SEDL Home Southwest Educational Development Laboratory
  Emerging Issues in School, Family, & Community Connections
Previous Page Next Page

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 are receiving much attention in research and practice. The purpose of this section is to highlight these critical areas, as well as to suggest directions for future research. The areas discussed in this section are:

  • Forging connections with families from culturally diverse backgrounds

  • Connecting families with schools in homework help

  • Connecting school, family, and community for effective school reform

  • Connecting school, family, and community through developmental approaches and integrated service delivery

  • Connecting school, family, and community to support 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

Within each of the areas listed above, both promising directions and research needs within the area will be discussed. The promising directions sections center on the new thinking and research that have begun to emerge in the field. For each of these promising directions, key ideas are presented, as well as suggestions for ways that the field can continue to build on the research that is currently taking place. The research needs sections discuss gaps or inconsistencies in the current thinking and research that require additional research in the future. By beginning to address these research needs, the field can begin to develop more conclusive evidence to support the development of successful school, family, community connections.

Forging Connections with Families from Culturally Diverse Backgrounds

Connecting with families from diverse backgrounds has been a subject of interest, debate, and research. The importance of reaching out to diverse families has become even more evident as greater accountability policies are implemented and schools are held responsible for ensuring that all children are educated to high standards. However, we are only beginning to understand the ways that diverse families are already involved in their children’s education and how to engage them in new ways. McCollum (1996) lays out an agenda for future research that includes a careful examination of what is actually known about culturally different families, their attitudes regarding education, and how they support their children’s education through their extended family and informal social networks. Based on our review of the literature, the following topics are promising directions that have emerged in the field or are areas in which further research is needed to build conclusive evidence.

Promising Directions

  • Strategies of diverse families whose children are successful in school
    Research has begun to explore the involvement patterns of parents from diverse cultural backgrounds whose children have been successful in the school system. In their study of parental involvement among low-income African American families of high- and low-achievers, Gutman and McLoyd (2000) concluded that both sets of families recognized the importance of their children’s education but had very different strategies for helping their children reach their educational goals. Another study (Yan, 1999) found that families of successful African American students possessed average or above average social capital (measured by parent-teen interactions, parent-school interactions, parent-parent interactions, and family norms) and equal or higher levels of school contact than successful white students and non-successful African American families. A recent study of Hispanic high-performing schools by Scribner et al. (1999) documents some of the ways that Hispanic parents connect with these schools, with positive impacts for their children. Future research can continue to build our understanding of how these families are supporting their children’s success in school.

  • Involvement patterns of diverse families that are culturally specific or different from mainstream involvement activities
    Research is also beginning to document the ways in which cultural minority parents interact with their children that support learning, yet differ from more mainstream or middle class approaches (Cairney, 2000; Yonezawa, 2000). The strategies documented in this body of research reflect the cultural practices of the home that support success in school. One recent study explored the non-traditional ways Hispanic parents tend to be involved in their children’s education, which are not necessarily recognized by educators as parent involvement (Lopez, 2001). Further research is needed to delve deeply into the connections that diverse families create that traditional indicators do not recognize and to consider the reasons why some diverse families might not be involved in the more traditional ways. Building a body of knowledge about the specific practices of various cultural groups can support the validation of those practices by school personnel and may support the sharing of effective practices across cultural groups.

Research Needs

  • The effect of family characteristics on family-school connections
    Researchers have explored the effects that family characteristics such as socioeconomic status, ethnicity, and cultural background have on family involvement in education, yet the body of research reviewed for this synthesis still presents an unclear picture. Some studies have found that these variables are not factors, and that non-majority families are as involved as majority families when they are given opportunities to be involved (Kohl et al., 2000; Marcon, 1999a). Others have found family characteristics to be a significant factor affecting the level, extent, and forms of involvement (Carey et al., 1998; Ho Sui-Chu, 1997). Further research is needed to understand how or if family characteristics affect family involvement.

  • Perceptions of appropriate family involvement within various cultural groups
    There is a need to better understand different cultural groups’ perceptions of appropriate involvement and to understand how these perceptions may be similar or different from the perceptions of school personnel and majority group parents. McCollum (1996) suggests that educators in the United States tend to believe that parents should intervene in their children’s learning, while immigrant parents often come from cultures where the proper role of a concerned parent is not to intervene in the school’s business or question the teacher’s practices and expertise. A better understanding of the perceptions that different groups hold would support the development of appropriate outreach and involvement strategies.

Connecting Families with Schools in Homework Help

Parent involvement in homework help is a key area of research in the field of family and community connections with schools, as it is a primary way that parents are involved with their children’s education. Recently, Hoover-Dempsey et al. (2001) examined a broad body of literature to understand the parameters of parents’ involvement in student homework and the influence of that involvement on related student outcomes. They suggest that the body of empirical work on homework help might be strengthened by more theoretically grounded research focused specifically on the content, processes, and outcomes of parents’ involvement in homework. In particular, they suggest that research should explore parents’ motivations for engaging in homework help, the dynamics of effective parent-child interactions during homework involvement, and the specific mechanisms of involvement that influence student outcomes. Based on our review of the literature, the following topics are promising directions that have emerged in the field or are areas in which further research is needed to build conclusive evidence.

Promising Directions

  • New concepts of homework help
    Hoover-Dempsey et al. (2001) have begun to unbundle both the process and outcomes of parental homework help. Their work suggests new ways to conceptualize homework help and understand its impact on student outcomes. They suggest that parents’ involvement activities can influence student outcomes through a variety of activities such as modeling, reinforcement, and direct instruction. In addition, this work begins to link parent’s homework involvement with broader student outcomes, such as student attitudes towards homework, perceptions of personal competence, and self-regulation. Hoover-Dempsey et al.’s work in conceptualizing and defining the processes and outcomes of parental homework helps provide a basis for furthering the field’s understanding of the various activities that parents engage in to support effective homework completion.

  • Parent training for homework help
    Hoover-Dempsey et al. (2001) have suggested that parents become involved with homework because they believe they should be involved, that their involvement makes a difference, and that it is wanted and expected. However, the literature also suggests that parents often wish they knew more about teachers’ goals for homework and how to be more effective in their help. One promising strategy emerging in the literature for involving parents effectively in homework help seems to be providing training to parents on subject-specific strategies that they can implement at home that support student learning (Faires et al., 2000). A study of literacy practices in Latino families found that when mothers were given explicit guidelines on how to do literacy activities with their children at home, they reported substantially more activities directly related to their children’s schooling (Melzi et al., 2000). Future research can build understanding of how to most effectively train parents to ensure that they have the skills to provide homework help.

  • Interactive homework assignments
    The development of interactive homework assignments (homework that requires parent-child interaction as part of the activity) has also shown promise as a way of supporting parent involvement and student achievement. Homework activities that are explicitly designed to encourage interaction between parents and children have shown positive results for increasing achievement in several subject areas, including science and language arts (Epstein et al., 1997; Van Voorhis, 2000). Van Voorhis suggests that well-designed interactive assignments can have a number of positive outcomes: they can help students practice study skills, prepare for class, participate in learning activities, and develop personal responsibility for homework, as well as promote parent-child relations, develop parent-teacher communication, and fulfill policy directives from administrators. Future research can continue to build understanding of the kinds of interactive assignments that best foster parent involvement and student achievement.

Research Needs

  • Effects of parental help style
    One ongoing concern seems to be with issues of parenting style and how it impacts the type and effect of the help parents provide. More than one study of the relationship between parenting style and homework help have found that more supportive but indirect parenting styles are associated with help that promotes student learning (Chrispeels & Rivero, 2000; Shumow, 2001; Shumow & Lomax, 2001). One study found that the “autonomy support” style of parenting, applied to homework help, was associated with higher standardized test scores, higher grades, and more completed homework, while the “direct involvement” style was associated with lower student outcomes (Cooper et al., 2000). Further research is needed to fully understand the relationship between parenting style, homework help and the outcomes that are produced.

  • School support of parental homework help
    Hoover-Dempsey et al. (2001) also describe the importance of continuing efforts to develop and test well-designed approaches to improving school invitations to parental homework involvement. These topics for research are particularly important in light of findings that many parents assume that they should be involved in homework and value specific guidance for involvement from schools and teachers. This occurs across socioeconomic, ethnic, and geographic groups. These authors suggest that although parents express positive feelings about homework, they have concerns about homework, their limitations in subject-matter knowledge, and effective helping strategies. More research is needed on how school personnel can effectively support parental homework help.

  • Homework help at different grade levels
    Changes in curriculum, as well as the maturity and development of the child, suggest the need to explore variations in parental homework involvement and the impact of the involvement as the child gets older. Walker and Hoover-Dempsey (2001) found that there are significant differences in the ways that older and younger children invite their parents to help with homework and in the parental help that results from these invitations. The evidence indicates a wide gap between older students’ invitations to involvement and the levels of parental assistance they receive, suggesting that these students may not be receiving as much help with homework as they desire. The authors concluded that despite an overall decline in homework involvement as student age increases, some active homework relationships do seem to persist. However, further research is needed to understand the relationships between the child’s age and the amount and appropriateness of assistance he or she receives from parents.

Connecting School, Family, and Community for Effective School Reform

There is a growing body of literature on the role and impact of family and community members as participants, advocates, and full partners in school reform efforts (Fege, 2000; Hirota et al., 2000; Honig, 2001; Shirley, 1997; Schorr, 1997). Family and community involvement in school reform seems to be a key connection that is surfacing in the field, particularly as standards-based reform policies are implemented in communities across the United States. Lewis (1999) has documented that parents who are organized and who seek powerful ways to participate in school reform have been a crucial element of school improvement beyond the traditional professional approaches to improvement. The literature also suggests that there is an important role for community organizing and constituency-building work in systemic school reform efforts. Based on our review of the literature, the following topics are promising directions that have emerged in the field or are areas in which further research is needed to build conclusive evidence.

Promising Directions

  • Impact of community-based efforts
    Recent research by Hirota et al. (2000) suggests that community-based collaboratives for school reform can have a policy impact on school systems and can significantly influence education policy discussions that can, in turn, contribute to more effective school reform. The collaboratives studied by Hirota et al. gained a voice in policy debates, strengthened the institutional groundwork for reform, promoted the legitimacy of stakeholder groups, raised the visibility of education issues, and helped prepare community-based organizations to take the next step toward systemic school change. However, the authors cautioned that it is difficult to draw direct links between these collaborative efforts and policy changes, as there are many factors that impact the adoption and implementation of policies. Because of the complexity of this kind of collaborative policy effort, further research is needed to understand the process for building and sustaining collaboratives and for taking action for school reform.

  • Community organizing as a strategy for reform *
    Community organizing for school reform is beginning to grow as a phenomenon in communities across the country. One promising approach is the Indicators Project on Education Organizing (Gold et al., 2000). This collaborative action research project is in the process of examining the role of community organizing in developing a community constituency for reform and in improving teaching and learning in public schools. It seeks to provide a detailed description of what community organizing for education reform looks like, as well as to identify the contextual factors that shape the strategies and influence groups’ accomplishments. As community organizing develops as a strategy to support both school reform efforts and connections between schools, families, and communities, additional research is needed to document both its processes and outcomes.

Research Needs

  • Role and impact of family and community in reform efforts
    There is a need to further document the role and impact of family- and community-initiated school reform efforts. With the exception of a few authors (Gold et al., 2000; Lewis & Henderson, 1997; Shirley, 1997), these efforts have not been subject to extensive research. Finally, there is a need to study the impact of involvement in school reform efforts on individual parents and community members, as well as the community at large. There is some evidence that the roles that family and community members play in school reform efforts can have implications for the larger community as reform participants build capacity and skills that can be transferred to other arenas and community issues (Shirley).

  • Impact of reform involvement on future connections
    There is also a need for researchers to explore how parent and community involvement in reform efforts impacts how the school approaches future connections with families. Many successful school reform efforts have built in parent and community support and involvement elements (Lewis & Henderson, 1997; Zetlin & MacLeod, 1995; Shirley, 1997; Desimone, et al., 2000). More information is needed about how this inclusion in the reform process impacts the subsequent roles that family and community members play in the life of the school and how the school connects with the larger community.

  • Conditions that support parent and community involvement in reform efforts
    In two publications, Lewis and Henderson (1997, 1998) have discussed several areas of inquiry specific to community organizing for school reform for researchers to continue to explore. One area focuses on the elements (accountability systems, governance structures, and policy contexts) that must be in place before parents can be meaningfully involved in school improvement. Sarason (1995) suggests that there is a need to develop governance structures that build trust and respect among all parties involved in schools before any reform efforts can begin to make a difference for students. Lewis and Henderson also suggest that further research is needed about how to engage families, especially low-income families, in discussions about the key components of reform: high standards, fair assessment, and good teaching. These discussions will further the development of a common language and vision of what constitutes a successful school.

Connecting School, Family, and Community through Developmental Approaches and Integrated Service Delivery

Youth development researchers and theorists are calling for new ways of thinking about young people and how adults and organizations can fully support their healthy development (Benson, Scales, Leffert & Roehlkepartain, 1999; Council of Chief State School Officers & the Forum for Youth Investment, 2001).** Developmental theory is influencing the way that practitioners and researchers view the role of schools within a larger context of youth-serving organizations. Connections between the student’s primary environments—school, community, and family—are key elements of a developmental approach. As developmental theory continues to be applied in research and practice, there are a number of promising approaches and areas that need further research.

Promising Directions

  • Utilizing family and community connections to support child development
    Several authors (Center for Mental Health in Schools, 1999a; Dryfoos, 1998b; 2000; Lawson, 1999) have begun to explore how family and community connections with schools can facilitate linkages between all of the environments that affect a child’s development. These developmental approaches seek to reduce health, psychological, and other barriers so that children are ready to learn. They also seek to better understand the learning and development that take place in contexts other than schools. These authors suggest that both addressing barriers to learning and learning in other contexts can be important pieces to include in school reform efforts. Additional research can help identify those connections between schools, community organizations, and families that can support a developmental approach to meeting children’s needs.

  • Utilizing family and community connections to support community development
    Developmental theory can also be applied at a broader level, as researchers and practitioners explore the role of the school in the life and development of the community as a whole. Some rural education researchers embrace this perspective, as rural schools are often the largest local employer and one of the largest community institutions. The literature suggests that integrated school-community projects, such as service learning and entrepreneurial education, can benefit a rural community by:

    • stimulating the local economy

    • making the community a more appealing place to live by providing needed services or improving the local environment

    • strengthening the bonds of community by documenting and celebrating local culture and history (Southwest Educational Development Laboratory, 1998).

    Several authors (Lewis & Henderson, 1998; Shirley, 1997) suggest that increased leadership capacity that results from parent and community engagement in school reform results not only in improved schools, but also in stronger social networks and capacity throughout the community.

    As we continue to conduct research on school, family, and community connections, there is a need to capture those outcomes that support enhanced community development.

  • Full service and community schools ****
    Developmental theory has frequently been translated into practice as “full-service” or “community” schools. This school model seeks to integrate and connect various programs into comprehensive and multifaceted service delivery systems in order to support student success. There is evidence of positive impacts from these integrated approaches, including better family functioning and parent involvement, healthy youth development and improved social behavior, improved academic achievement and learning outcomes, and enhanced community life (Dryfoos, 1998a, 2000). Evaluations of community schools show an increase in mathematics and reading test scores, as well as improved attendance and decreased suspensions (Dryfoos, 2000). While there is evidence that this model holds promise for improved student, family, and community results, further research is needed, as indicated below.

Research Needs

  • Further research and evaluation of full-service and community schools
    Despite a number of program evaluations and research studies that have been released, integrated services for comprehensive child and youth development remain an example of implementation outpacing research. Recent funding from a variety of sources, including the 21st Century Community Learning Centers grants through the United States Department of Education, has resulted in the widespread development of community and full-service school initiatives. However, a General Accounting Office (GAO) report to Congress (Shaul, 2000) found that most school-community collaboratives have not been rigorously evaluated to determine their effect on student achievement. They found that many programs can point to improvement in some form of student outcomes, such as attendance or higher graduation rates, but cannot link improvements directly to the initiatives. The report also found that many programs that are seeing positive results do not have the means (funding, staff, or time) to conduct evaluations or publish them. As a result, these integrated approaches have not been evaluated and researched to the extent that would be desirable, to understand both the complex process of fully integrating the services and the outcomes of these integrated efforts.

  • Conditions and skills that support service integration
    To take a truly developmental approach, proponents suggest that comprehensive, multifaceted, and integrated continuums of school-community connections are required. These initiatives involve much more than providing a few services, recreation, and enrichment activities at school campuses. Additional research is needed to understand the conditions that support the successful development of integrated service approaches and to facilitate the “formal and institutionalized sharing of a wide spectrum of responsibilities and resources” (Center for Mental Health in Schools, 1999b, p. 1). Specifically, we need a better understanding of the governance structures that support integration, the barriers that must be addressed for services to be delivered in school facilities, and the skills that are needed by both school and social services personnel to support integration. The literature also emphasizes the critical role of the principal in full-service and community schools. According to Lawson (1999), effective principals of these schools must build knowledge and competence in four areas: collaborative educational leadership, antipoverty strategies, family-centered practices, and advocacy for special needs children, youth, and families. They must adopt a new “mental model,” recognizing the other developmental contexts for children’s learning and healthy development as important pieces missing in school reform. More research is needed on the kinds of skills and preparation that school leaders, in particular, need in order to take an integrated approach to supporting student development.

Connecting School, Family, and Community to Support Student Transitions throughout the Education System

The literature suggests that a strong and seamless connection between the home, community, and school facilitates children’s transitions into and throughout the school system, leading to an environment that supports student success. Each of the major transitions—Kindergarten, middle school, and high school transitions—are critical times when all students need additional support to continue to achieve academically. Based on our review of the literature, the following topics are promising directions that have emerged in the field or are areas in which further research is needed to build conclusive evidence.

Promising Directions

  • Family involvement for Kindergarten readiness
    The importance of “readiness” for school, and its implications for parents, has been the subject of extensive research and attention. One recent study suggests that fostering parent support and parent learning about Kindergarten readiness can help ensure that children are adequately prepared to start school (Starkey & Klein, 2000; Perroncel, 2000). Rimm-Kaufman and Pianta (1999) suggest that a network of social connections that support children and families during the Kindergarten transition is needed, including interactions between teachers and children, children and peers, parents and teachers, and preschool teachers and Kindergarten teachers. While there is a growing body of evidence about the elements that support Kindergarten readiness, there is also a need to better integrate the early childhood development literature and the K-12 literature to fully understand the connections that make a difference. For example, Fantuzzo et al. (2000) conducted a study to assess parent involvement for children in comprehensive day care, Head Start, Kindergarten, and first grade. Studies such as this can begin to build understanding of how parent involvement changes from pre-school to Kindergarten. Future research can also build our understanding of the specific types of family and community connections that provide a strong support net for children, particularly those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, as they prepare to enter Kindergarten.

  • Family and community involvement in middle and high school
    Despite the continued prevalence of the myth that family and community connections are primarily important at the elementary school level, researchers have begun exploring the effects of school, family, and community connections during transitions to middle and high school. Gutman and Midgley (2000) found that during the transition from elementary to middle school, both school factors and family factors were important to support academic achievement in African American students. Another study found that, contrary to popular thinking, middle and high school students do want their parents to be involved, especially in terms of homework help and other home-based types of support and involvement (Catsambis & Garland, 1997). This study found that parent involvement does not decline, as expected, but rather shifts as students move into middle and high school. Although they continued to be involved, parents reported increasing dissatisfaction with their role in relationship to the school, especially involving school policy (Catsambis & Garland). These results point to the importance of continued exploration of the needs that students have during the transition to middle school and to high school, and roles that families play in supporting these transitions. There is also some evidence that the involvement of social service agencies and school social workers can be particularly beneficial during the middle and high school transitions (Marcon, 1999b). More research is needed on how to use these professionals further to connect families and communities in supporting student transitions.

Research Needs

  • Post-secondary transitions
    School-to-Work and other school-community connections programs show evidence of facilitating and supporting student success during the transition from high school to work, career, or post-secondary education (Hughes et al., 2001). However, additional research is needed to understand how family and community connections can support successful transitions as students leave high school and begin careers and post-secondary education.

  • Rural Kindergarten readiness
    One study suggested that rural children in particular face challenges as they transition into Kindergarten. Perroncel (2000) found that rural schools are not ready to help children of different social, economic, and cultural backgrounds to develop their individual abilities so they can be ready to learn. Connecting community resources to support the development of all young children’s abilities and opportunities to succeed in school was mentioned as one of the most important things rural schools may be able to do (Perroncel). Further research about support for Kindergarten readiness in rural areas is needed to understand the particular needs of these children, families, and schools, and how families and schools can become partners to meet those needs.

  • Impact of early involvement on future connections and outcomes
    Miedel and Reynolds (1999) suggest that “parent involvement is an important component in early childhood programs and should be emphasized” and “implementing parent involvement activities during the early childhood years can provide a strong foundation for family-school relations that can promote successful transitions” (p. 398). Further research is needed to understand the relationship between early parent involvement and later student success and parent involvement as the student moves through the school system.

Developing Process-Based Approaches to Make Connections

The research on family and community connections with schools has generally emphasized formal and programmatic approaches to connections. However, there is also evidence that more one-on-one, relationship-oriented connections between educators, parents, and community members are a key factor in making connections and effectively supporting student achievement, school reform, and community development (Wynn et al., 2000; Adams & Christenson, 2000; Mapp, 1999; Scribner et al., 1999; Setisinger, 1996). Research has also suggested that relationship building and trust are at the core of successful school outreach and invitations. Community-based education reformers also observe that effective school-community connections depend on building strong, trusting, relationships between schools and parents and between parents and community advocates (Lewis & Henderson, 1998; Wynn et al.). Based on our review of the literature, the following topics are promising directions that have emerged in the field or are areas in which further research is needed to build conclusive evidence.

Promising Directions

  • Role of intermediaries in building connections
    An emerging concept from the literature is that of an intermediary organization or individual as a bridge builder between schools, families, and the community (Honig, 2001; Cordiero & Kolek, 1996). These intermediaries are also referred to as “cultural brokers” and “boundary spanners.” Honig defines intermediary organizations as organizations that “literally sit between policymakers and [reform] implementers to increase the human, social, and fiscal capital for implementation” (p.1). They can also be “instrumental in facilitating the ongoing functioning of connections in ways that clarify purposes and reinforce constructive practices” (Camino, 1998, as cited in Wynn et al., 2000, p. 30). Other studies point to the idea of a boundary-crossing ambassador who serves as a necessary link between multiple cultures, whether individual cultures or institutional cultures, to establish effective collaborations (Cordiero & Kolek). Future research can help build understanding of the roles and impacts of these intermediaries on school, family, and community connections, as well as the processes they use to build bridges.

  • Impact of school outreach
    An important emerging finding in the research is the significant impact that school outreach and invitations to families and community members have on the level and quality of family and community connections. In at least three studies, it has been found to be a more important factor than family characteristics or previous student academic achievement (Van Voorhis, 2000; Simon, 2000; Chrispeels & Rivero, 2000). Simon found that when schools reach out, and families and community members feel that the school is extending invitations at a personal level, they respond with greater attendance at school-based activities and greater family involvement at home. The unique role that schools play in initiating and setting the tone for connections with families and the community warrants further investigation. Researchers have also suggested that more research is needed about what motivates individual school staff members to reach out to parents and community and how school staff can be further motivated and supported in building these relationships.

  • Public deliberation as an engagement strategy
    Public deliberation, in which people come together to engage in dialogue around issues, has been highlighted in the literature as a promising practice for involving communities in decision-making, supporting school reform, and sharing information (McDonnell & Weatherford, 2000). It has also been suggested as a strategy for bringing diverse groups of people together to achieve understanding of—if not consensus on—a range of public issues, including education (Ashby, Garza & Rivas, 1998). Further, it has been cited as a strategy to bring education policymakers together with their constituents to develop broader input for decision-making, increased support for public education, and increased potential for community and school partnerships (Pan & Mutchler, 2000). The process of public deliberation shows promise as a connection strategy, and further research would build our understanding of its potential for producing positive impacts for a variety of stakeholders.

Research Needs

  • Factors that impact relationship-building
    The literature points out that there is a need to increase the quality of constructive interactions between parents and teachers instead of focusing solely on increasing the number of contacts. Izzo et al. (1999) found that the quality of teacher-parent interactions uniquely predicts improvement in both children’s behavior and their academic achievement. In order to improve the quality of interactions and relationships, we must develop a stronger understanding of the factors that impact these interactions between educators and parents. A number of factors and strategies that supported relationship-building were identified in the literature (Mapp, 1999; Chrispeels & Rivero, 2000; Sanders, 2001), but further research is needed to help us clarify and understand how these factors and strategies are defined and related. Furthermore, additional measurements and benchmarks are needed in order to assess how these factors change and develop over the life of the relationship.

  • Relationships in school and community connections
    There is a growing understanding of the role that relationships between staff in schools and community organizations play in the development of successful collaborations. Jehl et al. (2001) suggest that there are “sticking points,” rooted in differences in organizational cultures and values, that can hinder school-community connections. They suggest that these sticking points must be understood and addressed in order to build effective partnerships. Wynn et al. (2000) also suggest that relationships between personnel can be a key factor impacting the success of school and community connections. Also, although there are a growing number of schools offering school-based social services, these services are often disconnected from the school’s curriculum, core services, and programs. These disconnects can be exacerbated by the lack of personal relationships that build trust and understanding between school and community staff (Center for Mental Health in Schools, 1999a). The importance of these relationships in the development of successful school-community partnerships warrants further investigation by researchers.

Preparing Educators and Other School Personnel to Make Connections between Schools, Families, and Communities

Although superintendents, principals, and teachers play an integral role in involving families in their children’s education, few educator preparation and certification programs include requirements in the area of family and community involvement (Shartrand, Weiss, Kreider & Lopez, 1997). Traditionally, educators have been prepared in isolation from the organizations and communities in which they will work. As a result, a serious discrepancy exists between the preparation educators receive and the connections they are expected to create to benefit student achievement. The literature suggests that through ongoing pre-service and in-service training, educators can be better equipped with the skills needed to create relationships with parents and students. Based on our review of the literature, the following topics are promising directions that have emerged in the field or are areas in which further research is needed to build conclusive evidence.

Promising Directions

  • Educator attitudes and beliefs that facilitate connections
    Research is beginning to define the attitudes and beliefs held by educators that facilitate connections with family and community. Researchers suggest that individual educators need both a supportive belief system about family and community and a repertoire of tools and strategies for how to make connections. For instance, educators can benefit from a deconstruction of some of the myths about family and community involvement—that there is a “traditional” American family that is the “right” type of family, that family involvement is only critical to those students at-risk, or that poor and minority parents are not involved in their children’s education (Lopez, 2001; Setisinger, 1996). Setisinger refers to the work of Noddings (1995, as cited in Setisinger), which suggests that educators must believe that they are the most important catalyst for successful connections in order to make those connections happen. In addition, Noddings explains that educators’ caring attitudes can support the development of a partnership approach and mutual respect between parents and educators. Lopez suggests that educators must also understand the need for making greater efforts to partner with marginalized parents on parents’ own terms. As we begin to better understand the attitudes and beliefs that facilitate connections with families and community, further research is needed to understand how educators can be prepared and supported to develop these beliefs.

  • Skills and attitudes of school principals that facilitate connections
    Bradshaw (1999) discusses principals’ skills and attitudes that support family and community connections with schools. She suggests that principals of family- and community-oriented schools profit from positive attitudes toward collaboration. Flexible thinking allows them to respond to and use important new information to facilitate connections. A belief that collaboration can address the complex needs of their students, preparation on obtaining and distributing information strategically, seeing problems in new ways, crafting solutions, and developing these skills in others all contribute to successful leadership in family- and community-oriented schools. Bradshaw also sees boundary spanning as a role for principals in schools with community and full-service programs. Boundary spanners work in the areas where organization boundaries and departments cross and overlap, using five types of boundary spanning activities: filtering, transacting, buffering, representing, and protecting. Further research can build our understanding of how principals can be supported to develop these skills and attitudes to support successful connections.

  • Promising pre-service preparation for educators
    University departments of education, in particular, play a key role in connecting schools, families and communities (Shartrand et al., 1997). The results of a study by Morris, Taylor, Knight, and Wasson (1996) confirmed that course experiences in family and community involvement made a significant difference in enhancing students’ perceptions of their comfort and competence levels in planning and implementing parent involvement programs in schools. One recent research study suggests that beyond incorporating family and community connections issues into pre-service coursework and curriculum, educator preparation programs can provide their students with opportunities to experience family and community connections firsthand. Power and Perry (2000) at the University of Maine modeled school-family connections by involving their students’ families in their university courses. They also provided internship opportunities for their students to work with family and community members of a local school district. Once these students became in-service teachers, they demonstrated strong beliefs in family involvement and an understanding of the difference it makes in the learning process. More work is needed to document, assess, and disseminate promising practices such as these to prepare pre-service educators to make effective connections with families and communities.

Research Needs

  • In-service preparation
    Currently, local districts and schools are expected to provide the professional development and training their staff needs in the area of family and community connections (Shartrand et al., 1997). However, this is not happening with enough frequency across the country’s school systems. Kessler-Sklar and Baker’s (2000) national survey of school district policies found that the percentage of districts with policies to train staff to work effectively with parents was very low. Shartrand et al. have documented that teachers need adequate training if they are going to be effective at forging family-community-school connections. Even when districts hire intermediary or specialized personnel such as parent liaisons or Title I coordinators to work with parents or community members, these staff members may have only minimal training or experience. More research is needed about how schools and school districts can provide adequate support and professional development so that educators and other school staff are prepared to work effectively with families and the community. Specifically, research is needed on how educators can receive support and develop skills that foster involvement in the classroom, at the school, and at home with positive results for children, families, the school, and the community. Research should also include an examination of the barriers that schools face in providing appropriate professional development and support in the area of family and community connections.


This section has reviewed promising directions and research needs in the field of family and community connections with schools. The promising directions that have been discussed highlight new research and thinking that holds great potential for furthering our understanding of effective connections and the positive outcomes they can produce. The research needs highlight areas in which research to date has been inconclusive or contradictory, or areas in which there are gaps in the current literature. By highlighting both these promising directions and research needs, we hope to continue moving the field forward to build conclusive evidence about effective connections that produce positive outcomes.

* The Indicators Project on Education Organizing, a research project sponsored by the Cross-City Campaign for Urban School Reform, offers the following working definition for community organizing groups (which can be independent, associated with a national network, and/or have a university connection). They generally:
• are active in urban or rural areas with a concentration of low-income, often racially, ethnically and linguistically minority families;
• target schools/districts that are under-performing; use social processes of relationship building with parents and community members to identify shared concerns about children’s schooling;
• take collective actions that challenge inequity; develop a powerful membership base and local leadership for the purpose of leveraging change (Gold et al., 2000).

** While there are a number of definitions of “youth development,” most of these approaches include the following elements: 1) broad goals for schools and other youth-serving organizations “to promote not only problem reduction but preparation for adulthood”; 2) increased options “for instruction and involvement by improving the quality and availability of supports, services, and opportunities offered” to young people; and 3) redefinition of strategies “in order to ensure a broad scale of supports and opportunities for young people that reach beyond the status quo” (Council of Chief State School Officers & the Forum for Youth Investment, 2001, p. 82).

*** According to Joy Dryfoos (1998a), a prominent writer on full-service and community schools, “a full-service community school integrates the delivery of quality education with whatever health, social, and cultural services are required in that community. This kind of institution draws on both school resources and outside community agencies that come into the school and join forces to provide ‘seamless,’ ‘one-stop’ environments” (p. 1). She adds that full-service schools represent an effort to make human and social service agencies partners in the education process, while simultaneously making school systems partners in the delivery of human and social services. Abrams and Gibbs (2000) describe full service schools as an “attempt to integrate programs such as health care, mental health services, parent education, or after-school care into the schoolwide change process” (p. 80).


Revious Page Next Page
Copyright 2000 Southwest Educational Development Laboratory   Web Accessibility Symbol