how to be involved. These findings are especially important for school districts needing to strengthen their parent involvement programs in response to the No Child Left Behind Act.

The study suggests that in a parent education program of short duration

  • Parents' knowledge about the school system and the importance of being involved (role construct) are the easiest areas in which to effect change.
  • Home-school connections are the most difficult to change and require more efforts on the part of schools and teachers to increase invitations and opportunities for involvement.
  • Role construct is not a fixed variable, but can be changed through knowledge.
  • Latino families will respond, if the school provides information about how to help in a culturally sensitive way.
  • Parents need to understand that planning for college must begin in elementary and junior high school; such information can help parents reconstruct their role and parenting practices.


¹ The parenting program is offered by the Parent Institute for Quality Education (PIQE), a nonprofit group than began in San Diego, California, in 1987, with the specific purpose of helping Latino and other immigrant parents learn about the American educational system, how to interact schools and teachers, and how to help their children at home. The program has served over 250,000 parents in its 9-week sessions. For more information about PIQE programs visit their website,
² Structural equation modeling (SEM) is a statistical technique that combines factor analysis, path analysis, and regressions techniques to determine whether a certain model is valid (Kline, 1998).
³ Effect size is a measure of the difference between two or more groups. While most statistical tests determine whether there is a significant difference or not between groups, the effect size measures the magnitude of that difference, that is, how large the difference is (Cohen, 1988).


Carrasquillo, A. L., & London, C. B. G. (1993). Parent and schools: A source book. New York: Garland.

Chrispeels, J. H., & Rivero, E. (2001). Engaging Latino families for student success: How parent education can reshape parents' sense of place in the education of their children. Peabody Journal of Education, 76(2), 119–169.

Cohen, J. (1988). Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences (2nd ed.). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Delgado-Gaitan, C., & Trueba, H. (1991). Crossing cultural borders: Education for immigrant families in America. London: Falmer.

Hoover-Dempsey, K. V., & Sandler, H. M. (1995). Parental involvement in children's education: Why does it make a difference? Teachers College Record, 97, 310–331.

Hoover-Dempsey, K. V., & Sandler, H. M. (1997). Why do parents become involved in their children's education? Review of Education Research, 67, 3–42.

Kline, R. B. (1998). Principles and practice of structural equation modeling. New York: The Guilford Press.

Lanthier, R. P., Wright-Cunningham, K., & Edmonds, E. A. (2003). Factors influencing levels of parental involvement: Findings from research. Washington, DC: National Clearinghouse for Comprehensive School Reform.

Reed, R. P., Jones, K. P., Walker, J. M., & Hoover-Dempsey, K. V. (2000, April). Parents' motivations for involvement in children's education: Testing a theoretical model. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New Orleans, LA.

Slaughter-Defoe, D., & Brown, E. (1998). Educational intervention and the family: The Chicago tradition in policy and practice. National Head Start Research Quarterly, 1(4), 39–111.

Valdés, G. (1996). Con respeto: Bridging the distances between culturally diverse families and schools. New York: Teachers College Press.

Janet Chrispeels
Center for Educational Leadership
Gevirtz Graduate School of Education
University of California, Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara, CA 93106-9490

Margarita González
Center for Educational Leadership
Gevirtz Graduate School of Education
University of California, Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara, CA 93106-9490

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