Substantial research findings reinforce the need for education
systems to encourage and support parental involvement. Research has
repeatedly demonstrated the positive impact parent involvement, whether
in school or at home, has on academic outcomes. Regardless of
socio-economic background, students with involved parents are more
likely to earn high grades and test scores, enroll in higher level
programs, attend school regularly, show improved behavior, and develop
better social skills (Henderson & Mapp, 2002). In addition, when
people across multiple contexts (e.g., family and school) foster the
cognitive, social, emotional, and behavioral competencies of children
and adolescents, youth development and outcomes improve (Benson, et.al,
2003; and Cook, et.al, 2002).
Unfortunately, a number of districts and schools
have approached family engagement in a random and piecemeal way, often
times leading to family engagement efforts that are fragmented and
marginalized, resulting in less than desirable outcomes. There is now
emerging evidence that when districts and schools develop systemic
structures that strategically encourage meaningful family and community
engagement as an integral part of school improvement efforts, there is
significant impact on student learning and how schools function (Blank,
Berg, & Melaville, 2006; Bryk, et.al, 2010, and Marschall, 2006).
Weiss et.al, concurs that family engagement should be systemic,
integrated, and sustained. In order to achieve this, family engagement
must be: a core component of educational goals; embedded into existing
structures and processes to meet these goals; and operated with adequate
resources to ensure that effective strategies can be implemented with
fidelity and sustained (2010).
Commitment to Family Engagement
Paramount to a successful family engagement system
is the district’s and school’s commitment to family engagement. A study
of Department of Defense (DoD) schools showed that a culture which
fosters shared responsibility for all students and stakeholders and a
"corporate commitment" to supporting families improves safety and
well-being for all students. This study also revealed that the
achievement gap among white students and students of color is lower
among DoD schools than in the states (Smrekar, Gurthrie, Owens &
Sims, 2001). Another study by Lopez, et.al, 2001, found that the primary
reason schools were successful in involving migrant families was that
school personnel were individually and systemically committed to meeting
the various needs of the families. Districts and schools can begin to
express this commitment by jointly developing a vision/mission for
family engagement that is shared with all stakeholders and drives
policies and practices.
Effective partnerships are created when district
and school leadership set the tone and expectations for meaningful
partnerships with families and support is provided through both policy
and practice (Blank et al., 2006; Bryk et al., 2010; and Fege, 2006).
Administrators could demonstrate this by: allocating and reallocating
resources for family engagement efforts; ensuring family engagement
policies are updated; embedding family engagement efforts into the
district/school improvement process; finding ways to integrate family
engagement efforts into existing systems, policies and practices;
modeling positive interactions with families; and ensuring that
programming is in place to build the capacity of staff and families to
effectively partner with each other to improve student outcomes.
Many administrators, teachers and pupil support
personnel enter the education system with little to no training on how
to engage families to further support student learning and healthy
development. Likewise, families often find it difficult to partner with
schools in a meaningful way for various reasons. Some of these reasons
may relate to a limited understanding of: student/family expectations,
how they can support student learning and healthy development, and how
schools operate. Therefore, it is necessary to train school personnel
and parents to increase their capacity to work together.
Core elements of a professional development system
for family engagement include: standards; curriculum that advances
skills, knowledge and attitudes; collaboration among various
stakeholders; continuing professional development; and evaluation for
learning and continuous improvement (Caspe et.al, 2011). Researchers
have also identified core implementation components that support
practitioners, such as educators, in high-fidelity behavior. These
components (also called “implementation drivers”) include but are not
limited to in-service training and ongoing coaching and consultation
(Fixen & Blase, 1993). Professional development on family
engagement should also adhere to these implementation components with a
content focus on:
- Developing family engagement systems
- Building welcoming and supportive environments
- Enhancing communication with families
- Including parents in the decision making process
In addition, data should be utilized to determine
professional development needs pertaining to family engagement and
family engagement strategies should be incorporated into professional
development opportunities across all areas of focus. Of particular
importance is assessing cultural biases and developing professional
development opportunities to address them. Biases, even unconscious
ones, by educators can discourage families from participating and harm
any existing partnerships between educators and families (Barajas &
Ronnkvist, 2007; Fram, Miller-Cribbs, & Van Horn, 2007).
Families will also present capacity building needs
related to engagement that should be addressed. Research has found that
parents’ personal self-efficacy has a significant impact on whether or
not they will engage in activities that support their children’s
learning and healthy development (Eccles & Harold, 1996; Grolnick et
al., 1997; Sheldon, 2002; Bandura et al., 1996; and Shumow & Lomax,
2002). Personal self-efficacy refers to a parent’s belief that he/she
has the necessary knowledge and skill sets required by the activity as
well as the belief that it will result in positive outcomes for his/her
child. Districts and school personnel can help build self-efficacy by:
- promoting family assets, including their cultural and linguistic backgrounds
- helping parents understand and interpret rules,
laws, and policies related to their rights and responsibilities in
their children’s education
- showing family members how they can support learning at home
- helping parents understand data and how it is used to inform instruction
Community organizations can be a critical resource
in supporting student learning and healthy development. A large body of
research has demonstrated that community-based parent support programs,
operated in a family-centered manner, increase parents’ self-efficacy
and competence (Dunst, et.al, 2006; and Dunst, et.al, 2008). This
research also indicates that community-based parent support programs can
positively impact the social and emotional development of young
children (Dunst and Trivette, 2005; and Layzer, et.al, 2001). A number
of community organizations and districts are increasingly partnering
together to leverage their resources to address student learning and
healthy development and promote family engagement. As a result of these
efforts, families are more connected to both schools and these
community organizations and efforts are more coordinated across multiple
settings. Research is revealing that the community schools model,
specifically, has increased family engagement and has improved student
learning, attendance, behavior, and development (Coalition for Community
According to Epstein, in order for family
engagement efforts to have the greatest impact and to ensure
sustainability, strategies for collecting and analyzing family
engagement data must be part of the processes for continual and ongoing
improvement (2007). Not only do district and school personnel need to
have access to the data, but they also need to have the capacity to use
family engagement data in a meaningful way. Likewise, research is
starting to show that when district and school personnel help parents
understand student and school-wide data in a way that leads to increased
knowledge and informed action, family engagement increases and student
outcomes improve (Taveras, et.al 2010).
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