Parental Involvement is believed by many to be an important element of high-quality childcare. Because PI is widely believed to be beneficial, recent years have seen governments around the world introduce a wide range of policies and government programs designed to increase PI in institutions that serve children, particularly those that serve young children who are of pre-school age.
PI programs are intended by their proponents and designers to achieve a broad range of objectives. In addition to improving student learning capacity and development outcomes, many PI programs are also intended to promote other goals including the promotion of citizenship and community between children, parents and educators.
The primary focus of most attempts to evaluate the impact of PI initiatives has been on their impact on student learning and cognitive development. Analysis of the impact of PI has focused on this set of objectives both because they are widely considered to be the primary aims of practices and policies that promote PI, and because this objective is easier to measure than vaguer concepts such as community-building and social capital.
Advocates of PI suggest several different mechanisms by which PI may contribute to improved outcomes, one of the most important of which being that PI programs provide a low-cost way of ensuring that children spend more time engaged in developmentally enriching activity by making efficient use of free “parent-labour.” Researchers Carl Corter and Janette Pelletier illustrate the attractiveness of this possibility by pointing out that if every parent in the United States were to read to their child for one hour a day, this would provide for free 8.7 billion annual hours of “reading time” for children, a benefit that would cost the government an enormous amount of money to provide.
However, despite the optimism of supporters concerning PI’s capacity to boost student scores through this mechanism and others, some researchers are beginning to question the validity of PI as a measure of childcare quality. In a recent paper, Corter and Pelletier reviewed the existing evidence of the impact of PI, and conclude by stating that demonstrably effective PI initiatives are “rare.” The authors, having surveyed a variety of analyses and evaluations of PI policies, programs and practices state that there currently exist “few evidence-based lessons” to draw from them. Although the authors note that there is strong empirical evidence that there is a correlation between “naturally occurring” parental involvement in student education and later academic achievement, there simply does not exist a sound enough evidence base to conclude that there is a causal relationship between PI and better outcomes.
Although Corter and Pelletier assert that there is not enough evidence to demonstrate a causal relationship between PI, generally speaking, and outcomes, they note that there are some examples of PI programs that have been studied which do appear to be having a positive impact on child development. Specifically, the authors note that programs that provide parents with particular activities designed to target specific areas of child development have shown some degree of positive impact. The authors also state that forms of PI that promote “partnerships” between parents and teachers in which both parties develop common approaches to dealing with the children appear to positively impact indicators of cognitive and social development.
Rather than simply accepting that PI “works” or “does not work” Corter and Pelletier conclude their review of the literature by arguing that more research is required in order to examine the links between specific objectives, practices and outcomes in order to understand whether particular initiatives are having the desired impact. The term “parental involvement” covers a huge range of policies and practices and it is therefore of little value for researchers to attempt to determine whether PI as such should be an important priority in the development of policies and programs for children. Our understanding of this topic would benefit greatly from more modest studies of the causal link between particular types of interventions and development outcomes.