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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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Heather Weiss

How children learn is deeply rooted in their experiences at home, in school, and in the community. Recent issues of The Evaluation Exchange have explored the learning opportunities afforded by early childhood and out-of-school time programs, which complement what schools have to offer. This issue focuses on another critical complement: family involvement programs and practices.

Research in developmental psychology and sociology continues to confirm that parenting practices and home-school relationships promote children’s learning and development, and that family involvement is a complex phenomenon, influenced by class, race, culture, and school and community supports. Years of practitioner knowledge from home visiting, parent education, family involvement, and parent leadership programs guide future program development, research, and evaluation. However, rarely do we marry research and practice knowledge to support practitioners’ efforts to design effective, sustainable, and scalable programs. We have also underinvested in evaluation in this arena, especially regarding the application of strong research designs and methodology to school-age programs.

This issue supports efforts to build a conversation about the future research, evaluation, and practice agenda for the family involvement field. In Questions & Answers, Jeanne Brooks-Gunn confirms that parenting behaviors are amenable to program intervention but that two-generational programs are more likely to enhance school readiness. Drawing from several recent evaluations, Theory & Practice culls the practice dimensions to support the development of co-constructed family involvement programs. These dimensions should be treated as hypotheses for further testing in future evaluations.

Ask the Expert provides insights into contextual factors, such as socioeconomic status, that influence family involvement practices and inform program strategies to ensure that all children receive high quality school experiences. An Evaluations to Watch matrix compiles some of the major investments in evaluation that will inform our learning about family involvement, and parent leadership and organizing, in the next few years.

The Promising Practices, Evaluations to Watch, and Beyond Basic Training sections illustrate various methods for the evaluation of family involvement programs, including concept mapping, participatory approaches, multilevel analytic models, and experimental design. A description of the Campbell Collaboration’s forthcoming systematic review of parent involvement evaluations, for example, assesses what we can learn now from existing experimental evaluations.

This issue is designed to push all in the family involvement field to think through what the practice-informed research and evaluation agenda should be: How can research and evaluation be aligned with practice knowledge to gain a deeper understanding of the contextual variables that influence family involvement outcomes? Given the findings of developmental research on the importance of family involvement through adolescence, how can we create a continuous system of programs serving children and families from birth to adolescence? What can research and evaluation tell us about where and when in children’s lives the most promising investments can be made?

We hope that this issue of The Evaluation Exchange sparks discussion and debate about these and other questions.

Heather B. Weiss, Ed.D.
Founder & Director
Harvard Family Research Project

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Published by Harvard Family Research Project