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.
* There are also many different kinds of activities that fall under
the fields umbrella. In addition, the various stakeholders
that are involved in these connections (school, family, and community)
may hold conflicting perceptions of their roles and the roles of
other stakeholders. The need to clarify these definitions of family
and community connections comes not from a call for a universally
acceptable, all-encompassing definition of the terms, but from a
need to be clear in our language so that researchers and practitioners
can more effectively implement and measure the impact of these connections.
This lack of clarity and agreement about what and who is included
in the concept of family and community connections with schools
creates a challenge for those who seek models that are practicable
and yield measurable results. When achieved, however, the rewards
will be many, for effective connections can improve student achievement
in school, support student success in life, and nurture the development
of healthy schools, families, and communities.
Ways Families Connect with Schools
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 in
their definition of parent involvement, such as parental attendance
at school events and participation in parent-teacher organizations
(PTOs). Others include activities that take place in the home that
support student achievement, 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
The following are some of the specific types of family connections
with schools that were described in the literature reviewed:
Homework help, including school-developed homework that encourages
parent-child interaction as well as more general strategies
that schools and families use to support effective homework.
Also included is school-developed training for parents in strategies,
tools, and resources to support learning in specific school
subjects (Clark, 1993; Cooper, Lindsay, & Nye, 2000; Epstein
& VanVoorhis, 2001; Izzo, Weissberg, Kasprow, & Fendrich,
Supportive home environment, including the supervision and
structure that parents give children outside of school to support
their education, such as limiting television viewing time and
providing structured time for homework and learning (Shumow,
2001; Xu, 2001).
Home-school communication and interactions, including direct
parent-teacher contacts and relationships as well as more general
communication between school and home regarding school events
and school policies (Chrispeels & Rivero, 2000; Miedel &
Reynolds, 1999; Quigley, 2000).
Parent participation in activities at school, such as
parent-teacher organizations (PTOs), meetings, school advisory
or site-based decision-making teams, and volunteering in classrooms
or with class activities (Epstein & Dauber, 1995; Izzo et
al., 1999; Mapp, 1999).
Home practices that support literacy development, such as parents
reading with children or providing books and writing materials
(Faires, Nichols & Rickelman, 2000; Starkey & Klein,
2000; Melzi, Paratore, & Krol-Sinclair, 2000).
Parent tutoring on specific subjects as part of school-sponsored
programs (Invernizzi, Rosemary, Richards & Richards, 1997;
Powell-Smith, Stoner, Shinn & Good, 2000).
Parent support for the child, including emotional and academic
support, and the expression of parent aspirations and expectations
regarding a childs current school performance as well
as future college or career success (Lopez, 2001; Trusty, 1999;
Parent-directed activities that connect students to out-of-school
opportunities for learning and development, such as museum and
library visits, private tutoring, and other enrichment opportunities
(Cairney, 2000; Gutman & McLoyd, 2000; Tapia, 2000).
Parent-child discussions and interactions about school-related
issues and activities, including parental advice and guidance
on academic decisions and course placements (Catsambis, 1998;
Parents serving as role models for why school is important
and sharing their own experiences that reinforce the value of
education (Sanders, 1998).
Parent involvement in school reform efforts, including advocating
for change, using standards and test scores as tools for holding
schools accountable for student achievement, participating in
the development of improvement plans, and taking part in opportunities
created by reforms, such as governance councils (Desimone, Finn-Stevenson,
& Henrich, 2000; Dodd & Konzal, 1999).
Although all of these activities may fall under the heading of
family involvement, there is evidence that different
types of involvement may have little or no correlation to each other
(Keith & Keith, 1993). For example, while a parent may maintain
consistent contact with a childs teacher through telephone
calls and written notes, he or she may not participate actively
in volunteer activities at the school campus.
Several authors have developed frameworks for understanding the
various types and components of parent-school connections (Chrispeels,
1992, 1996, as cited in Chrispeels & Rivero, 2000; Eccles &
Harold, 1996; Epstein, 1995; Grolnick & Slowiaczek, 1994, as
cited in Kohl, Lengua, & McMahon, 2000; Hoover-Dempsey &
Sandler, 1997). Joyce Epsteins framework of six types of family
involvement (1995) is frequently cited in research and has been
adopted by many practitioners, most notably the National Parent
Teacher Association (National PTA, 1998). Epsteins framework
outlines six dimensions of parent-school partnerships:
Type 1 Parenting Assisting families with parenting skills
and setting home conditions to support children as students, as
well as assisting schools to understand families
Type 2 Communicating Conducting effective communications
from school-to-home and from home-to-school about school programs
and student progress
Type 3 Volunteering Organizing volunteers and audiences
to support the school and students. Providing volunteer opportunities
in various locations and at various times
Type 4 Learning at Home Involving families with their children
on homework and other curriculum-related activities and decisions
Type 5 Decision Making Including families as participants
in school decisions and developing parent leaders and representatives
Type 6 Collaborating with the Community Coordinating resources
and services from the community for families, students, and the
school, and providing services to the community
Cataloging these kinds of activities is a useful step, but more
work is needed to capture the variety of forms that family-school
connections can take and create a common language in the field.
The variety of definitions make it difficult to compare studies
and models of parent involvement to one another. They also make
analysis of the findings of multiple studies a challenge. For practitioners,
this lack of clarity may lead to difficulty in making judgments
about what kinds of activities to implement, how to implement them,
and what results to expect from them.
Ways Communities Connect with Schools
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 such as job internships
and community research projects. Community connections might involve
individual community members as educational partners, as well as
community organizations such as businesses, nonprofits, and government
agencies. 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 even variation in the very way the term community
is defined. Cahill (1996) suggests that community can be defined
using geographical, philosophical, political, sociological, or economic
The following are some of the types of community connections with
schools that were discussed in the literature reviewed:
Connections that integrate or locate health and human services
at school sites and use school facilities and resources for
the benefit of the entire community. These kinds of connections
are generally called full service or community
schools (Abrams & Gibbs, 2000; Dryfoos, 1998a, 1998b, 2000;
Lawson, 1999; Shaul, 2000).
School-to-work initiatives that link career training and real-life
experiences with academic content (Hughes et al., 2001; Reynolds,
Walberg & Weissberg, 1999).
After-school programs that provide remedial or enrichment learning
activities for students while maximizing the use of school resources
and fulfilling parents need for childcare (Miller, 2001).
Community-driven school reform efforts that simultaneously
seek to improve local schools, build the social networks that
exist in the community, build the capacity of local community
members to take action and solve problems at the local level,
and create new standards and expectations for life in
the community (Rockefeller Foundation, 1997, as cited
in Jehl, Blank, & McCloud, 2001, p. 4).
School-business partnerships in which businesses provide schools
with resources, business expertise, and volunteers (Otterbourg,
1998; Sanders, 2000; Shirley, 1997).
Connections with community organizations, such as local health
and human services providers and community-based youth development
organizations, to provide services or enrichment opportunities
for students at or near the schools (Center for Mental Health
in Schools, 1999b; McMahon, Ward, Pruett, Davidson, & Griffith,
School-university partnerships where universities, usually
colleges of education, provide expertise, resources, and professional
development to schools while schools participate in research
studies or other professional collaboration projects (Restine,
1996; Zetlin & MacLeod, 1995).
Direct support from individual community members (church members,
neighbors, and other adults) to students, to provide learning
opportunities, expectations for educational achievement, and
support for overall student well-being (Cordiero & Kolek,
1996; Honig, Kahne, & McLaughlin, 2001; Yancey & Saporito,
Connections with educational organizations, such as museums,
libraries, and cultural groups, to provide out-of-school opportunities
for informal teaching and learning (Faucette, 2000).
Community service or service learning programs that link academic
content with activities that allow students to contribute to
the well-being of the community (Schine, 1996; Wang, Oates,
& Weishew, 1995).
Tutoring and academic support in specific school subjects by
community-based volunteers (Invernizzi et al., 1997).
Deliberative dialogue programs that bring together community
members to explore issues affecting schools. These dialogue
sessions provide a mechanism for two-way information sharing
between the school and community (McDonnell & Weatherford,
Community participation in school decision-making through formal
mechanisms such as school governance councils (Lewis & Henderson,
1997; Mapp, 1999; Sarason & Lorentz, 1998).
Several authors have recently attempted to categorize the different
kinds of school and community connections. In one article, Cahill
(1996) categorized the different types of connections by their primary
purpose: a) service provision to meet youth needs, b) school-community
educational partnerships, c) school-community partnerships in youth
development, d) school-community economic development collaborations,
and e) community redefined schools.**
A General Accounting Office (GAO) report to Congress (Shaul, 2000)
identified a set of common elements found in school-community connections,
Services and activities tailored to community needs and resources,
with the flexibility to change as community needs change.
A value for and encouragement of parent participation and individual
attention from caring adults.
An understanding that support for the family is integral to
improving outcomes for children and youth.
Active roles for parents, students, community residents, and
organizations in guiding policy and practices through such entities
as advisory committees.
A continuing emphasis on the importance of collaboration and
communication among school and community partners.
Another comprehensive research study emphasized those connections
that were intentional and ongoing relationship(s) between
a K-12 school and one or more external organizations that entails
the investment of organizational resources (Wynn et al., 2000,
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.
Overarching Factors that Affect Definitions
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:
role perception and school-centric practices.
Differences in perceptions of appropriate roles
Stakeholders (educators, parents, community members, students)
may have opposing viewpoints about what constitutes involvement
and what their roles should be. For instance, Scribner, Young, and
Pedroza (1999) found that teachers tend to define parent involvement
differently than parents do. Teachers tended to view a parents
role solely as a support for academic achievement while parents
viewed it as a means of supporting the total well-being of the child
(i.e., social and moral development). Because school personnel and
parents may conceptualize parent involvement activities and outcomes
differently, there is a need to more fully explore teacher and parent
perspectives about what constitutes appropriate collaboration and
what role each can and should play in a childs education (Izzo
et al., 1999).
One recent publication (Jehl et al., 2001) also suggests that there
are important differences in the perspectives of school personnel
and staff members of community-based organizations. While schools
emphasize student achievement and classroom-based learning, community
organizations tend to emphasize the role of school in broader human
development and in the development of personal and social skills.
Schools and community organizations may also define parent involvement
differently, with school personnel emphasizing school-based and
school-initiated involvement that supports classroom learning, and
community partners emphasizing parent involvement in decision-making
and reform efforts (Jehl et al.). The researchers suggest that in
order to understand these differences in perspective, one must understand
the underlying history and culture of the school and community organizations
and the context in which they operate. They further suggest that
differences in mission, political structure, and the level of public
scrutiny and accountability can lead to differences in perspective
between school personnel and community organization personnel.
An emphasis on school-centered definitions of family and community
While individuals within schools, communities, and families may
have a range of beliefs about what constitutes appropriate school,
family, and community connections, a review of the literature suggests
that overall, definitions of connections that most closely reflect
the priorities of schools have dominated both research and practice.
Schools have largely been in the position to define what family
and community involvement is and what the outcomes should
be. These school-centered definitions of family and community involvement
can be seen in both research and practice.
Honig et al. (2001) contend that the focus of many school-linked
services efforts has been on fixing students so teachers
can really teach and removing barriers to learning,
rather than rethinking the learning and teaching that occurs for
studentsall day, in and out of schooland the conditions,
resources and supports that enable it (p. 9). Edwards and
Warin (1999) agree that parent involvement efforts sometimes operate
to enlist parents as agents of the schools to meet the schools
needsin essence turning parents into assistant teachersinstead
of utilizing a parents unique strengths as a childs
motivator and nurturer. Generally, the most important goal for schools
is increased academic achievement of students; therefore, educators
tend to value family and community connections because of their
potential for supporting this goal, sometimes at the expense of
family or community member goals (Scribner et al., 1999).
Many researchers, theorists, and practitioners in the field agree
that school-centered definitions do not fully express the range
of connections that can and do exist (Edwards & Warin, 1999;
McWilliam, Maxwell & Sloper, 1999). A continued emphasis on
school-centered connections can limit the development of the entire
field and its ability to identify and forge new directions for greater
impact on student outcomes. Jordan, Averett, Elder, Orozco, and
Rudo (2000) define collaboration as an arrangement in
which partners establish joint goals and priorities, as well as
shared responsibility for success. Partnerships that do not define
a common mission are rarely able to sustain the long-term collaborative
relationship and sharing of resources necessary to accomplishing
This emphasis on school-centered definitions of connections can
also create a significant power imbalance in the school-family-community
relationship. Schools are generally backed up by powerful and stable
institutional structures that support the schools definition
of the roles parents and community members should play. This institutional
structure infuses power into the position of the principal
and the teacher in the education of the child, while
the family or community member role is not automatically infused
with similar power (Hulsebosch & Logan, 1998).
Need for Considering Expanded Definitions
Much of the emerging theory and practice of family and community
connections with schools encourages a rethinking of our understanding
of how children develop and how the various people and contexts
fit together to support that development. A new orientation is emerging
in the field, from a school-centric focus toward the creation of
reciprocal connections among schools, parents, and community members.
These connections are mutually beneficial and reflect the shared
goals of all stakeholders.
Several of the authors reviewed also argue for the need to develop
an asset model, in which parents and communities are
considered equal contributors to the education process and are viewed
by school personnel as resources instead of as obstacles (Hulsebosch
& Logan, 1998; Honig et al., 2001; Kretzmann & McKnight,
1993). They suggest there might also be a need to re-conceptualize
roles that various people play in the life of a child: not as positions
or functions, but rather as the natural product of an individuals
strengths and assets, regardless of whether it is a parent, a teacher,
a community member, or a religious leader. As the field begins to
explore these expanded definitions, there are several key components
Moving definitions beyond family and community involvement
Research in this field has emphasized partnership programs
in which schools provide parenting classes or formal adopt-a-school
partnerships with businesses over more seamless, interconnected
approaches and perspectives. As a result, research has not adequately
captured and defined the reciprocal connections between schools,
families, and communities. Several of the authors reviewed point
out that there is a need for definitions that include relationship
and collaboration elements (Hirota, Jacobowitz & Brown, 2000;
Mapp, 1999). Community organizers for school reform have also called
for the development of descriptions with rich details of how
to do it that reflect both the outcomes and the process and
greatly emphasize the relationship building of their
work (Lewis & Henderson, 1998).
Including theories, concepts and ideas from beyond the
field of education
In order to truly understand family and community connections and
reform in schools, we must look to other fields of study and be
open to theories used outside the established intellectual education
tradition (Lagemann, 1999, as cited in Arum, 2000). Family and community
involvement is based on forming alliances and connections beyond
the traditional school system; therefore, drawing on perspectives,
theories, and research methodology from other fields is integral
to understanding the variety of purposes and impact of the connections
among various stakeholders.
Looking at culturally-appropriate definitions of parent
While the school, family, and community connections field has traditionally
paid much attention to cultural diversity issues, there is still
more to be done to define and clarify parent involvement
that occurs within various cultural and ethnic groups. Recent research
studies have found that families often practice forms of parent
involvement that mainstream school personnel may not always recognize.
For instance, a study of marginalized migrant families of highly
academically successful students in South Texas found that parents
were not involved in the traditional parent involvement activities,
such as volunteering at the school or attending school functions.
However, they were very involved in that they instilled a strong
work ethic in their children and shared their own experiences to
emphasize the importance of a good education (Lopez, 2001). Instead
of trying to get diverse families to adopt more dominant cultural
approaches to involvement, research suggests the need to capitalize
on existing cultural traditions (Lopez; Peña, 2000; Tapia,
2000; Scribner et al., 1999). Researchers need to build understanding
about how involvement varies among different cultural groups and
adequately capture those experiences in new definitions of family
and community connections.
The concept of family-centered practices can represent a new way
for schools to think of working with families and community members.
According to McWilliam et al. (1999), family-centered practices
are defined as friendly, respectful partnerships that extend beyond
the partnerships commonly described in education literature. The
authors suggest that the early intervention concept of family-centered
practices, frequently found in early childhood research and practice,
is not well known in elementary school education. These family-centered
practices emphasize support to families as an important goal in
and of itself, not just as a means of supporting the child. In this
view, families are seen as the primary decision-makers for their
children, they are supported as key decision-makers in all aspects
of school services, and their needs beyond the education of the
child are also considered (McWilliam et al.).
Both in research and practice, family and community connection
activities are often bundled together in ways that may affect how
the activities are conducted and how they are measured. Narrowing
down these complex concepts to one single definition is not likely
or even necessarily desirable. However, without a clear understanding
of the way the concept is defined, it is difficult to understand
how to create and sustain those connections that will achieve the
intended results for students, schools, communities, and families.
As Cahill (1996) suggests, we need to clarify the goals and underlying
assumptions of various types of collaborations in order to have
a positive impact on school improvement and student success. Working
to create this common language in the field of family
and community connections will support future research and practice
so that it is clear and achieves intended results.
* For purposes of this report, the terms connection
and involvement may sometimes be used interchangeably.
Also, the term school, family, and community connections
and its variants are synonymous with family and community
connections with schools.
** Cahill (1996) describes community redefined schools
as redefinitions of schools by communities, away from professionalized,
bureaucratic, centralized models, to communities of learning governed
at the level closest to students, families, teachers and community
members (p. 9).