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Family & Community Engagement

“Partnerships among schools, families, and community groups are not a luxury, they are a necessity”
(Henderson, Mapp, Johnson and Davies, 2007)

Engaging Families and Communities as partners with schools is no longer a “good idea” but has become a necessity, as the evidence is clear: partnership contributes to children’s academic and social success. The Nebraska Department of Education identified family engagement as an essential area of focus within its new Accountability for a Quality Education System, Today and Tomorrow (AQuESTT) within the tenant of Student Success and Access.

This Family & Community Engagement section of the Continuous Improvement Toolkit is designed to help school personnel facilitate family engagement through the four phases of the improvement process:

Creating the Profile

Setting the Goals

Planning to Improve

Implementing the Plan

For school personnel, parents or community partners who want to access current family engagement research, websites, promising practices, or tools for evaluation, go to the Nebraska Department of Education (NDE) Family and Community Engagement website.

Over 50 years of research links the various roles that families play in a child’s education – as supporters of learning, encouragers of grit and determination, models of lifelong learning, and advocates for proper programming and placements for their child Partners in Education: A Dual Capacity-Building Framework for Family-School Partnerships (2013).

Summarizing decades of research on the impact of family involvement, the National PTA web site reports the following student outcomes:

  • Higher grades, test scores, and graduation rates
  • Better school attendance
  • Increased motivation and better self-esteem
  • Lower rates of suspension
  • Decreased use of drugs and alcohol
  • Fewer instances of violent behavior
  • Greater enrollment in post-secondary education

Family and community engagement in education refers to the beliefs, attitudes and activities of community members, parents and other family members to support children’s learning. Although such involvement most often focuses on parents, it also includes guardians, grandparents, siblings and extended family members who have significant responsibility in a child’s upbringing. Community members such as civic organizations, retired citizens, businesses, clubs, and other volunteers are equally valuable partners in children’s education.

It is important to reflect on meaningful ways that families can support children in their education. In the past, parent involvement may have been limited to the school’s didactic approach: inviting parents to conferences and IEP meetings, providing them with report cards, providing parents reasonable access to staff, and occasionally requesting parent volunteers for field trips or school events. Today’s research encourages schools to redefine the concept of engaging families, schools and communities in an interactive relationship to support children’s learning and development. Authors of Whatever it Takes say, “Parents could become a powerful source to support learning for their children if they were armed with the right tools and guidelines.”

Dr. Joyce Epstein’s early work in the field, with the National Network of Partnership Schools, set the stage for later research by defining six types of parent involvement.  These types include communicating, parenting, student learning, volunteering, school decision making and advocacy, and collaborating with community.  Later, researchers analyzed which types of involvement actually impact student achievement.  Standard 2 & 3 below were identified as having the greatest impact. The findings of Henderson and Mapp provide a framework for strengthening family-school community partnerships.  The PTA has updated their National Standards for Family School Partnerships, to reflect this recent work, which changes the focus from what schools should do to what parents, schools, and communities, as partners, can do together to support student success.  Positive outcomes in student learning and achievement, occur when partnering among stakeholders becomes routine. Effective partnering opens doors to infinite and innovative opportunities. The respectful and trusting relationships that are fostered among stakeholders create strong connections which support students’ education.