The United States and Australia both fall in the lower middle tier of the world’s developed countries for education quality. There are a variety of factors that significantly influence the educational experience of children: funding, access to technology, class size and the level of teacher’s education are just a few. Studies show that parental involvement also plays a crucial role in a student’s success.

Unfortunately, the United States has yet to create an effective educational policy that emphasises and encourages parental involvement from within the school and community. Despite Australia’s rankings, it is beginning to see positive educational trends that will affect it moving forward. Current Australian education policy can serve as a model for future US policy.

A 2018 US Census Bureau report found a strong correlation between parental involvement and student development. Children perform better in school when they come from a household that is able to provide economic, cultural, and human resources that inspire and motivate them outside of the classroom. Parents who earn lower wages typically work longer hours, leaving less time for reading with their children. Varying parental involvement creates obvious difficulty for policy makers to pinpoint what changes to prioritise.

Current policy in the United States has jostled between working with schools and directly with communities to overcome the consequences of incongruous levels of parental involvement. These efforts have made minimal discernible impact. In 2010, the United States Department of Education awarded 21 communities funding allocated towards education centres, school programs, and community centers. The primary goal was to provide low-income parents with more opportunities to become involved in their children’s academics to boost performance. The continuation of this expensive program was contingent to funding availability, thus since 2011 it has not been awarded any grants. Regardless, the true success of the program itself can be deemed once the first cohort of students pass through in 2020.

In 2015, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act, which protects low socioeconomic status (SES) students by giving states the freedom to treat schools and districts individually rather than as one. New Mexico has been praised for its comprehensive plans to use community and parental involvement that focuses on the individual needs of struggling schools to increase state-wide graduation rate by 14 per cent by 2022. Solutions ranged from building stronger parent-student-teacher relations programs to implementing more technical education programs to boost graduation rates.

Australian education policy has done better to encourage parental involvement for greater student success. From 2009 to 2014 Australia’s National Partnership Agreement on Low Socio-Economic Status School Communities worked to boost student engagement and performance through reform of school structure and community-centred funding that catered towards parental inclusion. Between 2009 and 2013, National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) scores increased, on average, by 1.79 points for spelling and 3.64 points for grammar and punctuation in participating low SES students. Australia’s rise in NAPLAN scores exemplifies the positive impact of effective parental involvement encouraged by schools.

Further, the Parent Engagement Project (PEP) commissioned by the Australian Government Department of Education and Training from 2014-2018 sought to encourage understanding of parent engagement. This project focused on the education of parents through their children’s schools on the fundamental importance of reading to young children. Between 2008 and 2015 the percentage of Aboriginal parents that read at least one book or told at least one story per week to a 0-2 aged child rose from 67.2 per cent to 70.3 per cent nationally due to PEP. Studies indicate that these children are significantly more likely to become excited about learning. Results like this identify an important strategy in prompting parental involvement, as some parents may not understand the magnitude of these early steps in the learning process.

Statistics show that the implementation of programs like PEP and funding centred around parental involvement in Australia have improved student success rates. If the United States was to approach student success in a similar manner, perhaps by creating government funded parental education programs - specifically in lower income communities - similar results would no doubt follow.