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Interactive Homework Spurs Parent Involvement, Study Finds

Homework assignments that require help from family members can get parents more involved in middle school, a time many parents become less visible in school, concludes a new study in the School Community Journal.

Waveline Bennett-Conroy, director of pupil personnel services in the Mount Vernon City school district in Mount Vernon, N.Y., prefaced the homework intervention by interviewing 17 parents of 8th graders in a high-immigrant, low-income New York school district with historically low parent-involvement in the middle grades. She found that, while middle-school parents are often seen as being less interested in or involved in their children's academic careers, the district's parents expressed interest in working with their children. In fact, throughout the study, parents described considerably more involvement in school activities than school district officials recalled.

During a seven-week trial during the 2010-11 school year, 192 students in nine 8th-grade classes were given one assignment each week using the Teachers Involve Parents in Schoolwork, or TIPS, program, which includes assignments that require students to discuss concepts they learn in class with a family member to complete projects. Half of the teachers also were asked to reach out to parents about the assignments with five-minute personal conversations.

Bennett-Conroy found the students whose teachers contacted parents turned in 64 percent of their homework assignments, compared with 45 percent of other students. She also found that parents working on the TIPS homework attended more parent-teacher meetings than parents of students who did not have interactive homework, and the teachers involved in the study continued to use more interactive homework after the study ended, reporting that they were talking to parents they never talked to before.

As federal education research officials push for more partnerships with school districts to solve problems in the field, this study seems a good example of how even small-scale studies can be used to help district administrators like Bennett-Conroy field-test new interventions.

The full study, "Engaging Parents of Eighth Grade Students in Parent-Teacher Bidirectional Communications," is available beginning on page 87 of the online edition of School Community Journal's winter issue.

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