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The Harvard Family Research Project separated from the Harvard Graduate School of Education to become the Global Family Research Project as of January 1, 2017. It is no longer affiliated with Harvard University.

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HFRP asked leading family involvement researchers about the most important research questions facing the field today and in the future. The highlights below represent just a cross-section of their responses to the following question: Based on your experience and the state of the family involvement field today, what are the most critical questions or topics for future research?

Nancy Chavkin
Director, Richter Research Institute, Texas State University
Research on parent involvement in education has come a long way. We know that it works. Children benefit, families benefit, schools benefit, and communities benefit. What we need to know next is which methods work best for whom. What are the most effective parent involvement methods for young children, for middle school children, or high school students? Which methods work best with which cultures or types of communities?

Nancy E. Hill
Visiting Associate Professor of Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education
Much of the research on family involvement in education is based on elementary school contexts. Parental involvement is important (and also required by NCLB) for middle and high school students. However, there is very little research on the most effective ways for families and teachers to work together during adolescence. Research is needed that bridges the fields of developmental science—which outlines the cognitive and social advances during adolescence—with education and policy, so that developmentally appropriate strategies that fit the structural context of middle and high schools can be identified and implemented.

Concha Delgado Gaitan
Independent Researcher/Writer and Visiting Professor, University of Texas, El Paso
We still need a better understanding of how to forge strong connections between families and schools in communities of color, including Latinos, African Americans, Asians, American Indians, and others. As researchers, we need to enter into the community and work with families to confront questions organic to the specific community. What is the power base of this particular community? How does this community perceive itself relative to the school? What are the families’ strengths and how does the community want to relate to the school from the beginning of their child’s schooling through their high school graduation? How can the community empower and organize itself to partner with the school? How does a given community forge effective communication with its schools?

James Rodriguez
Associate Professor, College of Education, San Diego State University
A key gap in the literature continues to be our knowledge and understanding of Latino families. As a rapidly growing and younger population in the United States, it is increasingly important that culturally sensitive theoretical models and conceptual constructs be developed to capture the dynamics and intricacies of Latino family life. We need to develop models and constructs specifically for these communities to allow us to more effectively respond to their strengths and needs, and to use caution in adapting existing models for these populations. It is also critical to avoid the treatment of Latinos as a monolithic population. Increased knowledge and understanding could lead to the creation of more effective programs and narrowing the achievement gap.

Arthur J. Reynolds
Professor, Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota
A major question for the field is what strategies can reliably strengthen parent involvement in early education and in the transition to school that make a difference in children’s learning. Based on the findings from the Child–Parent Center early education program, the presence of a parent resource room run by a parent resource teacher and a school–community representative was linked to higher levels of parent involvement in early schooling, which led to enduring effects of early education into adulthood.

Diana B. Hiatt-Michael
Professor, Graduate School of Education and Psychology, Pepperdine University
One recommendation for the direction of future research is to study the effects of connecting community agencies with the school on family involvement issues and student educational outcomes. Public education is fragmented and agencies are separated into silos. Educators and researchers must jump across these silos to connect their services to school sites. Despite the current paucity of research on this subject, promising family–community research sites exist in almost every locality. Research data could reveal the factors and activities that lead to a program’s desired outcome.1

Joyce L. Epstein
Director, Center on School, Family, and Community Partnerships, Johns Hopkins University

How does district-level leadership for partnerships affect school-based programs and practices of family and community involvement? In earlier times, it was enough to study how one school or another improved its partnerships with families. Now, it also is necessary to understand systemic leadership and support for partnerships to see how all schools in a district—not just one or two, here or there—may be assisted to engage all families in ways that support student success. In future studies of school, family, and community partnerships, researchers may explore the effects of levels and combinations of leadership, including state policies and encouragement, district policies and leaders’ direct facilitation of schools, and school organization of teamwork and written plans.

Anne Henderson
Senior Fellow, Community Involvement Program, Annenberg Institute for School Reform
We know that there is a correlation between family involvement and positive student outcomes. Now we need to know: What is the relationship between the practices schools employ to engage families and the extent and impact of family involvement? We need to study what school improvement interventions, such as small schools and smaller class sizes, can enhance family involvement and whether there is evidence that the gains in achievement associated with these interventions are related to teachers’ increased capacity to engage families. Along the same lines, we need to know what schools are actually doing to engage families. What is standard practice to engage families in most schools? Are they effective in engaging diverse families? Are these practices related to improved outcomes for students? What is the impact of new practices such as family resource centers, community discussions, focus groups, and study circles?

HFRP’s Family Involvement Network of Educators (FINE) tracks, produces, and disseminates family involvement research. If you know of an upcoming study, dissertation, or other resource in the field, please share it with us at To add your voice to our growing network of family involvement researchers and stakeholders, join FINE.

1 Diana Hiatt-Michael’s response is summarized from Hiatt-Michael, D. B. (2006). Reflections and directions on research related to family–community involvement in schooling. The School Community Journal, 16(1).

Suzanne Bouffard, Ph.D., Project Manager, HFRP.

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