ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

Setting Priorities for a New Era of Family-School Engagement

Adapted with permission from "A New Era of Family Engagement," by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Innovation and Improvement, 2010, The Education Innovator, IX(5), pp. 1–4. Copyright 2005 by the U.S. Department of Education. Originally featured in ASCD Express.

Research studies point to the need for many more comprehensive, strategic approaches to bringing parents and families into partnerships with schools for the purpose of increasing student achievement.

According to the National Family, School, and Community Engagement Working Group, a leadership collaborative that informs the development and implementation of federal policy related to family, school, and community engagement, there is strong research evidence that "parental beliefs, attitudes, values, and childrearing practices, as well as home-school communication, are linked to student success."

The Harvard Family Research Project, under the direction of its founder and director Heather B. Weiss, convened a group of key stakeholders in parent and family engagement—including the PTA National Office, the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, and the New York Community Trust—to create the Working Group. The group tasked itself with assessing the quality of available research in order to inform the emerging policy discussions about education reform under the Obama administration.

"There is a skyscraper full of research showing how parent, family, and community engagement is crucial to children's learning and school success from birth on," according to Weiss. Leaders in the field are using this available research, she further notes, to "redefine what effective engagement is and to guide the development of the policies and practices that will achieve better learning results."

Family Engagement Should Be a Key Reform Strategy

With the U.S. Department of Education and others "expanding their commitments and investments and thereby creating opportunities to build and integrate effective engagement," Weiss and her Working Group colleagues wanted to ensure that family engagement is viewed as a core innovation and reform strategy.

The Working Group began by enumerating a set of priorities to build a strong foundation for family, school, and community engagement, including

  • The need for a coherent and comprehensive strategy to guide family, school, and community partnerships;
  • A consciously designed infrastructure to elevate the essential nature of engagement as a reform strategy; and
  • Improvement of data systems in terms of timeliness, relevance to parents and families, and accountability for outcomes that strengthen the quality of family engagement.

Foster a Continuum of Family, School, and Community Partnerships

From their deliberations, a new definition of family engagement emerged—one intended to catalyze innovative national policies and programs to help ensure the highest quality of educational opportunities from birth through young adulthood.

Realizing that those opportunities will require partnerships among families, schools, and communities to promote kindergarten readiness, improve schools, and increase student achievement, the definition calls for

  • Shared responsibility on the part of schools and other community agencies and organizations that commit themselves to engaging families in meaningful and culturally respectful ways;
  • A continuum of engagement across a child's life, from Early Head Start programs to readiness for college by high school graduation; and
  • Reinforcement of learning in multiple settings—at home, in prekindergarten programs, in school and extended learning programs, in faith-based institutions, and in community programs.

In March 2010, the Working Group released Taking Leadership, Innovating Change: Profiles in Family, School, and Community Engagement, a compendium of 12 innovations in family involvement that are advancing student learning. As a group, the innovations "engage families along a continuum, drawing in hard-to-engage parents, ... supporting and reinforcing involved families, ... and empowering parent leaders to transform schools."

Taken together, the Working Group's examples represent a vision of family, school, and community engagement as a shared responsibility and a continuous process that takes into account the multiple settings in which learning occurs and the education process that goes from cradle to career.

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