Poster Paper: State Parental Work Policies and School-Based Parental Involvement

Saturday, November 8, 2014
Ballroom B (Convention Center)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Katie Vinopal, American University
Parental involvement (PI) in children’s education is thought to positively influence several cognitive and social outcomes for children (e.g., Avvisati et al. 2010; Houtenville & Conway 2008; Phillips 2011). However, PI varies widely across socioeconomic status, race/ethnicity, and family structure (e.g. Bianchi, 2000; Kalil, et al. 2012; Lareau 2003). A large and growing literature explores the determinants of and barriers to PI (e.g. Hoover-Dempsey et al. 2001; Waanders et al. 2007; Walker et al. 2005).

Inflexible work schedules or situations are often discussed as a barrier to PI, especially for low-income parents who may have rigid work schedules (e.g. Bianchi 2000; Hornby & Lafaele 2011). For example, Heymann and Earle (2000) find that among parents of children with learning or behavioral difficulties, low-income parents are more likely to lack work flexibility compared to higher-income families. Further, Turney and Kao (2009) find that of parents with low PI, over half report that their work schedule was the primary barrier. To address this issue, several states have implemented labor laws that require employers to let parents take leave for school activities. However, there has been no analysis of the impact of these policies.

The current study addresses this gap in the literature by exploiting variation in the timing and location of the implementation of these state-level labor laws. Specifically, I address two research questions. First, do state-level policies regarding parental leave for school-related activities affect school-based parental involvement? Second, do these laws differentially affect low-skilled working families?

I use a difference-in-difference identification strategy that compares the change in PI over time in states where labor laws were implemented to changes in PI in states without a change in such laws. Policy information comes from a reference guide published by the National Parent Teacher Association, supplemented by an analysis of state legislative history. Household-level data come from the Parent and Family Involvement in Education Survey, part of the National Household Education Surveys (PFI-NHES), a nationally representative cross section of households in the U.S. conducted in 1996, 1999, 2003, and 2007. I construct five binary school PI outcome measures: whether a household adult has attended a parent-teacher conference, general school meeting, or school event; served as a volunteer at school; or has done any of these since the beginning of the school year.

Preliminary results indicate that these laws are associated with significant, substantial increases in parent-teacher conference (+8.3 percentage points) and general meeting (+6.8 percentage points) attendance, and a decrease in volunteering (-10.5 percentage points). There is no evidence of stronger effects for low-skilled working families, and this may be due to the fact that these laws do not require that time off be paid. Finally, I conduct several sensitivity analyses to evaluate the validity of my identifying assumptions and check the robustness of my results, including falsification tests and using different control groups. These analyses support the validity of the primary results. These findings could have potentially important policy implications regarding the effectiveness of relaxing employment-related barriers to PI.