Parents And Teachers As Partners In Education Research Paper

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Parents have always been involved in children’s preparation for adulthood, but during the twentieth century many responsibilities were taken over by schools. In Western societies a model of teachers and parents as ‘partners in education’ gradually evolved which currently enjoys widespread academic and political support. In the contemporary climate of globalization it may well be presented as the ideal for all societies with mass education systems. Yet critics claim it is difficult to implement at best, and may easily serve further to disempower socially disadvantaged sectors of the population.

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1. Evolution Of The Partnership Model

In any society, economic, sociocultural, and political conditions, as well as pedagogical theory, help define the preferred model of home–school relations.

1.1 Historical Shifts

During the early decades of mass schooling in Western societies, as teaching methods became more specialized and when teachers were among the most highly educated members of their communities, parents were viewed as ill-equipped to understand what happened in classrooms and liable to do more harm than good if they interfered. In the more widespread affluence of the post-World War II period, parents came under much greater pressure to assist by providing a materially enriched home environment, but were only expected to become significantly engaged in discussion of their child’s education if schools identified problems. Parents were not regularly invited beyond the school gate until the 1970s; opportunities were then limited initially to formal discussions about children’s progress, or provision of unskilled assistance to teachers, but gradually expanded to include more responsible duties in classrooms and more freedom to engage informally with staff. By the late 1980s research proclaimed major parental involvement as educators to be essential to children’s success in school, and parents themselves were demanding more say in educational decision-making.

1.2 Contemporary Partnership Programs

The language used to strategize home–school connections has reflected these shifts. Current policies espousing ‘partnership’ have implications that distinguish them in important ways from those based primarily on parental ‘involvement’ or ‘consultation.’ The partnership paradigm requires consensus between teachers and parents on the goals and processes of education, and implies a full sharing of information, skills, decision-making, and accountability.

Early partnership programs were typically the initiatives of individual school principals, but their establishment is now commonly assisted by research-based and/or organizational support. In a large-scale project in New Zealand, for example, experienced senior teachers were imported into schools as ‘developers’ to support and legitimate innovative practice and constructively challenge institutional resistance to collaborative ways of working (Ramsay et al. 1993). In the USA, the Center for Social Organization of Schools has theorized an extended partnership framework including other family members and the wider community (Epstein et al. 1997). Implementation involves exploring opportunities for six types of engagement: parenting (assisting families with childrearing and establishing home environments conducive to learning); communicating (developing channels for reporting student progress and school news); volunteering (improving involvement of families as volunteers and audiences to support students); learning at home (assisting all parents to help children with homework and other curriculum-linked activities); decision-making (including families in school governance as well as Parent–Teacher Associations and other committees); collaborating with the community (linking students and families with other community agencies, and providing services to the community). This model promotes ‘school-like families’ and ‘family-like schools’: parents are expected to reinforce the importance of school, and schools to recognize each child’s individuality.

It is recognized that program implementation is often problematic within educational systems that have traditionally operated in a very hierarchical manner. Research suggests that projects are relatively easily established when children are most dependent (of preschool age or with special educational needs) but still difficult to operate successfully in high schools, even though it is now strongly argued that parental participation remains crucial at this level. It is widely reported that training programs continue to pay insufficient attention to preparing teachers and administrators to work in new ways with families (including dealing with attendant challenges to their professional status), and that even the best-planned initiatives rarely fulfill all criteria of partnership or manage to attract all families.

2. Critique Of The Partnership Model

Despite acknowledged implementation difficulties, the literature nonetheless generally supports the view that ‘partnership’ remains the ideal to be pursued. However, some repeatedly articulated misgivings critique this premise.

2.1 Research Support

Some writers contend that research has not provided compelling support for the core claim that the impact of parental involvement is positive, that too much of the corroborative evidence comes from studies of self-selected samples of schools and parents, and that assumptions about the direction of causal connections between involvement and children’s success have been insufficiently interrogated. It is also argued that researchers have failed to investigate seriously some of the potentially negative consequences, for example, the impact of highly engaged parents whose motivation may be rooted in an antischool stance, the ‘dark side’ to the intense involvement of some ambitious or ‘pushy’ middle-class parents, and the risks associated with seeing increased parental participation as the universal panacea for schools’ pedagogical or financial problems. Possibly there has been a ‘conspiracy’ to avoid examining the new buzzword of partnership too closely in case it fell apart (Bastiani 1993).

2.2 Partnerships And Power Relations

Whereas partnership protagonists such as Epstein argue that parents are more concerned about ‘information,’ ‘communication,’ and ‘participation’ than about ‘power’ or ‘control,’ others claim the language of collaboration and partnership helps to silence the naming of important power asymmetries in home– school relations. ‘Participation’ may therefore mean that parents play a more active role, but are given no genuine opportunity to challenge the school’s authority to define the nature of that role (Fine 1993). It may deflect attention from gender disparities, such as mothers’ under-representation in positions of governance or schools’ reported reluctance to utilize fathers in classroom support roles.

Furthermore, parents and teachers do not necessarily mean the same thing when they use terms such as ‘helping children succeed.’ Discussing the enduring documentation of socioeconomic class (SES) differences in parental involvement, Lareau (Lareau 1989, Lareau and Horvat 1999) suggests that these differences have several roots, including the fact that whereas middle-class parents typically embrace opportunities to scrutinize and question school practices, low-SES parents often prefer a relationship characterized by separateness, expecting teachers to do their job and seeing themselves as helping best by deferring to professional expertise. Her analysis also incorporates Bourdieu’s (1990) notion of cultural capital: high-SES children enter schools with more cultural capital potentially available for activation because schools tend to use the linguistic structures, authority patterns, and types of curricula with which they are more familiar. There may be negative consequences for parents’ dignity and authority in the home if they cannot (or prefer not to) perform their designated roles as educators in accordance with these terms. Low-SES parents may feel less confident or comfortable visiting schools, and may have more reason than high-SES parents to fear that closer links with schools could result in greater family surveillance by government agencies. Middle-class domination of that aspect of ‘partnership’ quintessentially distinguishing it from other models—involvement of parents in all aspects of school governance—may function to sustain rather than challenge societal inequalities. While some projects work hard to minimize such impediments, or avoid them through being established in more economically homogeneous communities, the generic Western model arguably privileges the ways in which well-educated parents wish to, and can, engage with schools.

Most of these concerns have also been addressed with reference to multiculturalism, neocolonialism, and racism (e.g., Ramsay et al. 1993, Limerick and Nielsen 1994, Lareau and Horvat 1999). Whether or not imbalances of power or influence fundamentally violate the spirit of partnership remains a key feature of current debate.

2.3 Political Intervention

In Western societies, partnership models enjoy widespread political support, provoking debate about the extent to which schools should be legally mandated to develop partnership programs and parents required to participate. Legislation might be the only way to reduce significantly existing societal inequalities or it could equally well serve to consolidate or amplify them. Partnership initiatives may be compromised by the effects of other political interventions in education, such as imposition of a ‘market model’ that positions parents as selfish ‘consumers’ of school services. Moreover, no less than other paradigms, the partnership model should be recognized as offering national or local governments opportunities to absolve themselves from the responsibilities of maintaining struggling public school systems (Fine 1993). While the market model seeks to lay blame primarily at the door of schools, the ‘family-is-school’ approach could arguably enable school failure to be more easily read as family failure.

3. Future Trends

To some extent, future developments will be driven by research findings that resolve the implementation problems outlined above. They will also be influenced by how communities prioritize their objectives. While the pre-eminent objective may continue to be enhancement of parents’ ability to promote their own children’s school success (however defined), some communities or cultures may prefer a more collective approach that encourages all adults to work on behalf of all children. Other programs may focus less exclusively on children, and place more emphasis on helping parents improve their quality of life and on the broader rejuvenation of community spirit. If educational resources are limited, families may play a critical role in the development of curriculum materials; in nations where the legacy of colonialism still positions schools as somewhat alien institutions, schemes may be focused on integrating schools more fully into the society. Whatever the objectives, a partnership ideology suggests that programs are most likely to succeed when goals are clearly articulated and informed consensus has been reached regarding the strategies employed to achieve them. As always, however, developments will be directly or indirectly influenced by external factors such as funding support and other aspects of government policy.

‘Partnership’ is clearly the current model of choice for white Western middle-class communities, and has many features with the potential to inform good educational practice in a wide variety of cultural settings. Nevertheless, certain conditions must be met in order that partnership programs offer all families an equitable chance of reaping the rewards of participation. Furthermore, inasmuch as technological advances may mean that children in future spend much less time either physically located in schools or pedagogically locked into the programs of individual education systems, current ideas about ‘consumers,’ ‘providers,’ and ‘partnerships’ may possibly soon require radical re-examination.


  1. Bastiani J 1993 Parents as partners: Genuine progress or empty rhetoric? In: Munn P (ed.) Parents and Schools: Customers, Managers or Partners? Routledge, London, pp. 101–16
  2. Berger E H 1987 Parents as Partners in Education: The School and
  3. Home Working Together, 2nd edn. Merrrill, Columbus, OH
  4. Bourdieu P 1990 In Other Words: Essays Towards a Reflexive Sociology. Polity Press, Cambridge, UK
  5. Epstein J L, Coates L, Salinas K C, Sanders M G, Simon B S 1997 School, Family, and Community Partnerships: Your Handbook for Action. Corwin Press, Thousand Oaks, CA
  6. Fine M 1993 [Ap]parent involvement: Reflections on parents, power, and urban public schools. Teachers College Record 94: 682–710
  7. Lareau A 1989 Home Advantage: Social Class and Parental Intervention in Elementary Education. Falmer Press, London
  8. Lareau A, Horvat E McN 1999 Moments of social inclusion and exclusion: Race, class, and cultural capital in family–school relationships. Sociology of Education 72: 37–53
  9. Limerick B, Nielsen H (eds.) 1994 School and Community Relations: Participation, Policy and Practice. Harcourt Brace, Sydney, Australia
  10. Ramsay P, Hawk K, Harold B, Marriott R, Poskitt J 1993 Developing Partnerships: Collaboration Between Teachers and Parents. Learning Media, Ministry of Education, Wellington, New Zealand


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