There are key program elements and strategies that are specific to those programs that are designed and implemented to enhance the partnership roles of parents, families, communities, and schools. Successful initiatives consider these program elements and strategies in design, development, and implementation.
This literature reveals that several key program elements cut across all levels of the education system:
The roles of parents, families, and communities and the partnerships that are created with schools speak to programs that are designed, developed, and implemented at any grade level. Research literature on middle grade parent involvement will be highlighted.
The research literature on enhancing parental roles in this regard generally focuses on how parents can help their children through home learning activities and the ways in which such activities can be optimized.
Involving parents in home learning activities vastly improves students' productivity (Rich, l987a; Epstein, l99lb; Walberg, l984) Programs and activities that may be called "home learning" take many forms, but most commonly include homework, leisure reading, family discussions, educational games, and enrichment activities (Moles, 1991).
Key Element: Well-developed local practices. Dauber and Epstein (1991:11) asserted that "regardless of parent education, family size, student ability, or school level (elementary or middle school), parents are more likely to become partners in their children's education if they perceive that the schools have strong practices to involve parents at school, at home on homework, and at home on reading activities." Districts and schools play a key role in developing effective school-parent partnerships to encourage home learning (Birman, l987; Hamilton and Cochran, l988; Comer, l988b).
The most successful schools design adult-child learning programs with parents (Crispeels, l99la) to fit the needs and expectations of families who intend to participate (Zeldin, 1989; Epstein, 1989; Rich, l985; Slaughter and Epps, l987). Training to work with families adds to the success. (Zeldin, 1989; Chrispeels, 1991a; Dauber and Epstein, 1991).
Epstein (1991a) has concluded that for teachers, parent involvement in students' home learning is largely an organizational problem. "Teachers must have clear, easy, and reliable ways to (a) distribute learning activities (b) receive and process messages from parents (c) evaluate the help students obtain at home, and (d) continue to manage and evaluate the parent involvement practices" (Epstein, 1991a:4).
Key Element: A willingness of teachers to build on parent strengths. Effective programs respect and utilize the strengths of all parents, regardless of parental income, education, or social status (Zeldin, 1989) to form a strong partnership. Further, successful programs view even minor involvement as the basis for later, more active involvement (Eastman, 1988).
Research from the Johns Hopkins Surveys of Schools and Family Connections (Epstein and Becker, 1987) showed that teachers believe that parents' help is necessary if schools are to solve problems. Teachers mainly requested that parents review or practice activities that were taught in class. Some researchers have focused on how to increase teachers' understandings of the literacy practices that go on in any home (Brice-Heath, 1983; Cochran, 1987; Slaughter, 1988) which understanding have been shown to enhance teachers' effectiveness.
Key Element: Ongoing recruitment using multiple methods. Schools need to use such strategies as home visits, community agencies and word-of-mouth for the "hard to reach" parents (Zeldin, l989). School-generated print materials usually work with middle class parents (Pickarts and Fargo, l975; McLaughlin and Shields, l987). Rich (l985) offered suggestions for recruiting bilingual parents such as bilingual hotline, bilingual media campaign, etc. In her review of Thompson's Family Math, and Epstein's Teachers Involve Parents in Schoolwork, Chrispeels (1991a) found that home learning activities were most effective when there was personal communication between parents, families, and teachers (for example, receiving invitations to visit in the school and phone calls about student progress), and when the school provided translation, transportation, and child care.
Key Element: Effective strategies for promoting home learning. Many researchers found that parents need specific advice and strategies to enable them to engage in home learning activities. Successful programs have some of the following components: l) prescriptive component (Rich, l986a); 2) flexible program to fit parents' time (Zeldin, l989; Barber, l987); 3) meaningful and interesting (Brown, l989); 4) on-going projects (Brown, l989; Epstein and Herrick, l99l); 5) parents can ask questions and listen (Epstein, l99la and l99la:5); 6) personal support of parents by teachers (Lightfoot, l975; Crispeels, l987b); and 7) teachers encourage parental involvement (Dauber and Epstein, l99l:l3).
Key Element: The home learning environment. Several researchers pointed to the importance of the home learning environment (Clark, 1983; Walberg, 1984; Henderson, 1987; de Kanter, et al., 1986; Zeldin, 1989; Chrispeels, 1991a): overt modeling of the importance of education, provision of youth enrichment activities, appropriate household chores, and including children in family decision making . In general, to promote student motivation to learn, family and school structures need to be designed to support the developmental demands created by biological, cognitive, personal, and social growth of the child as he/she matures (Lipsitz, 1984; Epstein, l986b; Rich, l985).
Home learning in the middle grades. The major emphasis of activities that may be termed "home learning" in grades four through eight include helping parents:
Epstein and Herrick (1991) developed and evaluated a number of specific practices that teachers could use to increase parent involvement in the home. One such practice was the use of home learning packets in math and language arts in the first year to which they added science and health in the second year. These were used during the summer by parents of students who would enter grades seven and eight. Evaluations showed that students who worked with their parents completed a greater number of activities in the packets and that the packets had a moderate effect on student performance for some students, especially those who had marginal skills.
Key Element: A focus on quality education for all students. The research literature for Effective Schools emphasizes the importance of developing the abilities of all children regardless of their current achievement level or their cultural, ethnic, or socioeconomic background. The concept of teaching the whole child has extended upward from the elementary level. Educators must consider the social, emotional, physical as well as the academic development of the middle grade student (Davies, 1991).
The changing structure of the family and its related needs must be considered in relationship to the school and its available resources (Epstein, 1988). Schools and families must work together to form high, yet realistic expectations that lead to success for all students as they restructure the school to meet their local needs (American Indian Science and Engineering Society, 1989; Bliss, 1986; Davies, 1991).
Key Element: Family participation in their children's education. Davies (1991) recommended that we change from parent involvement to family involvement because for some children, it is the grandparents, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters or even neighbors who make the most significant contribution in supporting the child's educational development outside of the school. Schools must take the lead in helping families have the knowledge and skills to provide support to their children (Bliss, 1986; Moles, 1990; Slaughter and Epps, 1987). Principals need to take the lead to ensure that parent and community involvement is a high priority for the school staff, parents, and the community (Purnell and Gotts, 1985).
Specific learning activities can be promoted by specific school practices: providing homework hotlines, after-school homework tutoring sessions, or assigning interactive projects that require parents' assistance (Chrispeels, 1991a). Homework must be clear, of an appropriate quantity, and integrated into the classroom (Walberg, 1984; Chrispeels, 1991a). Researchers also suggested that the school provide surrogate family members for students whose parents cannot participate (Davies, 1988).
Key Element: Site-based management. Site-based management has emphasized the importance of appropriate policies and local decision making as it relates to the development of effective schools where parents are involved. The Effective Schools research highlighted the importance of involvement of the school staff and parents in the development and implementation of comprehensive school improvement plans. Without such staff and community involvement from the grass roots level both commitment and motivation to carry out these plans was often lacking (Taylor and Levine, l99l; Smith and O'Day, 1991). In 1987, the Committee for Economic Development issued a report, Children In Need: Investment Strategies for the Educationally Disadvantaged, that argued for this grassroots strategy for school improvement.
Parent Involvement in middle grade school restructuring. Berla, Henderson, and Kerewsky (1989) outlined the kinds of things that middle schools should be doing if an effective school/parent/family partnership is in place:
The Teachers Involve Parents In Schoolwork (TIPS) model (Epstein, 1987b) and the New Partnerships for Student Achievement (NPSA) program (Home and School Institute, 1988; Zeldin, 1989) provide elementary and middle school teachers with structured homework assignments in reading, language arts, math, science, and the arts that parents and students work together to complete. Megaskills (Rich, 1985), on the other hand, teaches parents more generic skills to use in everyday life to help them to motivate their children to succeed in school. School and home (Smith, in Zeldin, 1990) offers consistent learning activities for children and rewards them daily for completed homework.
In this section the focus is on districtwide programs as a vehicle for meeting both the common and diverse needs of children. Key elements and the types of linkages that foster positive interactions are addressed.
The 1989 Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitude Toward the Public Schools (Gallup and Elam, 1989) revealed that a majority of parents believed that they should be involved in tangible ways, e.g., in decisions on allocation of school funds and selection and hiring of school administrators, in the reform/restructuring of schools (Solomon, l99l). Snider (1990c) reported that in Chicago parents gained a controlling majority on local school councils. Other urban districts have explored this "Chicago-style" proposal, including Seattle, Boston, and Houston. In Denver Public Schools, Colorado Governor Roy Romer ordered the formation of 12-member school councils to supervise the running of the schools. Parents, community members, business leaders, and school personnel on these school councils have made decisions and changes that include: the setting of school goals and priorities, hiring and firing of administrators, and schoolwide exemptions from districtwide mandated standardized testing. Educators must be prepared to help parent and community groups by sharing their knowledge.
Key Element: Development and implementation of policy. As students progress to the middle grades, it is less likely that parents will become involved (Henderson and Marburger, l990). However, effective district and state policies will assist in involving parents and the community (Davies, l987; Heath and McLaughlin, l987; McLaughlin and Shields, l987; National School Board Association, l988; Williams and Chavkin, l990) that are vital to the restructuring of schools.
The National Coalition for Parent Involvement in Education (1990) contends that policies should contain the following concepts:
Key Element: Embracing the diversity of families in the design of programs and practices. Districtwide programs must consider all families, including those considered by some schools to be hard to reach (Epstein, 1991b) and at-risk (Zeldin, l990). The parent involvement program in McAllen, Texas, is exemplary in this area (D'Angelo and Adler, 1991).
Key element: Focus on the linkages with the community and agencies supporting education. Businesses are recognizing the importance of quality education in the communities in which they are located. They interact with the schools through volunteers, equipment, donations and mini-grants, and such districtwide programs as Adopt-A-School. Cities-In-Schools is a long standing effort to align businesses with schools to address the comprehensive services for students. Cohen (l990) reported that about l,000 companies are also engaged in efforts to help families balance responsibilities between home and work. The broader the involvement of the community, the more likely the school will move toward realizing their full potential (Crispeels, l99lb; Henderson, l986; Jones, l99l; Epstein, l99lb; Griswold, l986).
The common elements for successful partnerships are the following and will be addressed in the following sections: l) communication and home learning, school restructuring, and district programs; 2) key players are teachers, principals, and district leadership; and 3) key resources are funding, personnel, training, and coordination.
Communication and home learning. Several researchers have studied the need for mutuality between the home and the school to promote home learning activities. Leler (1983) found that the two-way communication projects showed positive results, and that the best programs were those that trained parents to be tutors. Cole and Griffin (1987) also noted that two-way communication is effective, especially when it is explicitly recognized by educators.
Communication and school restructuring. Parents need basic information regarding school goals, programs, and policies if they are to be effective in supporters. Schools must listen to what parents have to say about their involvement in the schools and then develop programs to meet identified parent needs (Chrispeels, 1987a). Home visits, parent/teacher conferences, meetings, and workshops are viewed as the most effective with all types of parents, especially hard to reach and/or low income parents (Davies, l988). Radio, television, and audio and video tapes have been used to inform parents and community members (D'Angelo and Adler, 1991).
Communication and district programs. D'Angelo and Adler (1991) described effective communication in three areas: face-to-face communication, the use of technology, and written communication.
Districts in Lima, Ohio; Buffalo, New York; Natchez/Adams, Mississippi; and the Migrant Education State Parent Advisory Council in New York have used parent conferencing techniques and the establishment of parenting centers within schools as vehicles for communication.
Efforts in McAllen, Texas; Poudre School District (Fort Collins, Colorado); San Diego, California; Indianapolis, Indiana; Casey County, Kentucky; and Omaha, Nebraska have successfully integrated technology into their parent/family/community programs.
Written communication (newsletters, calendars, etc.) has been used effectively in parent involvement programs in Omaha, Nebraska; Cahokia, Illinois; and Palatine, Illinois.
D'Angelo and Adler (1991) provided four caveats for improving communication:
The responsibility for effective involvement must begin with building administrators and teachers (Center for Evaluation, Development and Research, 1990) with support by the district. They are the ones having direct contact with parents and community members.
Key Player: Principals. The principal must ensure that parent and community involvement in the school is well planned, comprehensive, systematic (Crispeels et al., l988; Henderson and Marburger, l986; Northwest Regional Education Laboratory, l990), and is appropriate to all types of families. This leadership role of the principal is particularly important beyond the elementary school because of the decrease in parent involvement with each passing grade.
Key Player: Teachers. Teachers can reach out to parents to form partnerships that benefit families and enhance the educational progress of their students. The ones who take initiatives tend to have higher student achievement gains and feel better supported by parents (Epstein and Becker, 1982; Epstein, 1987c; Tangri and Moles, 1987).
Key Player: District leadership. District leadership is necessary to provide a comprehensive and coordinated effort for creating and sustaining effective parent and community involvement. By aligning district policy with practice, districts are better able to fulfill the promise that parent and community involvement offers in the development of quality education for all students.
Key Resource: Funding. Currently across the United States, funding for program development and evaluation at the state level is lacking (Nardine and Morris, 1991). Epstein (1991b) , and Chavkin and Williams (1987) suggested that monetary resources, which demonstrate a commitment to program success, should be provided by school districts for the implementation of effective programs.
Key Resource: Personnel. Sufficient staff are needed to operate effective programs (Williams and Chavkin, 1990). Epstein (1991b), Berla (l991) and Earle (l990) recommended that a family/school coordinator be hired to link school, district, and state efforts regarding partnerships. This staff person would work with families, school personnel, and at-risk students.
Key Resource: Training. Teachers should receive preservice and inservice training if they are to implement a successful parent involvement program (Zeldin, 1990; Chrispeels, 1991b; Dauber and Epstein, 1991; Comer 1988a; Warner, l99l; Williams and Chavkin, l990). Epstein and Dauber (1989a) pointed out that math, science, and social studies teachers may require more assistance than reading and language arts teachers since they currently do not place as much value on parent involvement. Planners of home-based parent involvement programs need to reach parents who most need to be involved, especially low income and minority parents. Training would make them aware of pitfalls and barriers.
Training for school/family/community partnerships should also include parent training, especially related to helping parents acquire parenting ideas and leadership strategies for helping their children achieve literacy skills (Clark, 1989).
Key Resource: Coordination. Davies (1985) wrote that "co-production", i.e., parents/families and schools as joint contributors and participants in individual and collective activities that contribute to more effective instruction and school achievement, should be initiated by teachers and principals and coordinated with all school personnel. The implementation of such a project would require a significant investment of time and funds for development and promotion of materials and for appropriate teacher and parent training.
While some recent research has focused on methods for creating positive learning environments in the home (Walberg, 1984), others emphasize programs for increasing teachers' and administrators' understandings of the 'natural' learning that occurs with the home (Brice and Heath, 1983; Cochran and Henderson, 1986). Rich (1985) advocates community outreach efforts, noting that the greater the continuity and contact, the greater the benefit for the child.
Parents and community members can adopt a variety of roles and relationships with schools. Three of the most critical roles they can assume are:
Home learning activities present the most common vehicles through which parents and community members assume primary educational roles for elementary and middle grade children. The most successful of these activities incorporate practices that take local factors into account and that build on parent strengths. Home learning activities often take the form of modeling high expectations, supporting schoolwork and homework, providing a positive learning climate in the home, and attending conferences. School practices that make positive contributions to parent involvement include site based management, clear and welcoming policies and communications, liaison personnel, physical accommodations, and planning geared toward determining and meeting families' needs.
Districtwide parent and community involvement programs also need to embrace the diversity of families in the design of policies, programs, and practices. Policies at any level should contain methods by which all parents, regardless of socioeconomic, linguistic, or literacy backgrounds, can be informed about programs and the progress of their children. Professional development opportunities for staff enhance the effectiveness of any program. Finally, linking the various groups and agencies that support education with both schools and families strengthens the overall partnership (Crump and Ellis, l995).
The research literature reveals overarching elements that affect the home/school connection in whatever form it takes. Two-way communication surfaces repeatedly as a key to successful partnerships. To improve communication, schools must become more inclusive and creative, taking advantage of electronic media, new parent conferencing techniques, and a knowledge of the local community. Principals, teachers, and district administrators are key players in this partnership. Adequate resources must be available to enable the development and implementation of programs.