School of Education


Doctor of Education (EdD)


Jennifer Rathmell


Academic Achievement, Blended Families, Dynamic Systems Theory, Educational Outcomes, Educational Resilience, Stepfamilies


Education | Educational Assessment, Evaluation, and Research | Educational Psychology | Other Education


The purpose of this heuristic study is to understand the lived experiences (i.e., values, attitudes, and practices) of 10 biological parents in blended and stepfamilies in which at least one child experienced high academic achievement at the middle school and high school level. Building on dynamic systems theory and educational resilience theory as theoretical underpinnings, this qualitative study seeks to answer the following central research question: What are the values, practices, and attitudes experienced by biological parents in blended and stepfamily units that contribute to high academic achievement for adolescents in these families? Participants living in the Southeastern area of the United States were recruited via criterion and snowball sampling. Recruiting efforts were conducted via local schools’ Parent Teacher Associations and social media platforms. Data was collected via face-to-face semi-structured interviews with biological parents of blended and stepfamilies and via various forms of documentation, such as school records and family photographs. Data was analyzed via coding, clustering, memoing, and member checking. Three major themes and seven subthemes were extrapolated from the data. The three themes were as follows: (1) independence, (2) future orientation, and (3) strong support system. The seven subthemes were as follows: (a) giving choices and consequences, (b) custodial parent as “head coach,” (c) “strict” parenting, (d) high expectations, (e) strides toward stability, (f) good role definition and family cohesion, and (g) high parental involvement.