Resources for Family and Community Involvement in Schools

Published in SEDL Letter Volume X, Number 3, April 1998, Pulling Together

Increasingly, research reveals the efficacy of home-school-community partnerships and other family involvement programs in school and student improvement efforts. SEDLetter rounds up and summarizes for you some significant recent studies and publications.

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Home-School-Community Partnerships Are Associated with Positive Outcomes in Schools
Students, parents and families, teachers, schools, and communities agree that parent and community involvement in education leads to improved student achievement. And now research is finding strong relationships between successful home-school-community partnerships and student achievement or school improvement.

Parent and Community Involvement in Education: Studies of Education Reform focuses on the role of parent/family and community involvement programs in middle schools. Some outcomes linked to partnership schools include more positive attitudes and relationships with families, schools, and the community; the creation of new roles for families, teachers, and community leaders; and increased support for school reform.

Researchers Barry Rutherford, Beckie Anderson, and Shelley Billig focus on comprehensive districtwide parent and community involvement programs, school restructuring, and school-initiated, adult-child home-learning programs. They identify barriers to and incentives for reforming parent and community involvement; suggest effective strategies for implementing reform; and analyze the effects of reform on students, parents, schools, school staff, school districts, and the community.

Summarizing the research literature and using data collected from school districts and schools during the 1993-94 school year, the authors present case studies of nine middle school sites, including a cross-site analysis of eight themes that emerged from the visits. One theme is the critical nature of middle school — when classroom structure changes, curriculum becomes more complex, and students begin to express a desire for independence.

The cross-site analysis is followed by a section on the impact of partnerships on students, parents and families, teachers, schools, and communities. And the report concludes with an assessment of the resources needed to carry out reform.

Produced by the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, US Department of Education, this publication is the first of three technical reports, products of a 3.5-year study of education reform.

Parent and Community Involvement in Education: Studies of Education Reform is available from the US Government Printing Office, Superintendent of Documents, PO Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954; 202/512-1800 (1997, cite order no. 065-000-00937-4, 122 pages, $10 prepaid). This document is also available on the Internet at

resource graphic Parent-Child Reading Activities Offer Potential for All Families
Parent-child reading activities that encourage children's verbal participation bolster children's literacy skills and language development. But do the techniques that work for middle-income families also work for impoverished or at-risk families who may find it difficult to make literacy development a priority?

Colleen E. Morisset, a researcher for the Center on Families, Communities, Schools, and Children's Learning, investigated this question. She offered a reading intervention program, proven successful with more affluent families, to children and families in two impoverished, disadvantaged communities. Her findings are presented in "You Know, I Think My Boy's Gonna Be a Reader!": Supporting School Readiness through Community-Based Intervention.

The intervention taught parents how to modify their reading styles by using conversational devices with their children. These included open-ended questions; "what," "where," and "why" questions; constructive feedback; and praise.

Surveyed after using the intervention, parents reported that many more children enjoyed reading, and the number of children who were frequently read to nearly tripled. Morisset also cautiously indicates that students showed modest improvements in grammar and language skills. Out-of-home literacy activities — library visits and community story times — did not become more frequent.

Morisset admits that limitations in the study prevented her from determining if the program's method, in particular, was responsible for the positive effects. But, she counters, anecdotal evidence shows that the method helped parents optimize time they spent in literacy activities with their children, an important factor for working parents who may lack time.

"You Know, I Think My Boy's Gonna Be a Reader!": Supporting School Readiness through Community-Based Intervention is available from the Center on Families, Communities, Schools, and Children's Learning, Johns Hopkins University, 3003 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218; 410/516-8808, 410/516-8890 fax (1997, cite order no. CFC-37, 51 pages, $9.50 prepaid, purchase orders welcome).

resource graphic School and Family Partnerships: A Vital Connection in Working Toward Improving Education
Single and working mothers are less likely than other parents to come to school for meetings or workshops. But they are just as likely or even more likely to spend time helping their children with homework, says a report by Joyce L. Epstein of the Center on Families, Communities, Schools, and Children's Learning.

In "School and Family Partnerships" Epstein reviews school partnership research, examines trends in family involvement in schools, and recommends ways in which schools can foster more family participation in education.

There is less parent involvement in high schools than in elementary schools. Epstein says this is because elementary school teachers tend to have fewer students than high school teachers and therefore have more time to communicate with each family. Also, many parents of high school students may not know how to help with their children's schoolwork.

To help them support the school, parents, especially those with a lower socioeconomic or education level, need specific guidance from teachers, Epstein suggests. For their part, schools can encourage family involvement by:

  • Creating family involvement programs that are developmentally appropriate and responsive to the needs of different families
  • Communicating with parents about their child's progress as well as school programs
  • Encouraging parental involvement by training volunteers and creating flexible schedules for parents
  • Providing parents with clear information about how to help their children at home
  • Involving parents with decision-making in schools
  • Collaborating with community organizations to provide access to services such as child-care and health care

"School and Family Partnerships" is available from the Center on Families, Communities, Schools, and Children's Learning, Johns Hopkins University, 3003 N. Charles Street, Baltimore, MD 21218; 410/516-8808, 410/516-8890 fax (1992, cite order no. CFC6, 25 pages, $3 prepaid).

resource graphic A Careful Planning Phase Is Essential to Collaborations That Benefit Children
Thorough planning is essential to successful parent, school, and community collaborations aimed at improving services for children and their families. And the most successful collaborations often involve a year or more spent planning before they are implemented.

"It is not unusual for people to insist that they have already ïdone enough' planning when they have developed a vision, written goals and objectives, or participated in similar activities," notes a guidebook produced by the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory. The guidebook details each step involved in planning home-school-community collaborations.

Authors of the guide divide planning into four stages and elaborate on each, beginning with initiating the collaboration. Home, school, and community partners are recruited and begin to work together, learn about the needs of children and families, and think about how they can collaborate to address these needs.

The second stage involves building the partnership, when partners evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of current resources for children and families. They also identify their common concerns and goals and try to involve decisionmakers from various organizations.

During the third stage partners develop a shared vision for the collaboration, articulating desired outcomes, noting ways to achieve those outcomes, and prioritizing concerns. The last stage involves shifting the collaboration from planning to action as partners develop an implementation program for their ideas.

Included with the guidebook are two additional booklets. One describes how a neutral facilitator can enhance the collaborative efforts of the partners, while the other helps partners track their progress toward outcomes anticipated in the planning phase.

Building Home, School, Community Partnerships is available online.

resource graphic Schools Should Be Aggressive in Using Outreach Activities to Involve Low-Income Families
Schools must conduct aggressive outreach activities with low-income families, starting in the preschool years and extending even through high school, says At-Risk Families and Schools: Becoming Partners, a report that also provides a blueprint of suggested activities.

Traditional methods of outreach may not work with low-income parents, some of whom are suspicious of teachers and administrators. This hesitancy, however, should not deter the development of creative programs. "Most at-risk families will respond to schools' and teachers' initiatives," writes author Lynn Balster Liontos of the ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational Management.

The report says biweekly home visits and other personal contact — such as school meetings — are the most effective ways to boost involvement. Through home visits school staff can identify potential problems or learn more about the home environment. "Home visits say, 'We care about you,'" Liontos writes.

Other innovative programs include parenting workshops and parent newsletters published by the schools. Parent support groups also are effective, the report says. In Los Angeles, Project AHEAD trains parent educators to conduct home visits and monthly meetings at the school site.

The report cites the need for parent involvement throughout a student's school career — even during the high school years. Liontos cites several models such as parent-teacher contracts, in which parents agree to help their children at home and attend parent meetings. She also notes the Tucson, AZ, Dropout Prevention Collaborative, a leadership program in which parents conduct workshops for at-risk families and help re-enroll school dropouts.

At-Risk Families and Schools: Becoming Partners is available from ERIC (Document Reproduction Service), Clearinghouse on Educational Management, College of Education, University of Oregon, 7420 Fullerton Rd. #110, Springfield, VA 22153-2852; 800/443-3742 (1992, cite order no. ED-342055, 156 pages, $29.47 prepaid, $4.90 shipping).

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