Parents as decision-makers: Perceptions of role and involvement

Edward David Westervelt, Fordham University


In an effort to reform and restructure schools in New York State, the Commissioner of Education, Thomas Sobol, has introduced a far-reaching plan which calls for site-based management, shared decision making, and parent involvement. A New Compact for Learning mandates that parents be allowed to participate as partners with professional staff in school governance. While many schools have encouraged parent involvement through traditional activities associated with PTAs, few public schools have experienced parent involvement as envisioned by this reform initiative. Questions have arisen, however, regarding this new role for parents: questions relative to parent motives for involvement, their expectations for involvement, and their perceptions of their role. Inclusion of parents on school teams is a step toward restructuring. It is vital, therefore, that such issues be clarified. This study was conducted in a small, suburban school district near New York City. Twelve parents who recently began participating either on a district or on building teams were interviewed repeatedly over a 7-month period. While this study was a qualitative one and, as such, may not lend itself to generalization, findings showed that parent involvement seemed to stem less from dissatisfaction with the schools than from a desire on the part of parents to gain more understanding and knowledge of the system to help insure their own children's success. Preferences for decision making as well as obstacles to decision making are delineated. Perhaps the most significant finding, however, is that parents did not view themselves as decision makers. Although A New Compact for Learning proposes fundamental changes in the ways that schools govern themselves and seeks to provide local schools with more autonomy, legislating change may not be the most effective means of promoting reform. Parents must be clear about their role; boards of education and superintendents must be willing to share power; teachers and principals must be ready to form a partnership with parents. This study underscores the fact that all stakeholders must share a common vision, acknowledging that the system needs a major overhaul.

Subject Area

School administration

Recommended Citation

Westervelt, Edward David, "Parents as decision-makers: Perceptions of role and involvement" (1993). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9412155.