Abstract: What Is Parent Engagement in Early Childhood Education? Depends Who You ASK (Society for Prevention Research 27th Annual Meeting)

354 What Is Parent Engagement in Early Childhood Education? Depends Who You ASK

Thursday, May 30, 2019
Seacliff B (Hyatt Regency San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Deborah Gross, Ph.D., Professor, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD
Amie F. Bettencourt, Ph.D., ChiPP Project Director, The Fund for Educational Excellence, Baltimore, MD
Kathryn Taylor, MPH, student, The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD
Lucine Francis, PhD, Post-doctoral Fellow, The Johns Hopkins University, BALTIMORE, MD
Kelly Bower, PhD, Assistant Professor, The Johns Hopkins University, BALTIMORE, MD
Introduction: It is well documented that parent engagement in early learning is essential for young children’s academic success. Many urban districts recognize the importance of parent engagement and have invested their limited resources in offices dedicated to promoting parent engagement. Despite such investments, many districts serving low-income families struggle with low parent engagement. This raises questions about whether there is a shared understanding of what constitutes meaningful parent engagement and how best to promote it. Using a qualitative descriptive design, this study explored defining characteristics of parent engagement in early learning from the perspective of multiple Baltimore City Public Schools (BCPS) stakeholders: parents, teachers, principals, early childhood staff, district leaders, and community leaders.

Methods: BCPS is a large urban district serving a predominantly African American (79%) and low-income (55%) population. To maximize sample variability, we recruited BCPS personnel and parents from schools differing on geography, kindergarten readiness scores, school climate survey response rates, and family context (e.g., parent language, homelessness, history of incarceration). Individual interviews were conducted with 63 PreK and Kindergarten parents, school staff, district leaders, and community leaders and transcribed verbatim; data were coded using content analysis and compared across stakeholder groups.

Results: Analyses yielded 39 codes representing 10 overarching themes including definitions of parent engagement, home-based activities (e.g., reading with your child, checking school materials), school-based activities (e.g., volunteering in the classroom, attending parent-teacher conferences), parental knowledge of what happens in child’s school, parent-teacher-school communication (e.g., content of communication, direction of communication), trust, affective qualities of the parent-teacher-school relationship, and parents’ understanding of their impact on their child’s learning. Thematic comparisons revealed key differences by stakeholder group in what behaviors were indicative of an engaged parent. For example, 100% of parents described strategies for making learning fun compared to ≤15% for all other stakeholder groups. School-based staff were more likely to describe getting the child to school every day (53%) than were parents (0%). Principals were more likely to describe parent participation in decision-making (65%)than were parents (4%).

Conclusions: Wide differences in how different stakeholders describe parent engagement have implications for how districts are seeking to promote parent engagement in early learning. Results will be discussed in terms of 3 completing models for how different stakeholders understand the role of parent engagement in promoting young children’s academic success: a parent investment model, a teacher investment model, and a parent social capital model.