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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 access the full research publication summarized in this digest, please see the citation below. For help citing this article, click here.

Research Background

This study focuses on parent involvement at one urban public high school, the Boston Arts Academy (BAA), a Pilot School of the Boston Public Schools. As a Boston Pilot School, BAA has autonomy over its budget, governance, curriculum and assessment, staffing, and schedule. The school serves approximately 400 students in grades 9–12. All students take both a full course of arts and college preparatory academics.

This case study emerged from an earlier study of parent involvement practices across the Boston Pilot Schools Network (Ouimette, Feldman¹ & Tung, 2002). Boston Arts Academy was chosen as a case study school because it enrolls a diverse population. Of the 381 students enrolled in 2002–2003, there were 50% African-American students, 24% White students, 25% Latino students, and 1% Asian students; and 56% were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Its students perform well on a variety of indicators of student engagement and achievement, and parent attendance at school-based events over the past few years has been consistently high. Although the literature on parent involvement cites many examples of challenges to parent involvement and suggestions to overcome those challenges, few models of extensive parent involvement in urban, public high schools have been described.

Research Methods

This case study of parent involvement focused on the following question: What has made Boston Arts Academy successful in engaging a majority of parents who have varied prior school experiences and levels of engagement?

Over a 2-year period, we conducted interviews with BAA parents, students, teachers, administrators, and staff. We spoke with 23 parents, representing 26 students, in individual semi-structured interviews. Questions focused on reasons for choosing BAA, involvement in their children's lives at home and at school, expectations for involvement in their children's education, and changes in their involvement levels over time.

In order to present a range of involvement levels, parents were randomly selected from groups according to the number and type of events that they attended. Parent interviews were separated into two groups, high and medium, which corresponded to parents' engagement levels in school-based activities. Designations were based on parent attendance levels at four events, two required and two optional, during fall 2002, and membership on BAA's Parent Council Executive Board. Parents who attended more than the two required events and/or were members of the school's Parent Council were included in the "high" category and those who attended the two required events or fewer were included in the "medium" category. Parents were chosen at random from each group to participate in an interview. In separate interviews, we talked with 24 of the 26 students whose parents we interviewed. We also interviewed three teachers, three staff members, and one administrator.

We observed 10 parent/family events over 2 school years at BAA, including orientation, parent council meetings, student assessments, and performances. We also reviewed school publications, parent attendance data, and meeting announcements for the 2001–2002 and 2002–2003 school years. Researchers read transcripts of all interviews, noted general themes, and then generated a list of codes, including home involvement, school involvement, home–school communication, comfort level, choice, expectations, future goals, likes, and concerns. Transcripts were then coded and analyzed using HyperRESEARCH, a qualitative analysis computer software program.

Research Findings

1. The Vision of Parent Involvement at BAA
Parents have been an integral part of the BAA community since the school opened in 1998. Its founders, who still head the school, believe that parent support is a key component of student success. With this vision in mind, they designed a school that offers parents many ways to support their children's education. In designing the range of opportunities for parent involvement, staff tried to understand different parent dispositions towards engagement with the school, especially related to cultural values and prior experiences with their children's education. For example, they knew that some parents may not have been welcomed or accustomed to participating in their children's school, while others may have always felt empowered to voice their opinions and participate in every aspect of the school.

2. BAA Strategies for Achieving Their Parent Involvement Vision
The goal of family involvement at BAA is to maintain open communication among the team of staff, students, and parents, which creates a “safety net” through which students cannot fall. BAA hires teachers and staff who are committed to the school's mission and the idea of parents as partners in education. Through orientation and the school's handbook, staff at BAA reinforce the idea that parents are as important as staff in ensuring that children succeed.

A major way that the school ensures open communication among families and the school is through creative staffing. Using its budget and staffing autonomy, the school has created two staff positions to welcome parents into the school community and keep them involved. The Community Outreach Coordinator ensures that Boston students and their parents know that the school is an option for them, while the Family Coordinator keeps BAA parents well informed and encourages engagement in the school community.

The school community offers many different opportunities for parent involvement. As at the other Pilot high schools, family involvement activities are classified into three categories: events, membership, and communication. Opportunities include the following:


  • Parent–teacher–student (narrative) conferences
  • Orientations
  • Student performances
  • Reviews of student work
  • Workshops on the college admissions process
  • Volunteer opportunities, such as providing support at performances


  • Parent Council Board
  • Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity (SEED) discussion group


  • School-to-parent liaisons
  • Monthly newsletters

This variety of opportunities allows parents with different interests, schedules, and constraints to get involved to a degree that feels appropriate to them (Ouimette, Feldman & Tung, 2002).

From interviews with parents, we find that both high- and medium-involvement parents participate to a high degree in any events or activities directly related to their own children's school work, such as parent–teacher–student narratives, performances, and exhibitions. There is little difference between the rates at which parents in either group are involved at the school in terms of events related to student work.

Although most parents are committed to attending school-based events that are directly related to student work, they vary greatly in the extent to which they participate in school-based events that are not directly related to student work. Examples of these types of activities include serving as a room parent, participating in the Parent Council Board, and volunteering to provide support at performances and exhibitions. High-involvement parents were more likely than medium-involvement parents to participate in activities not directly related to student work. Parents saw participation in these types of activities as important to supporting both their own children and the school.

In addition to school-based involvement, both high- and medium-involvement parents were actively engaged in their children's lives outside school. Two types of such involvement are (1) talking about life, education, and future goals during times they spend together and (2) providing homework support through assistance with assignments and purchasing materials and supplies.

3. BAA's Strategies Result in Parents' Feeling Well-Informed and Welcomed
Parents in general wanted to be involved as much as possible at the school in order to know what was going on with their children. They expressed an interest in attending as many events as possible, taking into account jobs and family responsibilities. Parents are comfortable going into the school and they feel known; for example, teachers and administrators know parents by name and greet them when they are at the school, which many parents said was not always the case at other schools. Regular communication with teachers also helps parents to stay connected to their children's education.

Overall, parents in both groups were happy with the school and satisfied that it was doing a good job. There were no significant differences in the responses of parents in both groups in terms of satisfaction with the school.

Implications for Practice

Boston Arts Academy engages a vast majority of its parents in school-based activities through multiple events and entry points, a welcoming school environment, and frequent communication among staff and parents. By focusing on building a diverse, inclusive culture and encouraging parents to take part in the school, BAA engages parents with varied prior experiences and dispositions toward parent involvement. Parents express that the school creates an open, welcoming, and informative environment.

Although BAA's Pilot status provides unique advantages for implementing a parent engagement strategy, other schools may learn from the model, even if they do not have autonomy or are not small. Key elements from the BAA model that other schools may adopt include

  • Developing a coherent school vision that focuses on including families of varying dispositions as part of the team
  • Creating multiple, diverse opportunities for parent involvement, and support for parents to avail themselves of these opportunities
  • Supporting staff commitment to knowing students well and regularly communicating with parents
  • Allocating staffing resources toward facilitating parent communication and involvement


Ouimette, M., Feldman, J., Tung, R. (2002). Parent involvement in the Boston Pilot Schools: Lessons from a unique urban network. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the New England Educational Research Organization, Northampton, MA.

Summarized from a paper presented at the 2004 annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Diego, CA.

Monique Ouimette
Research Associate
Center for Collaborative Education
1135 Tremont Street, Suite 490
Boston, MA 02120

Jay Feldman (see footnote 1)
Research Director
Coalition of Essential Schools
1814 Franklin Street, Suite 700
Oakland, CA 94612

Rosann Tung
Research Director
Center for Collaborative Education
1135 Tremont Street, Suite 490
Boston, MA 02120

¹ Jay Feldman, formerly of the Center for Collaborative Education, is now Research Director at the Coalition of Essential Schools.


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