Missouri Program Promotes Parental Involvement in Education Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The state of Missouri introduced an innovative program designed to encourage parents to become involved in their children’s education, beginning in the preschool years. The program met with rapid success and soon served as a model for programs across the United States.

Summary of Event

The original Parents as Teachers (PAT) program was initiated as a pilot project in 1981 to demonstrate the value of high-quality parent education and family support in strengthening the skills parents need to enhance their children’s development to age three. The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, in cooperation with the Danforth Foundation, Danforth Foundation organized and implemented the New Parents as Teachers New Parents as Teachers program (NPAT) project in four school districts representing a cross section of metropolitan and rural communities. The 380 participating families, who were enrolled in the program shortly before or after the birth of a first child, received timely information on child growth and development; periodic developmental hearing, vision, and health screenings for the child; monthly home visits by specially trained parent educators; and assistance in gaining access to needed services beyond the scope of the pilot program. They also participated in monthly group meetings at parent resource centers located in neighborhood schools. Missouri;education Parents as Teachers program Education;Parents as Teachers program Early-childhood education[Early childhood education] [kw]Missouri Program Promotes Parental Involvement in Education (1981) [kw]Program Promotes Parental Involvement in Education, Missouri (1981) [kw]Parental Involvement in Education, Missouri Program Promotes (1981) [kw]Education, Missouri Program Promotes Parental Involvement in (1981) Missouri;education Parents as Teachers program Education;Parents as Teachers program Early-childhood education[Early childhood education] [g]North America;1981: Missouri Program Promotes Parental Involvement in Education[04380] [g]United States;1981: Missouri Program Promotes Parental Involvement in Education[04380] [c]Education;1981: Missouri Program Promotes Parental Involvement in Education[04380] [c]Social issues and reform;1981: Missouri Program Promotes Parental Involvement in Education[04380] Winter, Mildred Bond, Kit White, Burton L.

From the beginning, NPAT (which later became simply PAT) was concerned with investigating outcomes of interactions in different types of families. The types of families were defined by a number of traditional characteristics commonly associated with socioeconomic advantage or disadvantage: the mother’s educational level, presence of one versus two parents, minority status, and poverty level.

With the passage of the Early Childhood Development Act in 1984, Early Childhood Development Act (Missouri, 1984) Missouri became the first state to mandate parent education and family support services. Funded by the state and provided by each school district, PAT evolved to provide parent training to 30 percent of eligible families with children aged three or younger and supplemental parent education to 50 percent of eligible families with children three and four years old. Because many parents volunteered to be part of PAT, and given the program’s proven positive effects, numerous districts began to provide additional funding to increase the numbers of families served. Additional state funds were made available for extending services to hard-to-reach families.

Designed to support young children’s language and intellectual development, curiosity, and social skills, the Parents as Teachers program survived and thrived. It provides home visits by trained parent educators, parent group meetings, periodic monitoring and formal health screening of children under age three, and a referral network to help parents gain access to needed medical or educational services. The program strives to improve parental nurturing and skills in supporting development in children’s growth. Increased knowledge regarding child development enables parents and teachers to detect and minimize learning difficulties while children are young, thereby reducing the need for remedial instruction at higher levels. The parents and educators involved in PAT work together to devise educational goals and teaching plans. The introduction of PAT represented the beginning of a humane and innovative partnership between families and schools, and the program grew to be immensely popular with parents.

When it began in Missouri in 1981, the unique program was the result of study, planning, and effective grassroots education led by Mildred Winter and the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Much of the program was based on research conducted in the 1950’s and 1960’s that identified the first three years of life as a critical learning period and that demonstrated the importance of the supporting role of parents to the child’s intellectual and social development. The program received funding from the state and the Danforth Foundation, and Dr. Burton L. White was engaged as a senior consultant.

Four local school districts across the state participated in the 1981 pilot project. Each was awarded $30,000 for four years of program development and implementation. The pilot program’s design underscored a respect for parents’ role as their children’s first and most influential teachers and showed a recognition of the need for a lasting parent-school partnership. At the end of three years, an independent study found that children in the 380 participating families were significantly more advanced than children in a comparison group. In addition, the parents in these families were more knowledgeable about child rearing than was the average parent who was not involved in the program.

In 1984, under the humane political leadership of Governor Kit Bond, the state passed legislation to expand the program to all 543 school districts in Missouri. Winter described the passage of the legislation as “unprecedented.” The normally conservative state of Missouri became an innovative leader in early-childhood education. Although the program was initially funded for $2.8 million per year, as a result of widespread acceptance of the program yearly state funding increased to $13 million by 1991.

In 1987, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, in cooperation with the University of Missouri-St. Louis, established the Parents as Teachers National Center at the university in order to disseminate information about PAT. The Danforth, Ford, Mailman, and Smith-Richardson foundations contributed private funding for the center’s activities, and the center provided training and technical assistance for those agencies adopting the program. Winter served as the PAT National Center’s first director.

Described by the Ford Foundation as a good example of a product of deliberate policy planning, the PAT program grew at an amazing pace in jurisdictions outside Missouri. By 1991, 152 PAT programs were operating in thirty-four U.S. states; several more had appeared in other countries. Cooperation between public and private institutions continued to expand. In Albuquerque, New Mexico, the Honeywell Corporation Honeywell Corporation expanded a PAT program for employees. The program, which began in January, 1990, was made available to all Honeywell employees with children born after July 1, 1988. The company publicized its PAT program and provided space and equipment so that employees could hold parent group during lunch hours and on Saturdays. Home visits and developmental screening were scheduled during evenings or on Saturdays to accommodate working parents.

Citing the Missouri experience with PAT, Bond, who became a U.S. senator in 1987, introduced legislation in the Senate on March 4, 1991, to expand the nationally acclaimed Missouri PAT model program to school districts across the United States. The legislation provided for federal seed money to allow school districts across the country to begin early-childhood development and parenting programs.


In the early 1980’s, the American public education system was in an unprecedented state of ferment and soul-searching. The explosive issue of racial desegregration, the physical state of outmoded schools, the needs of culturally deprived children, and the changing requirements of modern society were challenging American education, private businesses, and political leaders in entirely new ways. What could be done to solve these problems? What solutions did the past have to offer? What bold new plans were being laid for the future? What were the broader implications? Missouri’s Parents as Teachers program became an important part of the answers to these questions.

Evaluation studies of the 1981-1985 pilot project, conducted by the Missouri Department of Education and funded by the Danforth Foundation, showed that participation in PAT reduced the disadvantages many children would have experienced owing to disparities in early environment, early parent interaction, and undetected handicapping conditions. Children in the pilot project were found to be significantly more advanced than nonparticipant children in language development, problem solving, and other intellectual abilities. In addition, they demonstrated significant advancement in coping skills and positive relationships with adults. A 1989 follow-up study indicated that children who participated in PAT continued to be significantly ahead of other children at the end of the first grade. A three-year second-wave study of PAT published in 1991 found that three-year-olds in the program scored above national norms on intellectual, listening, and speaking skills.

By the early years of the twenty-first century, parents from all economic classifications had become active and enthusiastic PAT participants. The program enables parents to be more effective, not only when their children are young but also during their later school years. PAT has been endorsed by many national child-advocacy and mental health groups, including the Children’s Defense Fund, the National Congress of Mothers and Parent-Teacher Associations, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the National Mental Health Association, and the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapists.

As PAT programs expanded in number, the Parents as Teachers National Center was incorporated in 1990. In 1995, the center earned its first federal funding, and by 1999, PAT programs surpassed the two thousand mark, with programs in forty-nine U.S. states and several foreign countries.

The Parents as Teachers program shows that parents should be involved in their children’s schooling in a way that continually tells children that their parents care about them and what happens to them at their schools. Such involvement also shows that parents trust and respect the places where they send their children every day. Children do not learn simply as the result of cognitive mechanical processes; learning involves a significant social component as well. Because of the bond that develops between parent and child, a child first learns as a way to please his or her parents. For a child to be a successful learner, what experts term a “transfer of power” from parents to teacher must take place. When it began, PAT represented an important innovation in that it emphasized the duty of parents to be involved in their children’s learning. According to PAT, parental involvement in learning in the schools is not a luxury; it is a part of the parental job. To do less for children is to do them a great disservice. Missouri;education Parents as Teachers program Education;Parents as Teachers program Early-childhood education[Early childhood education]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Albright, Karen, and Dalton Conley, eds. After the Bell: Family Background, Public Policy, and Educational Success. New York: Routledge, 2004. Collection of essays addresses the topic of influences on children’s learning outside the schools. Includes discussion of parents’ role in their children’s educational success.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Caminiti, Susan. “A Bigger Role for Parents.” Fortune 121, no. 12 (1990): 25-26. Argues that parental involvement in education is an ongoing process that starts the minute a child is born.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Finn-Stevenson, Matia, and Edward Zigler. Schools of the Twenty-First Century: Linking Child Care and Education. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1999. Describes the Schools of the Twenty-First Century program, which began in 1987 and includes many of the features innovated by the PAT program. Includes discussion of PAT.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hewlett, Sylvia Ann. When the Bough Breaks: The Cost of Neglecting Our Children. New York: Basic Books, 1991. Blames both public and private neglect for the shameful conditions of children in American society, asserting that millions of children live in poverty because the public is too selfish and shortsighted to vote for public funding to protect them. Also argues that many middle-class children are deprived emotionally because their parents are too absorbed with their own lives and careers to give the children the parental attention they need.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jordan, Fred. Innovating America: Innovations in State and Local Government An Awards Program of the Ford Foundation and the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. New York: Ford Foundation, 1990. Describes Missouri’s Parents as Teachers program as an exemplary innovation that had “immediate value in the state or locality that produced it.” In 1987, Parents as Teachers received one of the Ford Foundation’s Innovations Awards.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Parents as Teachers National Center. Parents as Teachers History. St. Louis: Author, 1990. Presents the history of the program through the late 1980’s. Describes the events that established the groundwork for PAT in Missouri, the pilot project in St. Louis in 1981, the project evaluation, the enabling legislation and statewide implementation, and the nationwide dissemination of PAT and its replication in Canada, Great Britain, and Saudi Arabia.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Pfannenstiel, J., T. Lambson, and V. Yarnell. Second Wave Study of the Parents as Teachers Program. St. Louis: Parents as Teachers National Center, 1991. Presents a general summary of the findings of a substudy of parent-child interaction and the effectiveness of PAT.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Walters, Laurel Shaper. “Parents Join in Preschool Teaching.” Christian Science Monitor, July 11, 1990, 12. Provides a general update on the Missouri Parents as Teachers program.

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Categories: History