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Breaking Up is Hard to Do: A Qualitative Study of Parent Decision Making and Relationship Maintenance in an Age of School Choice Open Access

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Parent involvement in children’s education has long been accepted, as a positively linked variable in their children’s educational achievement, and it has been part of general education law in the United States since 1965. Parent Involvement research in public, private, home and charter school often focuses on student outcomes as the primary effect of parental involvement, but little research exists on the effect the decision to transfer schools has on the family’s social network or the effect of student mobility has on student outcomes (Fiel, Haskins, & Turley, 2013). Using the lens of Epstein’s Overlapping Spheres of Influence, this study sought to understand how parents see themselves in the role of education decision maker, the experiences that prompt them to transfer schools, and how their families relate to their communities during decision-making. Theories from Social Sciences disciplines were applied to provide depth to Epstein’s Spheres: Hoover-Dempsey’s Parent Role Construction, Blau’s Exchange Theory, and Simon’s Economic Theory of Bounded Rationality. Findings from this study suggest teachers, school administrators, and parents approach the education of children from priorities rooted in micro, macro, and meta ideals. Parents of middle and high school students find their need to release (launch is the term used in post-secondary education literature) their children to post high school life is often in conflict with secondary school policies that prioritize student self-advocacy over parental needs to provide, guide and rescue their children, when their children fail to negotiate on an adult level with school professionals. The study provides school leaders additional insight in to the dissonance where policies and practices may disconnect which may lead parents to pursue education channels outside of public education. The study findings also imply how school leaders and parents may find a way to work together with greater understanding or student needs, with attention to creating the best possible environments that support student learning.

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