A r c h i v e d I n f o r m a t i o n
Studies of Education Reform: Parent and Community Involvement in Education - 1995
Why study parent, family, and community involvement in the middle grades?
The educational partnerships described in Goals 2000: Educate America Act, plus the growing number of state initiatives and mandates related to parent, family, and community involvement, provide a climate of increased attention to the meaningful involvement of parents and the community in education at the state and local levels. In order to document and analyze useful practices for educational reform, this study looked at more than 25 years of research in parent and community involvement and the outcomes of state and local initiatives and mandates.
To be helpful to policymakers, practitioners, and planners, including school staff, parents, families, and community members, the study addressed research aspects of three cross-cutting reform themes in the area of middle grade school/family and community partnerships:
- What are the larger and local environments within which parent, family, and community involvement operate? How do these contextual factors influence those programs? For example, are there federal, state, or local policies which potentially impede the implementation of quality middle grade parent, family, and community involvement in education?
- What are the roles that parent, families, and community and business members assume in the education of their children? How are these roles facilitated? What key elements are specific to these areas? What key elements cut across all areas? What key resources are needed to design, develop, implement, and sustain these roles?
- What are the effects of promising programs on parents, students, school staff, schools, school districts, and the community? How are these effects assessed or determined?
These themes were incorporated into the examination of quality parent, family, and community involvement across three research focus areas:
- comprehensive districtwide programs;
- school restructuring to facilitate partnerships that benefit students; and
- adult-child learning programs (home learning).
What does the literature say about the three cross-cutting themes?
Context. Partnerships and programs operate within the rich contextual environment of schools and school districts. The literature reveals that these contextual factors serve asparameters within which school/family and community partnerships function. Four levels of policy influence and inform these partnerships:
- School policies that exist as "stand alone" documents, or policies that are subsumed under a larger district policy framework;
- District policies, often linked to state and federal initiatives, that support school/family and community partnerships;
- State policies that reflect the urgency to use the resources of home and community to ensure student success; and
- Federal policies that provide a template for other efforts that are intended to guarantee the involvement of parents, families, and communities in schooling.
Across all levels and organizational structures of schooling, the literature identifies two factors that either positively or negatively influence school/family and community partnerships: diversity within systems; and perceptions, attitudes, and beliefs of the stakeholders in reform. At least three factors directly affect middle grade school, family, and community partnerships: institutional settings; pre-adolescent/adolescent development; and expectations, attitudes, and beliefs of practitioners and schools.
Roles for parents, families, and community members. Parents, family members, and community members can assume specific roles as they become involved in the education of their children, for example as volunteers in classrooms (see Epstein, 1995). The literature reveals three over-arching roles for parents: parents as the primary resource in the education of their children; parents and community members as supporters and advocates for the education of their children; and parents and community members as participants in the education of all children.
Home learning best exemplifies the roles parents and family members can play as a primary resource in education. Key program elements that are specific to home learning include well-developed local practices; a willingness of teachers to build on parent/family strengths; ongoing recruitment using multiple methods; effective strategies that promote home learning; and the home learning environment.
Site-based school restructuring facilitates parents' and community members' roles as advocates and supporters. School restructuring activities focus on an emphasis on quality education; family and community participation; and site-based management.
Districtwide programs provide the vehicle for parents and community members to be involved in roles that reach beyond the immediate impact of an individual child to the impact on all children in the district. Key program elements here include: development and implementation of policy; embracing the diversity of families and communities; and a focus on linkages with the community and other agencies.
Program elements that cut across all levels of the education system. There are three key program elements evident in the literature that involve all levels of the education system:
- Communication is the primary building block that takes into account the participation of all participants;
- Key players that include students, parents, families, community members, teachers, and other school personnel; and
- Resources such as research findings, funding, personnel, and professional development.
Effects of promising programs. While establishing strong claims about the outcomes of any program is possible in other situations and circumstances, it is usually not possible in studies of educational programs. Most often the outcomes, or effects, of educational programs are the result of the interaction of many complex variables. Because the interactive nature of these variables is elusive, the ability to make definitive statements about effects is problematic. However, considerable research establishes an associative link, or correlation between school efforts to create partnership and outcomes for students, parents, school personnel, and schools and school districts.
- School and parent/family/community partnerships are associated with positive effects on student outcomes, e.g., higher levels of achievement as measured by standardized test scores; factual, conceptual, critical, and attitudinal aspects of learning (Eccles and Harold, l993).
- Acquisition of new skills, increased involvement, interaction with their children, and positive self-concept are examples of parent outcomes associated with school/family partnerships.
- Teacher outcomes associated with partnerships included positive attitudes, the use of varied strategies, and an increased sense of self-efficacy.
- Positive effects for schools and school districts were found through the partnerships schools forge with parents/families/communities. An increase in student attendance rates; reductions in dropout, delinquency, and pregnancy rates; and improved discipline practices were associated with these partnerships.
What are the findings of the study across cases?
During the spring and summer of 1994, we visited each of nine sites two times. Sites chosen for comprehensive districtwide programs included Fort Worth Independent School District, Fort Worth, TX; Jefferson County Public Schools, Louisville, KY; and Minneapolis Public Schools, Minneapolis MN. School restructuring sites were Beck Middle School, Georgetown, SC; Lamoni Middle School, Lamoni, IA; and Shelburne Middle School, Shelburne, VT. Sites visited for adult-child learning programs included: Community School District Number 3, New York City, NY; Natchez-Adams Parent Center, Natchez, MS; and Rochester Public Schools, Rochester, NY. Through semi-structured interviews, observations of programs in operation, and collection of documents related to middle grade school/family and community partnerships, we first prepared a data reduction guide using research questions developed for each research strand. From the data reduction guide we prepared case studies for each site in the form of narrative reports. We analyzed and synthesized the findings from each of the case study narratives into a cross-case narrative.
In the process of distilling the themes from our cases, we learned a great deal about educational reform. Our analysis of reform as a context for school, family, and community partnerships revealed the following:
What are the outcomes of school/family and community partnerships in the middle grades?
We developed five categories of outcomes of school/family and community partnerships. These five categories were: outcomes for students, parents and families, schools, communities, and institutionalization of programs. It should be noted that the following outcomes are ones that were reported in interviews with key respondents during our site visits. The outcomes are, therefore, conditional in nature and reflect general trends within sites. Not all sites reported each outcome that we list here. In the absence of a study designed to compare carefully controlled groups, no inference should be made as to the strength of the outcome.
Outcomes for students included a strong relationship between school/family partnerships in the middle grades and improved student achievement; positive relationships and attitudes about schools, teachers, their families, and the community. Outcomes for parents and families included: increased knowledge and skills; positive attitudes about teachers and schools; closer connections with the school and the curriculum; and the creation of new roles for involvement in theirstudent's learning. Positive outcomes for teachers were found in stronger connections with the families of the students they taught, and new roles as facilitators as they made daily decisions about student learning and connections with resources to support families. School outcomes included increased parent, family, and community involvement. Additionally, schools found that strong partnerships increased support for school reform efforts. Community involvement in reform resulted in stronger connections with schools, and the creation of roles as leaders in reform initiatives. Institutionalization of school/family partnerships is evident when program leadership advocates for these partnerships, where policies support partnerships, and where there is historical precedence for partnership efforts. Under these conditions, schools and districts are more likely to support middle grade school/family partnerships by providing and/or continuing human and fiscal resources.
What resources are necessary to sustain active middle grade school/family and community partnerships?
Our research did not indicate that "more is better" in terms of fiscal support for school/family and community partnerships. The common denominator across all programs was the provision of human resources to deal with family and community issues. Investment in human resources may afford the greatest return for establishing and maintaining school/family and community partnerships.
What are the implications of this study for policy and practice?
Implications for policy and policymakers include a focus on success for all students as the core of policy for education reform, policies as a support for school/family and community partnerships at all levels, flexible policies that take into account the contexts within which school/family partnerships operate, and the key role of policy in the provision of both fiscal and non-fiscal resources to sustain school/family and community partnerships in the middle grades.
Implications for practice include finding multiple ways for parents, families, and the community to be involved in reform efforts; establishing support systems to sustain school/family partnerships and overcome challenges; communicating frequently and thoughtfully with partners; allowing students to be co-constructors in home learning activities; disseminating information about promising and effective practices and programs to end-users; and evaluating the impact of school/family and community partnership reform efforts early and often.
Finally, what future research is needed for middle grade school/family and community partnerships, and education reform efforts?
Our conceptual framework, which included program context, planning, design, and implementation, challenges, supports, and outcomes remains the framework around which we build our questions for future research. Future research, we feel, should focus on developing an holistic picture of school/family and community partnerships. Considering all of the pieces of the framework, their interplay and interaction, will further our understanding of how these partnerships are established and sustained.
Effective practices and programs for involving parents, families, and communities -- in partnership with schools -- do exist. While there are many challenges to be faced, the nine sites that we studied offer the promise of success. Education in the United States is at a crossroads. Success or failure may depend on our ability to join together as partners in reform to ensure success for all children now and in future generations.