Archived Information

Tools for Schools - April 1998

National Network of Partnership Schools

What Is It?

The National Network of Partnership Schools includes school, district, and state members and provides each with research-based guidance, support, materials, and networking opportunities to assist them in building strong school-family-community partnerships. Partnership programs are based on school improvement goals and the needs and interests of students, parents, and teachers. The main structures an Action Team for School, Family, and Community Partnerships and research-based framework of six types of involvement strengthen family and community connections within any school improvement model. The approach also may be used to organize comprehensive whole-school reform using Action Teams and connections with families and communities to guide plans and activities for all school goals and objectives.

Why Did It Get Started?

During the past decade, the development of school, family, and community partnerships has been recognized as an important part of improving the education of all students, including students placed at risk. Most educators want to build strong partnerships, and most schools engage in various forms of promoting family and community involvement. But developing good home, school, and community connections needs to be an organized, ongoing process that is connected to all aspects of school improvement and that includes all types of involvement. The National Network of Partnership Schools was developed in response to this need. The components of the program have been developed and tested for over a decade in collaboration with many educators, parents, students, and community groups.

How Does It Work?

States, districts, and schools carry out the following commitments as members of the National Network of Partnership Schools.

Each state identifies and provides for an office, department, or center for school, family, and community partnerships in the State Department of Education. This office must include at least one full-time-equivalent professional and adequate staff to coordinate and conduct activities to promote and support school-family-community partnerships across districts and schools.
Each district identifies staff to support district level and school level programs of partnerships. A full-time equivalent facilitator is required to work with from 15 to 30 schools, with part-time equivalents in smaller districts. District facilitators may provide training, recognition, small grants, and other guidance.
Each school creates an Action Team for School, Family, and Community Partnerships, and uses a framework of six types of involvement to plan and implement a comprehensive program of partnerships linked to school goals.

All school, district, and state members must communicate with Network staff annually to share their progress and plans to continue as members. Support provided by the Network includes: the manual School, Family, and Community Partnerships: Your Handbook for Action; certificates of membership; training workshops to help Key Contacts develop skills and strategies; a semi-annual newsletter; on-call, e-mail, and website assistance for on-going staff development; and annual research and evaluation projects to increase knowledge about the processes and results of partnerships.

What Are The Costs?

There are no membership fees to join this Network and manuals, newsletters, training, and other materials and services are offered at no cost to members. However, states, districts, and schools must provide funding for their own programs as described below.

At the state level, an annual budget must be established to cover the costs of staff and programs. Staff may be drawn from existing personnel with some revision of current duties. State costs may also include funding to support district and school initiatives. Ohio, for example, has awarded planning grants of $500 each to over 200 schools to develop and improve their partnership programs, and will provide larger implementation grants to a number of schools under a competitive grants program. Wisconsin uses Goals 2000 funds for conferences, training, and grants to schools and districts. Other states and districts have other ways of providing incentives and support for the development and maintenance of programs of partnership.

At the district level, costs include the salary of a full-time-equivalent facilitator who works with from 15 to 30 schools, or a part-time equivalent in smaller districts. Funding also is needed for training, end-of-year conferences, small grants, and other activities to assist all schools, and for district-level programs and activities for families and communities.

At the school level, each school must establish at least a nominal annual budget for developing and conducting practices of partnership. Action Team members are drawn from existing school, family, and community personnel.

How Is The Model Implemented In A School?

Schools that join the National Network of Partnership Schools begin implementation by creating an Action Team for School, Family, and Community Partnerships. The Action Team uses its school improvement plan or school goals as the basis for a "One-Year Action Plan," including activities for the six major types of involvement: parenting, communicating, volunteering, learning at home, decision making, and collaborating with the community. The Action Teams are guided in this process by descriptions and tools provided in the Network's Handbook for Action.

Each Action Team consists of at least six members, including teachers, parents, administrators, counselors, students in the upper grades, and others. The Team first inventories the school's present practices of partnerships using surveys, checklists, or discussion groups. Most schools find that they already carry out many practices that link the school, home, and community, but which vary in quality. Based on the inventory, the Action Team develops a "Three-Year Outline" of goals for partnerships. The Team writes a One-Year Action Plan that details all activities for the school year, and how the activities will be implemented and evaluated.

To organize their work, each Action Team member serves as chair or co-chair of one of six subcommittees, each taking responsibility for working with others in the school to address and improve actions for the six types of involvement. For example, the chair of the Action Team's Type 2 -- Communication Committee might work with other teachers, parents, students, and community members to plan, monitor and improve the school newsletter, conference schedules and content, or how report card information is understood by students and families. The chair of the Type 4 -- Learning Activities at Home Committee might work with other teachers and parents to improve students' completion of homework, and create better home-school links in homework for reading, math, writing, and science in order to increase students' skills. Each committee works to make progress every year on all six types of involvement to reach all families and meet major goals.

What Is The Evidence That The Model Is Successful?

In Fall 1997, the National Network of Partnership Schools had a membership of 8 states, over 60 districts, and over 750 schools, with the numbers continuing to grow. Studies of the processes and results of this approach are accumulating. A case study analysis of six urban schools using the Action Team approach documents significant increases in parent and community involvement, improved interpersonal relations, and more positive perceptions of the schools. Analyses of data on the partnership program of 39 schools in Baltimore City suggest that schools that strengthen their school, family, and community partnerships boost student attendance, and reading and writing achievement significantly beyond predictions based on the prior year's data. Data from members of the National Network of Partnership Schools indicate that schools have stronger partnership programs in districts that not only have written policies about involvement, but also provide help to schools' Action Teams.

Where Can I See It?

There are schools and districts in the Network located in over 30 states. School, district, and state contacts can be arranged and information provided.

Whom Do I Contact?

Dr. Joyce L. Epstein, Director, or Dr. Mavis G. Sanders, Assistant Director
National Network of Partnership Schools
Center on School, Family, and Community Partnerships
Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed At Risk
Johns Hopkins University
3003 North Charles Street, Suite 200
Baltimore, Maryland 21218
Telephone: 410-516-8800; Fax: 410-516-8890
E-mail:; Website:

The Research Base

A multitude of research studies in the United States and other nations have examined how family environments influence parental involvement, how school environments influence family involvement, and the effects of school-family-community partnerships on parents, students, and teachers. The studies deliver a clear message: families are important for children's learning, development, and school success from preschool through high school.

Recent studies have better identified the specific effects of different types of involvement. For example, several studies show that parental assistance and interaction at home have important consequences for children's achievement, attendance, school adaptability, and classroom behavior through high school. Other studies report that students in grades three and five improve their reading achievement when teachers frequently involve parents in reading activities at home, and that students in the middle grades improve their writing skills with interactive writing homework. Still other studies show that the number of parent volunteers increases when schools organize programs that welcome, prepare, and recognize volunteers.

Research indicates that school-family-community partnerships can effectively reach and influence most families, including low-income, minority, and single-parent families. For example, inner-city parents whose children are in classrooms in which teachers involve families report that they receive many ideas about how to help at home and understand more than in previous years about what their child is being taught.

The National Network of Partnership Schools guides state, district, and school personnel to build their capacities to improve school, family, and community partnership programs. Such programs enable all families to remain informed and involved in their children's education at all grade levels. With direct links to educational goals for student performance, connections of home-school-community are central to the success of whole-school change and school improvement.

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