The Harvard Family Research Project’s new brief, “Beyond Random Acts: Family, School, and Community Engagement as an Integral Part of Education Reform,” is a must read for both educators and policymakers. Powerfully, the brief takes on a number of important memes:
- It chides reformers for overlooking or minimizing the impact of family engagement, noting that “research repeatedly correlates family engagement with student achievement, yet this strategy is rarely activated as an integral part of school reform efforts.”
- But, at the same time it dismisses the “bad parents” meme that treats disengagement as entirely the fault of parents or circumstances such as poverty. Instead, it sees engagement as a shared responsibility that schools also own — and can take active steps to foster.
- And finally, it calls for “disrupting the current state of practice” where family engagement is a warm and fuzzy add-on, with few direct connections to student achievement.
What would a new approach to family engagement look like? It’s a serious-minded effort connected to core strategies to improve learning:
As a reform strategy, family engagement should be systemic, integrated, and sustained. Systemic family engagement is purposefully designed as a core component of educational goals such as school readiness, student achievement, and school turnaround. Integrated family engagement is embedded into structures and processes designed to meet these goals, including training and professional development, teaching and learning, community collaboration, and the use of data for continuous improvement and accountability. Sustainable family engagement operates with adequate resources, including public–private partnerships, to ensure meaningful and effective strategies that have the power to impact student learning and achievement.
This new type of family engagement is not easy work. Schools can’t just hire a parent coordinator and consider it done. An entire school’s teaching staff must make a deep commitment to do this right. And, just as with students, we must have high expectations for parents and families. But, as the brief illustrates, there are real, proven strategies for success.