Forum Highlights and Videos
Panel 1: What does family and community engagement look like in a new era of education reform?
To secure its proper place in education reform, family and community engagement must first be seen as one of the essential ingredients of that reform, and not a peripheral issue or an add-on patchwork of programs. Family and community engagement is a necessary piece of a reform strategy that includes other supports such as strong principal leadership, professional
development, a student-centered learning climate, and instructional guidance. These elements of school reform are so interwoven that trying to separate the effects of family and community engagement from the effects of other school reform elements ignores the fact that each of these essential ingredients is part of a system of mutual dependencies, in which the effectiveness of one depends on the strength of the others.
In addition to including family and community engagement as a necessary component of school reform strategies, policymakers should adopt a people-centered approach to designing family and community engagement initiatives. Only then can policymakers understand the issues students and families face, and work with them to jointly design solutions that engage families as equal partners.
Engaging families as part of the solution illustrates the importance of shared responsibility in systemic family and community engagement. Families are more likely to develop active partnerships with school staff in promoting student learning when they feel their involvement is valued and needed, and when their input has been solicited in the development of engagement strategies. Yet equal partnership does not mean that everyone has the same role to play.
Data sharing has emerged as a key strategy to help inform families of their student’s and school’s performance, empowering parents to have meaningful conversations with school staff about what needs to happen to help their student improve. Data-driven conversations represent another example of shared responsibility, in which parents and school staff are equal partners who play different roles in supporting student success.
Data sharing can thus serve as a cornerstone of shared engagement. School staff need to recognize the contributions families make to student learning, solicit parents’ input in problem-solving, and work with families to design the complementary roles that families and school staff play in promoting student achievement. Arthur VanderVeen, Chief Executive Officer at the Office of Innovation at the New York City Department of Education, also noted that the “engagement around the solution”—in other words, joint efforts to understand the problem area and ways to address it—is what creates lasting change.
Capacity building is another critical part of advancing systemic family and community engagement. Without appropriate infrastructure or other mechanisms to drive and sustain this engagement, family and community engagement strategies tend to devolve into a loosely connected patchwork of services and activities rather than serving as a cornerstone of education reform. Capacity building needs to happen at multiple levels: on the national/state level to help build support for family engagement, and on the local level with the practitioners who will actually implement family engagement strategies as part of their work.
Effective capacity building involves disseminating information on best practices, providing technical assistance to help schools/districts adapt such practices to address their particular contexts, and guiding evaluation efforts to assess whether family and community engagement strategies are having the desired effects. As such, family and community engagement initiatives also need concrete indicators of success. School staff, for instance, need assistance in developing a set of indicators to determine whether their attempts to engage families and make family engagement a core part of their instructional practice are effective.