This research synthesis is the first in a series that will examine
key issues in the field of family and community connections with
schools. The issues highlighted in this synthesis represent critical
areas of work in family and community connections with schools where
clarification, agreement, and further development are needed, as
well as promising new directions that are emerging. By continuing
to strengthen the research in the field we can help ensure that
schools, families, and communities can come together to produce
positive outcomes. After reviewing and examining a body of literature
that included more than 160 publications, four key issues emerged.
Issue 1 Clarifying the Concept of Family and Community
Connections with Schools
The field of family and community connections with schools does
not have consistent agreement on what is meant by the terms connections,
parent involvement, and community involvement.
The need to clarify these concepts comes not from a desire for universally
acceptable, all-encompassing definitions, but from a need to be
clear in our language so that researchers and practitioners can
more effectively implement and measure the impacts of these connections.
Current research reveals that there are many different activities
that connect families and schools. Often these activities are quite
different from each other, yet they are lumped together as parent
involvement or school-family connections. Some
researchers emphasize activities that take place at the school,
such as parent attendance at school events and participation in
parent-teacher organizations (PTOs). Others include activities that
take place in the home, such as parental homework help and discussions
about school issues between parents and children. Still others include
abstract concepts as well as actual involvement behaviors in their
definition, such as parent aspirations for a childs education.
These activities have very different impacts on students, schools,
families, and communities. The variety of definitions make it difficult
to compare studies and models of parent involvement to one another.
They also make the analysis of the findings of multiple studies
a challenge. For practitioners, these multiple definitions may lead
to difficulties in making judgments about what kinds of activities
to implement, how to implement them, and what results to expect
Similarly, many different kinds of activities fall under the heading
of community connections with schools. One researcher
may define a school-community connection as a formal partnership
between the school and another local organization. Another may highlight
learning opportunities for students that take them out of the classroom
and into the community for real-life experiences. Still other researchers
may look at the role of the school in the larger communityas
a community center or a community institution that can play a role
in community development efforts. There is also variation in the
very way the term community is defined.
The challenge of defining school-community connections in a comprehensive
way has similar consequences to the challenge of defining the full
range of school-family connections. The multiple definitions make
it difficult to compare studies with one another and to synthesize
the results across studies. Multiple definitions also create challenges
for practitioners as they attempt to select, implement, and evaluate
different connection activities.
In addition to the general problem of multiple and overlapping
definitions, two important factors have affected how family and
community connections are currently defined in research and practice.
First, there are the differences in perceptions of appropriate roles
of family and community members in connections with schools. Second,
there has been an emphasis on school-centered definitions of family
and community involvement. Family and community involvement frequently
means helping reach goals defined by the schools (administrators
and teachers) that reflect only school values and priorities. There
is a need for the field to consider expanded definitions that move
beyond narrow definitions of family and community involvement to
include theories, concepts, and ideas from outside the field of
education, as well as culturally appropriate definitions and family
centered practices. Read more.
Issue 2 Measuring the Outcomes of Family and Community
Connections with Schools
Parent and community connections have been measured inconsistently
across studies and research has not yet captured the full picture
of these connections and their results. There is a need to be precise
in how we are measuring outcomes, in order to avoid faulty generalizations
and conclusions and to clarify the sometimes conflicting evidence
about the impact of connections.
The field must continue to explore new methods for capturing the
processes and outcomes of these complex interactions between schools,
families, and communities.
We must also capture the different outcomes of the connections
for the various stakeholdersstudents, parents, schools, and
communitiesto gain a full picture of the impact of the connections.
It is evident that connections can have a broad array of outcomes,
ranging from increased student achievement and improved school climate
to enhanced civic capacity for a variety of stakeholders. The multifaceted
results of these connections lead to measurement challenges for
both researchers studying the connections and practitioners evaluating
the impact of their efforts.
While there is evidence that family and community connections can
result in positive outcomes for all stakeholders, we must continue
to clarify the relationships between the different kinds of connections
and the outcomes they produce. A redefinition of terms and rethinking
of research tools in order to measure the effects of all types of
family and community connections with schools is needed to help
the field progress. There is also a need to better understand and
document how various school, family, and community connections create
conditions that support a variety of results. Read more.
Issue 3 Advancing the Research Base for Family and Community
Connections with Schools
Research about the process and effects of family and community
connections with schools is evolving and does not yet provide clear
directions for practitioners. There is a critical need to take the
body of research we have and build theory that can propel us into
the next stage of research. Family and community connections frameworks
can help research test the relationship between different components
of the concept of family and community connections with schools,
address the problem of unclear and overlapping definitions of the
concept, and gain greater understanding of the predictors and impacts
of these connections.
In our review, we also observed that researchers face numerous
methodological challenges, including choice of design, sampling,
measurement, and internal/external validity. New developments in
research design and methodology that better link quantitative and
qualitative research and more and improved conceptual models can
move the field toward a stronger research base. Funding allocations
to applied educational research and program evaluations must increase,
a new level of partnership must be forged between practitioners
and researchers to enable the use of experimental procedures in
settings, and program staff concerns related to random assignment
and potentially intrusive data collection procedures must be addressed. Read more.
Issue 4 Critical Areas for Research in Family and Community
Connections with Schools
Our review of the literature revealed a number of critical research
areas that surfaced repeatedly. Within each of the critical areas
listed here, both promising directions and research needs are discussed.
These areas are:
Forging connections with families from culturally diverse backgrounds
Connecting families with schools in homework help
Connecting school, family, and community for effective school
Connecting school, family, and community through developmental
approaches and integrated service delivery
Connecting school, family, and community to support student
transitions throughout the education system
Developing process-based approaches to make connections
Preparing educators and other school personnel to make connections
between schools, families, and communities
Our charge as a field is to come together to address the issues
highlighted in this document to clarify the concept and outcomes
of family and community connections with schools and to improve
the quantity and quality of the research base available. In so doing,
we will better understand these connections and create the knowledge
needed to realize the potential of family, school, and community
connections for student learning and students lives. Read more.