Parent engagement may be key to achievement
(Md.) Books and Baseball Night. Fiesta-val of Math. Family Digital Summit. Fish Fry and Social Hour. For schools across the nation last year these family-oriented events – and dozens like them – were more than just fun ways to promote learning.
They were all part of locally-designed, research-based plans to foster partnerships between schools and families with the ultimate goal of heightening academic achievement.
Ramping up parent involvement in their children’s learning is an emerging strategy for raising student achievement, according to Dr. Joyce Epstein, director of the National Network for Partnership Schools at Johns Hopkins University.
“Our research shows that well-designed and well-implemented programs of partnerships improve schools, strengthen families, energize communities, and increase student success at all grade levels,” said Epstein, who has been studying the impact of parent involvement at the school, district and state level for more than 30 years.
Many studies have established a connection between academically involved parents and higher achievement levels.
A 2005 study by Canadian researchers Lise Saint-Laurent and Jocelyne Giasson showed that first grade students made notable academic gains after nine parent information sessions over the course of a year. The sessions, which encouraged parents to visit libraries with their children and showed them how to lead writing and reading activities at home, resulted in significantly higher student scores on general reading and writing tests, as well as measures of sentence structure, vocabulary, spelling and written narratives.
Similarly, a study published in the School Community Journal in 2012 found that when migrant families with kindergarteners attended 25 one-hour sessions that taught them how to work with their children on specific curricular skills, those children had significantly higher reading skills in fifth and sixth grade compared with students whose families did not attend the educational sessions.
Although federal law has long required that every district and school receiving Title I funding develop a written plan for engaging parents, it’s an area that Epstein says has been largely neglected. As research reveals the academic gains that can be had by showing parents how to engage in their children’s learning, states and districts are beginning to embrace the family as an effective learning support.
In California, for example, a new mechanism for funding schools, the Local Control Funding Formula, requires districts to adopt Local Control Accountability Plans that address the state’s eight priorities for schools – one of which is parental involvement. In their plans, districts are required to show how expenditures will be used to encourage parent involvement in district educational programs.
Currently, the National Network for Partnership Schools works with 60 member districts and 600 elementary, middle and high schools across the nation to implement a research-based model for family and community involvement.
Epstein says the network helps to develop school and district leaders charged with making parents a larger part of the educational equation.
“Districts all have experts for implementing research-based programs in reading, math, and other subjects, but not on family and community engagement, she said. “Now, our studies indicate that this is something that districts must focus on."
Schools that join the network as a partnership school develop an action plan that includes all family and community involvement activities to be carried out by teachers and school groups for the year. Activities by member schools last year ranged from family math and literacy nights to surveys of parents regarding school climate, and community service efforts that brought families together to help those in need.
The success stories from the partnership schools are published each year by the network, Epstein said, to highlight the accomplishments of the participating schools and to serve as a source of inspiration for other schools hoping to get parents more involved in their children’s education. (Click here to read Promising Partnership Practices.)
In addition to organizing fun family events, partnership schools also implement a homework program called Teachers Involve Parents in Schoolwork, or TIPS. The interactive homework students take home in the TIPS program is done with a parent or other family member who then provides the teacher with feedback as to how the well the assignment was completed.
A three-year case study by network researchers found that when math teachers at an elementary school implemented the TIPS program most parents became more involved in their student’s schoolwork and were grateful for the additional guidance the program offered. More to the point, the student’s math scores on state tests improved over the course of the study compared to scores of students in comparison schools. Scores for fourth grade students, for example, increased from 54 percent to 66 percent, while same-grade students at a comparison school rose from 54 percent to just 60 percent.
These results were bolstered by a 2011 study of third- and fourth-grade students in the TIPS program, which showed not only that students’ enjoyment of math homework increased due to the parental involvement component, but also that TIPS students had higher standardized math scores than did a control group.
According to Epstein, a major reason schools and teachers are often hesitant about involving parents or other family members in their practice is that teachers generally do not receive training about how to effectively work with families.
“So far, that kind of training hasn’t been typical in college courses for future teachers or administrators,” she said. “If educators are not sure of what they are doing, they are going to be wary of taking action. Our work with districts and schools across the country indicates that by providing the right training in research-based approaches to create these partnerships, the fears go away.”
Click here to read more about the National Network for Partnership Schools.