Resources for Family and Community Involvement in Schools
Increasingly, research reveals the efficacy ofhome-school-community partnerships and other family involvement programs inschool and student improvement efforts. SEDLetter rounds up and summarizesfor you some significant recent studies and publications.
Home-School-Community Partnerships AreAssociated with Positive Outcomes in Schools
Students, parents and families, teachers, schools, and communities agree thatparent and community involvement in education leads to improved studentachievement. And now research is finding strong relationships between successfulhome-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 middleschools. Some outcomes linked to partnership schools include more positiveattitudes and relationships with families, schools, and the community; thecreation of new roles for families, teachers, and community leaders; andincreased support for school reform.
Researchers Barry Rutherford, Beckie Anderson, and Shelley Billig focus oncomprehensive districtwide parent and community involvement programs, schoolrestructuring, and school-initiated, adult-child home-learning programs. Theyidentify barriers to and incentives for reforming parent and communityinvolvement; suggest effective strategies for implementing reform; and analyzethe effects of reform on students, parents, schools, school staff, schooldistricts, and the community.
Summarizing the research literature and using data collected from schooldistricts and schools during the 1993-94 school year, the authors present casestudies of nine middle school sites, including a cross-site analysis of eightthemes that emerged from the visits. One theme is the critical nature of middleschool — when classroom structure changes, curriculum becomes more complex, andstudents begin to express a desire for independence.
The cross-site analysis is followed by a section on the impact of partnerships onstudents, parents and families, teachers, schools, and communities. And thereport concludes with an assessment of the resources needed to carry out reform.
Produced by the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, US Department ofEducation, this publication is the first of three technical reports, products ofa 3.5-year study of education reform.
Parent and Community Involvement in Education: Studies of Education Reform isavailable from the US Government Printing Office, Superintendent of Documents, POBox 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 theInternet at http://www.ed.gov/pubs/SER/ParentComm/index.html.
Parent-Child Reading Activities Offer Potentialfor All Families
Parent-child reading activities that encourage children's verbal participationbolster children's literacy skills and language development. But do thetechniques that work for middle-income families also work for impoverished orat-risk families who may find it difficult to make literacy development apriority?
Colleen E. Morisset, a researcher for the Center on Families, Communities,Schools, and Children's Learning, investigated this question. She offered areading intervention program, proven successful with more affluent families, tochildren and families in two impoverished, disadvantaged communities. Herfindings 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 usingconversational 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 childrenenjoyed reading, and the number of children who were frequently read to nearlytripled. Morisset also cautiously indicates that students showed modestimprovements in grammar and language skills. Out-of-home literacyactivities — library visits and community story times — did not become more frequent.
Morisset admits that limitations in the study prevented her from determining ifthe program's method, in particular, was responsible for the positive effects.But, she counters, anecdotal evidence shows that the method helped parentsoptimize time they spent in literacy activities with their children, an importantfactor for working parents who may lack time.
"You Know, I Think My Boy's Gonna Be a Reader!": Supporting School Readinessthrough 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, citeorder no. CFC-37, 51 pages, $9.50 prepaid, purchase orders welcome).
School and Family Partnerships: A VitalConnection in Working Toward Improving Education
Single and working mothers are less likely than other parents to come to schoolfor meetings or workshops. But they are just as likely or even more likely tospend 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 whichschools 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 fewerstudents than high school teachers and therefore have more time to communicatewith each family. Also, many parents of high school students may not know how tohelp with their children's schoolwork.
To help them support the school, parents, especially those with a lowersocioeconomic or education level, need specific guidance from teachers, Epsteinsuggests. For their part, schools can encourage family involvement by:
- Creating family involvement programs that are developmentally appropriate andresponsive to the needs of different families
- Communicating with parents about their child's progress as well as schoolprograms
- Encouraging parental involvement by training volunteers and creating flexibleschedules for parents
- Providing parents with clear information about how to help their children athome
- Involving parents with decision-making in schools
- Collaborating with community organizations to provide access to services suchas 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, citeorder no. CFC6, 25 pages, $3 prepaid).
A Careful Planning Phase Is Essential toCollaborations That Benefit Children
Thorough planning is essential to successful parent, school, and communitycollaborations aimed at improving services for children and their families. Andthe most successful collaborations often involve a year or more spent planningbefore 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, orparticipated in similar activities," notes a guidebook produced by the SouthwestEducational Development Laboratory. The guidebook details each step involved inplanning 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 partnersare recruited and begin to work together, learn about the needs of children andfamilies, and think about how they can collaborate to address these needs.
The second stage involves building the partnership, when partners evaluate thestrengths and weaknesses of current resources for children and families. Theyalso identify their common concerns and goals and try to involve decisionmakersfrom various organizations.
During the third stage partners develop a shared vision for the collaboration,articulating desired outcomes, noting ways to achieve those outcomes, andprioritizing concerns. The last stage involves shifting the collaboration fromplanning to action as partners develop an implementation program for their ideas.
Included with the guidebook are two additional booklets. One describes how aneutral facilitator can enhance the collaborative efforts of the partners, whilethe other helps partners track their progress toward outcomes anticipated in theplanning phase.
Building Home, School, Community Partnerships is available online.
Schools Should Be Aggressive in Using OutreachActivities 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, saysAt-Risk Families and Schools: Becoming Partners, a report that also provides ablueprint of suggested activities.
Traditional methods of outreach may not work with low-income parents, some ofwhom are suspicious of teachers and administrators. This hesitancy, however,should not deter the development of creative programs. "Most at-risk familieswill respond to schools' and teachers' initiatives," writes author Lynn BalsterLiontos of the ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational Management.
The report says biweekly home visits and other personal contact — such as schoolmeetings — are the most effective ways to boost involvement. Through home visitsschool staff can identify potential problems or learn more about the homeenvironment. "Home visits say, 'We care about you,'" Liontos writes.
Other innovative programs include parenting workshops and parent newsletterspublished by the schools. Parent support groups also are effective, the reportsays. In Los Angeles, Project AHEAD trains parent educators to conduct homevisits and monthly meetings at the school site.
The report cites the need for parent involvement throughout a student's schoolcareer — even during the high school years. Liontos cites several models such asparent-teacher contracts, in which parents agree to help their children at homeand attend parent meetings. She also notes the Tucson, AZ, Dropout PreventionCollaborative, a leadership program in which parents conduct workshops forat-risk families and help re-enroll school dropouts.
At-Risk Families and Schools: Becoming Partners is available from ERIC (DocumentReproduction Service), Clearinghouse on Educational Management, College ofEducation, University of Oregon, 7420 Fullerton Rd. #110, Springfield, VA22153-2852; 800/443-3742 (1992, cite order no. ED-342055, 156 pages, $29.47prepaid, $4.90 shipping).
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