In a report released Monday, People for Education found that only a minority of the 900 councils surveyed had views in line with school council regulations set by the province.
School councils were made mandatory in Ontario in 2000, and regulations stated their top priorities were to improve student achievement and enhance the accountability of schools to parents.
But the report found that only 13 per cent of councils ranked student achievement among their top three most important roles.
For school-parent accountability, only six per cent ranked it among their top three.
The report's author, Jacqui Strachan, said it is time for a full review of the school council system.
"School councils have been around for 12 years," she said. "What are they actually doing? How does that connect back to the original regulations?
"Do we need to update those regulations to reflect the reality of what's going on on the ground?"
According to the report, 80 per cent of the school councils ranked enhancing parent-school communications among their top three priorities.
Strachan said there is a disparity between the priorities originally set out by the province and the councils' views.
A member of a school council in Parry Sound, Ont., said it is difficult to set predetermined mandates for the councils, which are all-volunteer organizations.
"The volunteer group works differently from school to school … from year to year," Anelia Coppes said.
But while her council was among the 80 per cent that ranked communications important, Coppes said that is not the chief function the councils — her council had also ranked improving achievement and accountability as among the top three.
"If the ministry is looking at how school councils can do their function of accountability and student achievement, they need some better tools to work with the volunteers," she said.
A spokesman for the Ontario Ministry of Education said the ministry looks forward to reviewing the report in more detail, and will continue to work toward greater parental involvement.
"Ontario's schools are ... made even better when they have engaged and involved parents and families," Gary Wheeler said in an email to The Canadian Press.
"We know that students are more likely to be motivated ... when their parents are actively engaged."
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version said Anelia Coppes was from Thunder Bay, Ont.