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M. Elena Lopez, Holly Kreider, and Margaret Caspe from HFRP offer a working hypothesis about the co-construction of home-school partnerships to support children’s learning and development.

Family involvement in education predicts children’s school success. Developmental and education research confirms that parental attitudes, styles of interaction, behaviors, and relationships with schools are associated with children’s social development and academic performance (Christenson & Sheridan, 2001; Phillips, Brooks-Gunn, Duncan, Klebanov & Crane, 1998). Not surprisingly, over the last four decades, family involvement has been mainstreamed in schools; however, the practice of family involvement often falls short of its promise. Schools still struggle to engage families, and parents voice the need for greater support and opportunities for participation in their children’s learning.

As Jeanne Brooks-Gunn concludes (see Questions & Answers —Ed.), evaluations tell us that many family-centered interventions are successful in changing parenting behaviors. Yet home-school relationships are more difficult to change. These relationships are often characterized as centered on school priorities and initiated by the schools, at the expense of ignoring families’ concerns and expertise regarding their children. A home-school relationship should be a co-constructed reciprocal activity in which both the agency and sense of efficacy of parents, and the involvement opportunities provided by schools and other institutions that work with children are important (see also Weiss, Dearing, Mayer, Kreider & McCartney, in press). This article identifies key dimensions of home-school relationships that engage families and support effective parental involvement in children’s learning.

We used data from five programs, including their evaluations and practitioner reflections, to distill an initial set of dimensions that represent the co-constructed nature of home-school relationships. The programs reviewed all have diverse family roles, are currently being implemented, serve children from kindergarten through high school, and have been evaluated.¹

Dimension 1: Responding to Family Interests and Needs
One dimension of co-construction is responsiveness to both school and family interests and needs. Responsiveness is particularly important for enrolling family members in program interventions and sustaining their participation so that they can receive the full treatment benefits. At the same time, programs that help schools address their concerns are likely to gain school endorsement. Families and Schools Together (FAST)² is a program that seeks to reduce children’s behavioral problems at home and in school through a family-based intervention. It offers parents intangible incentives, such as respect and social support, and practical inducements, such as convenient scheduling, transportation, and meals. Through an 8-week session for parents and children, the program enhances family communications and interactions, builds parent social support networks, and promotes trusting relationships between school staff and parents.

An experimental evaluation of one site found that FAST parents reported significant and positive changes in elementary school children’s home behavior compared to control group parents (Abt Associates, 2001). FAST parents were also more likely to participate in volunteer work and serve in community leadership positions. Although some implementation challenges may have limited the number and types of positive outcomes, the evaluation concluded that substantial rates of program completion should be considered an achievement because the kinds of families involved are not easy to engage and retain in program interventions.

Dimension 2: Engaging in Dialogue With Families
Trust and mutual respect are key ingredients to meaningful home-school relationships. Such relationships can be built through an ongoing process of dialogue grounded in families’ own experiences. The Parent Institute for Quality Education (PIQE) uses dialogue “to build community and social capital, situating educational activity in the lived experience of participants, and raising participants’ consciousness about their situations and their own power to take informed action” (Golan & Peterson, 2002). PIQE engages immigrant parents in their children’s education through parenting sessions and follow-up coaching that provide information about the educational system, promote relationships with schools, and help parents support children’s home learning. An experimental evaluation of the program found that program parents in elementary, middle, and high schools significantly changed their parenting beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors in support of their children’s education, and that parents’ knowledge was the strongest predictor of parental involvement (Chrispeels & González, 2004; Chrispeels, González & Arellano, 2004).

Dimension 3: Building on Family Funds of Knowledge
Program efforts that acknowledge the co-constructed nature of family involvement not only draw on the school’s expertise but build on the wealth of information and ideas that families impart to their children. The goal of Math and Parent Partnerships (MAPPS) is to improve children’s mathematical performance by improving parents’ own math skills and by creating opportunities for parents and children to learn about math together. MAPPS facilitates inquiry and gives voice to parents’ ideas and concerns about their own and their children’s mathematical experiences.

MAPPS workshops support multiple strategies of problem solving and draw on the funds of knowledge of parents and students. A distinctive aspect of the program is that parent and teacher leaders often work as a team to facilitate the workshops. According to a 2003 formative evaluation of four MAPPS sites, leadership training focused on team-building activities, and on taking advantage of the strengths and talents of parent and teacher leaders (Allexsaht-Snider & Bernier, 2003). School support—especially principals, parent liaisons, and enthusiastic teachers—positively influenced parent participation.

Dimension 4: Training Parents for Leadership
Families, schools, and communities need to work together to shape the school changes that ensure all children will succeed. In a system where schools hold power, parents must acquire the skills to become effective advocates for change. The Commonwealth Institute for Parent Leadership helps parents support and monitor the implementation of Kentucky’s school reform by providing them with intensive training and support to implement school projects that focus on student achievement and parental involvement. Parents learn to analyze and use desegregated school achievement data to develop projects that focus on the specific needs of schools.

An evaluation of the program reported that parents did work for change and did give schools the mechanisms to work better with students and parents, but that there were limits to the extent to which parent leaders could change school organization and have a direct impact on student achievement (Corbett & Wilson, 2000; 2001). The findings underscore the complexity of the change process, including the time it takes to co-construct relationships and address power issues. They also suggest the need to invest in training and supporting school leaders and teachers to partner with parents.

Dimension 5: Facilitating Connections Across Children’s Learning Contexts
Children grow up in multiple social environments, and families can be involved in their learning and development in the home, school, and community. In particular, parents act as central managers of their children’s time out of school, time that offers opportunities for enrichment that are not ordinarily available from home and school. Participation in out-of-school time programs may increase some types of parental involvement, such as help with homework, asking about class work, and attending after school events (Dynarski et al., 2004).

One example of a community-based opportunity for family involvement comes from Capital Kids, an initiative of the Mayor’s Office in Columbus, Ohio. The goal of the initiative is to provide academic support, safety and nutrition, a positive environment, prevention and skill building, and strong family involvement in 35 after school program sites. Children’s learning is supported in part by the facilitation of connections between families and teachers. In some sites staff members attend a monthly meeting sponsored by the Columbus Public Schools’ Center for Parent Engagement to learn about resources parents can use to support their children’s education. Families also receive invaluable support, for example, through a food kitchen operated by one of the programs. Finally, programs receive support from families, partly in the form of volunteering and activity planning. A quasi-experimental evaluation showed that the vast majority of youth surveyed feel they learned new things and do a better job on homework, and the vast majority of parents surveyed feel that the program has improved their child’s grades and social skills, and that the food kitchen helps support their family (Anderson-Butcher 2001, 2002; Anderson-Butcher et al., 2003).

These five dimensions need to be further examined and tested in order to understand how they add value to parent participation, that is, to enrolling and sustaining parents for the duration of the intervention, and to understand how they connect with school change and student achievement. They also need to be examined to figure out the incentives for school personnel to become enthusiastic partners of home-school relationships. Furthermore, the ways that family involvement is co-constructed between families and schools may vary as children age and become more active agents in mediating the home-school relationship. These issues underscore the need for a continuing dialogue about a research and evaluation agenda that can engage families and schools in meaningful, effective, and sustained partnerships.

Abt Associates. (2001). National evaluation of family support programs. Final report volume B: Research studies. Cambridge, MA: Abt Associates.

Allexsaht-Snider, M., & Bernier, E. (2003). MAPPS evaluation report. Unpublished manuscript.

Anderson-Butcher, D. (2001). An evaluation report for the Cap City Kids program: Phase one. Columbus: Ohio State University Center for Learning Excellence.

Anderson-Butcher, D. (2002). An evaluation report for the Cap City Kids program: Phase two. Columbus: Ohio State University Center for Learning Excellence.

Anderson-Butcher, D. D., Midle, T., Fallara, L., Hansford, C., Uchida, K., Grotevant, S., et al. (2003). Youth development programs in Central Ohio: An evaluation report for the City of Columbus and United Way of Central Ohio. Columbus: Ohio State University Center for Learning Excellence.

Chrispeels, J., & González, M. (2004). Do educational programs increase parents’ practices at home?: Factors influencing Latino parent involvement. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Family Research Project. [Click here to view this article.]

Chrispeels, J., González, M., & Arellano, B. (2004). Evaluation of the effectiveness of the Parent Institute for Quality Education in Los Angeles Unified School District September 2003 to May 2004. Santa Barbara: University of California. [Available at]

Christenson, S., & Sheridan, S. (2001). Schools and families: Creating essential connections for learning. NY: The Guildford Press.

Corbett, H. D., & Wilson, B. (2000). I didn’t know I could do that! Parents learning to be leaders through the Commonwealth Institute for Parent Leadership. Unpublished manuscript.

Corbett, H. D., & Wilson, B. (2001). Key lessons about the role of parents as educational change agents. In J. Kroll, R. F. Sexton, B. N. Raimondo, H. D. Corbett, & B. Wilson (Eds.), Setting the stage for success: Bringing parents into education reform as advocates for higher student achievement (pp. 9–15). Philadelphia: Pew Charitable Trusts. [Available at (Acrobat file)]

Dynarski, M., James-Burdumy, S., Moore, M., Rosenberg, L., Deke, J., & Mansfield, W. (2004). When schools stay open late: The national evaluation of the 21st Century Community Learning Centers programs. New findings. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance.

Golan, S., & Petersen, D. (2002). Promoting involvement of recent immigrant families in their children’s education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Family Research Project. [Click here to view this article.]

Phillips, M., Brooks-Gunn, J., Duncan, G., Klebanov, K., & Crane, J. (1998). Family background, parenting practices and the Black-White test score gap. In C. Jencks & M. Phillips (Eds.), The Black-White test score gap (pp. 103–145). Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.

Weiss, H., Dearing, E., Mayer, E., Kreider, H., & McCartney, K. (in press). Family educational involvement: Who can afford it and what does it afford? In C. Cooper, C. G. Coll, T. Bartko, H. Davis, & C. Chatman (Eds.), Hills of gold: Contexts, diversity, and pathways through middle childhood. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

¹ The evaluations were formative (1) and summative (4), the latter including experimental (2), quasi-experimental (1), and nonexperimental (1) designs.
² This program differs from Fast Track, the program discussed in the article by Robert Nix. —Ed.

M. Elena Lopez, Senior Consultant, HFRP

Holly Kreider, Project Manager, HFRP

Margaret Caspe, Consultant, HFRP

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