A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

Family Involvement in Children's Education - October 1997

Successful Local Approaches (continued)

Overcoming Time and Resource Constraints

In order to build strong partnerships, families and school staff members need time to get to know one another, learn from one another, and plan how they will work together to increase student learning; this need can be especially pressing in Title I schools. For example, principals of K-8 Title I schools report that time is a barrier to parent involvement more often than any other factor. Eighty-seven percent of Title I principals report that lack of time on the part of parents is a significant barrier to parent involvement, and 56 percent report that lack of time on the part of school staff is a barrier (U.S. Department of Education, 1997). Almost all Title I schools and districts that have been successful in developing strong school-family partnerships have found ways to make time for parents and teachers to work together and to use other resources to support their partnerships.

Finding Time for Teachers

Strategies for helping teachers make time to develop school-family partnerships include (1) assigning parent coordinators or home-school liaisons to help teachers maintain contact with parents through home visits or by covering classes for teachers so they can meet with parents, (2) providing time during the school day for teachers to meet with parents or visit them at their homes, (3) providing stipends or compensatory time off for teachers to meet with parents after school hours, and (4) freeing up teachers from routine duties, such as lunchroom supervision, in order to meet with students' family members. Home-school liaisons can also handle many of the logistical tasks associated with fostering school-family partnerships, such as contacting all families by telephone at the beginning of the school year and encouraging parent activities at home and at school. In this way liaisons free teachers to concentrate on building relationships. In fact, focus group interviews suggest that having a parent fill the role of liaison can help parents form a strong network of support to stay involved in school activities and decisions.

In addition to helping teachers make the most efficient use of their limited time, some schools have also found ways to buy more time for teachers or to allow teachers to use their time more flexibly. Some schools use Title I resources strategically to help buy time for teachers; other schools have adopted "flexible scheduling" as a feature of teacher contracts that allow teachers more time to interact with parents outside of the traditional school day. The schools reviewed for this study have used the following strategies for freeing up teachers to work with parents:

Other Resources to Support Schools' Outreach to Families

In addition to using resources to free up time for teachers, schools can also deploy their resources strategically to help teachers and other staff overcome the logistical constraints that often hinder their work with families. Some schools are using technology to support school-home communication; in addition to providing easier access to telephones for teachers, some schools are using voice mail, "information hotlines," and other technology to make communication more efficient. For example:

Helping Parents Overcome Time and Resource Constraints

Schools can be sensitive to time pressures facing parents by scheduling meetings at night (in neighborhoods where parents feel safe traveling to the school at night) or before shifts to accommodate the schedules of working parents or on weekend mornings to address parents' safety concerns. Schools can also help parents by: (1) providing early notices of meetings and activities, allowing parents time to adjust their schedules; (2) establishing homework hotlines or voice mail systems so parents can stay in touch with their children's schoolwork without leaving their homes (Moles, 1996); (3) offering the same event more than once; and (4) providing information to parents who could not attend a meeting to keep them informed.

Schools can also address parents' resource constraints by: (1) providing parents with transportation and child care services so that they can attend school events; (2) holding school- initiated events near families' homes (e.g., at community or public housing centers); and (3) conducting home visits. In focus group interviews, parents noted that these supports send a strong message that the school is serious about getting them involved. One parent noted, "They could offer incentives; transportation and help with babysitting or child care would be helpful."

The following schools have developed strategies to help parents overcome the time and commuting barriers (e.g., distance from school, lack of transportation) that deter many parents from interacting directly with schools:

Resolving Safety Concerns

To address the fact that many parents, especially those with children attending high-poverty schools, are concerned about traveling to and from their child's school at night, schools and communities can be responsible for assuring that school neighborhoods are safe. For example, communities can set up neighborhood watches to combat crime, and schools can hold events in churches or community centers located near parents' homes. Parent resource centers can also offer activities in locations near parents' homes. The Stockton Unified School District Parent Resource Center in Stockton, California, for example, often offers workshops at local school sites because many parents are hesitant to leave their own neighborhoods.

Parents themselves play an important role in ensuring that the school is perceived as a safe place for other parents to gather. As the parent involvement specialist at Stockton's Parent Resource Center noted, parents at the center have not only encouraged other parents to become involved but also had a dramatic impact on at least one school. Two years ago Webster Middle School in Stockton experienced gang-related problems. After a fight occurred between two gang members in the school one afternoon, rumors began to circulate of a big confrontation that would take place the next day. Concerned about gang warfare erupting at the school, the school principal called for help. A mentor parent at the school called other parents and organized them for action. The next day 40 parents showed up at the school to help patrol the halls and school grounds. The principal asserts that this show of parental support, along with the parents' ongoing volunteer efforts, has led to the virtual elimination of gang-related activity at the school.

In addition, when asked if safety issues deter parents from coming to the school, parents at one urban high school responded that the best example they can set for other parents is not to stay away. "There is no safe place anymore; we make it safe with our presence," said one parent. "We keep an eye out on the children, and we have security patrols that drive around," noted a parent at another inner-city school. "But safety is another reason why parents should be involved."


[Successful Local Approaches to Family Involvement in Education] [Table of Contents] [Providing Information and Training to Parents and School Staff]