Panel Paper: Empowering Parents in Schools: Evidence from a Randomized Controlled Trial in Rural Mexico

Friday, November 8, 2019
Plaza Building: Concourse Level, Governor's Square 12 (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Felipe Barrera-Osorio1, Paul Gertler2, Nozomi Nakajima1 and Harry Patrinos3, (1)Harvard University, (2)University of California, Berkeley, (3)World Bank

School-based management is a popular education reform in developing countries that aims to increase parental involvement in schools. In theory, empowering parents should increase demand for more efficient use of school resources and for closer monitoring of teachers. These changes in turn should lead to improvements in student learning (Barrera-Osorio et al. 2009). However, the current evidence base of these types of information interventions is mixed, with many showing null effects on student learning (Banerjee et al. 2010, Blimpo et al. 2015, Beasley & Huillery 2014) and a couple yielding positive effects (Pradhan et al. 2014, Duflo et al. 2015). One possible explanation for these mixed findings is that in order for parental empowerment programs to impact student performance, there must be a shift in power between school personnel (principals and teachers) and parents.

In this paper, we examine the effect of a parental empowerment program in rural Mexico on parent-teacher-principal relationship dynamics and on student academic performance. The program provided parents with information about how to become involved in school management, focusing on (i) positive parenting practices (i.e., how to support their children’s learning both in and out of school), (ii) the school curriculum (i.e., what teachers should be teaching their students at each grade level), and (iii) the administrative roles of the principal. Using a randomized controlled trial, we find that the provision of information to parents led to a significant decrease in parents’ views that teachers and principals take responsibility over their children’s learning. This negative impact on both parent-teacher and parent-principal relationships likely explains the lack of the program’s effect on student academic performance.

The results from our study relate to the broader literature on parental involvement in schools. Previous studies suggest that there are significant information asymmetries between parents and their children, and increasing school-to-parent communication can help reduce these asymmetries (Bergman 2015, Dizon-Ross 2018, Rogers & Feller 2018). What has not been explored is the idea that increasing school-to-parent communication can backfire if it disrupts existing parent-teacher (and parent-principal) relationships. Sociological literature suggests that parent-teacher relationships vary considerably across income, with low-income parents being viewed as “listeners” in parent-school relationships rather than being viewed as “instigators” (Lareau 1987). In our paper, we document how principals and teachers respond when low-income, less-educated parents gain familiarity with institutional norms and gain confidence in instigating school-to-parent communication.