Concepts and Models of Family Involvement

May 1, 2002

Introduction
Family involvement plays a key role in student achievement. The 2001 Longitudinal Evaluation of School Change and Performance in Title I Schools reported that active teacher outreach to parents is as important as improved instructional practices to achieve the goals of standards-based education initiatives. This finding supports a long history of research linking parent involvement to student academic performance. It also confirms the need for more widespread teacher preparation in family involvement.

Nearly four decades of work by committed educators and advocates have led to multiple concepts and models to engage families in children's education. Family involvement must be understood as multi-faceted. This document identifies four conceptual dimensions of family involvement and illustrates their implementation through case studies or status reports. The case studies, in particular, describe what it means to build the capacity of schools and community-based organizations to engage families as supporters and advocates of student achievement and positive youth development.

Although the four concepts presented here differ in the emphases on parents' acting individually or taking collective action, the orientation toward conflict or cooperation, and the locus of leadership in the school or community, the various conceptual dimensions of family involvement are not mutually exclusive. Rather, they are to be viewed as dynamic templates for families and schools to carry out the forms of involvement that are appropriate to a given situation.

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Parenting Practices
First, family involvement is often interpreted in terms of parenting practices, namely, the beliefs, attitudes, and actions of parents to support their children's learning at home and in school. Guided by the premise that a parent is a child's first teacher, programs equip parents with the knowledge and skills to support their children's learning and development. These programs offer parenting sessions on variety of topics such as communicating with children, helping them develop literacy skills, supervising their homework and after-school activities, and gearing them for college preparation.

Featured in our case study is the program, Families and Schools Together. This program is rooted in a set of core values and research-based theories of behavioral change for individuals and families. The values consist of building on family strengths and the role of schools and social service organizations in supporting families. The research base for the program draws extensively from risk and prevention, family support, and human development.

Case Study: Families and Schools Together
By Lawrence Hernandez
Updated Decemeber 2004 ? Appendix C added
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School-Family Partnership
Second, stemming largely from the research of Joyce Epstein, family involvement embodies the idea of a school-family partnership. In this model, families, schools, and communities have overlapping spheres of influence on student learning. However, schools have a primary responsibility for outreach to parents and communities. Epstein provides a framework of six types of involvement to help educators develop partnerships: parenting, communicating, volunteering, learning at home, decision-making, and collaborating with the community. The featured case study on the National Network of Schools describes Epstein's strategy to promote more widespread family-school partnerships.

Case Study: The National Network of Partnership Schools
By Holly Kreider, Harvard Family Research Project
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Democratic Participation
Third, family involvement can be taken to mean a form of democratic participation in society's institutions. This viewpoint assumes that families and communities are powerful social change agents who can participate effectively in school reform. In the context of persisting achievement gaps based on income and ethnicity, education advocates mobilize parent and community groups to transform low-performing schools. The process can be both confrontational and collaborative. In this model, education advocates emphasize the transfer of knowledge and skills as well as motivational supports so that families and communities can take collective action.

Education organizations implement their vision of democratic participation in education in various ways. As our case studies demonstrate, education organizations can focus on skill development, as illustrated by the Right Question Project. This organization equips individuals to become critical problem-solvers on a wide range of individual and schoolwide issues.

Case Study: The Right Question Project
By Julia Coffman, Harvard Family Research Project
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Some organizations can focus on convening and dialogue to strengthen the relationship among families, schools, and communities. This strategy is illustrated in the case of the National Coalition of Advocates for Students.

Case Study: The National Coalition of Advocates for Students
By M. Elena Lopez, Harvard Family Research Project
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Other organizations can emphasize training leaders on standards development, implementation, and accountability. Equipped with school data and advocacy skills, parents and community leaders press schools for improved performance. This type of advocacy is exemplified in the case of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence.

Case Study: The Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence
By Lawrence Hernandez
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School Choice
Fourth, family involvement relates to school choice, the decision that parents make about the schools their children will attend. School choice is based on a belief in the efficacy of market principles: schools that demonstrate good student performance are those that parents will choose for their children. Poor performing schools must improve or else lose their customer base and face closure. Various types of school choice models exist, such as: choosing public schools within a district; forming charter schools, which exist within the framework of the public school system; and using vouchers to send children to private schools. Another variant of school choice is the decision parents make to have their children home schooled. More information about the status of the various forms of school choice can be found on the websites listed below.

Reports:

School Vouchers: What We Know and Don't Know ... And How We Could Learn More
Center on Education Policy

The State of Charter Schools 2000
U.S. Department of Education

PEPG Research Papers
The Program on Education Policy and Governance, Harvard University

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Additional Resources
More information about the organizations featured in the case studies can be found on their websites, listed below.

Families and Schools Together

Alliance for Children and Families

The National Network of Partnership Schools

The Right Question Project

The National Coalition of Advocates for Students

The Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence

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About the Case Studies
In 1997 Harvard Family Research Project began a three-year effort to provide technical assistance to national nonprofit organizations working on family-school partnerships. Our work also included convening these organizations and documenting the capacity building strategies of these organizations. The featured case studies, completed in May 2000, are the result of this documentation. Each case study describes the family-school partnership objectives of the organization, its capacity building strategies, challenges, and accomplishments.

Substantial research has shown that family involvement in the home and school makes an enormous difference in student achievement and healthy development. Research also confirms that when schools provide the information, encouragement, and opportunities for partnership that parents seek, more parental involvement occurs. However, this research base alone is not sufficient to transform school practice or community engagement on a widespread basis. Capacity building, the activities that translate the research base into effective and sustainable family and community involvement practice, needs to be part of the architecture of change at the site level. The case studies focus on capacity building across a range of organizational functions, including outreach, leadership development, research and program development, evaluation, and model expansion.

The case studies can be used in four ways:

Learn about different models of family involvement and home-school partnership.
Understand how research informs the organization of program practices in a coherent way.
Appreciate the complexity and interrelation of strategies to engage schools, community organizations, and parent leaders in the work of family involvement.
Gain insight into the processes of expansion, replication, and sustainability.


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