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Family Engagement in Education: A Nationwide Assignment

An African American family with a mother, father, and two school-age sons.

Family Engagement in Education: A Nationwide Assignment

In June, over one thousand educators, parents, community-based partners, and fellow stakeholders in education convened at the second annual National Family and Community Engagement Conference in Chicago to discuss the role of family engagement in K-12 education. Participation in this year’s conference doubled that of last year’s, reflecting the dramatic growth of a movement to embrace family involvement in education. Over the past few years, this developing notion of education extending beyond the classroom and into students’ homes has led educators and policymakers, along with many others, to consider the effects that a student’s family has on their academic potential. Today, the movement is receiving national attention due to the overwhelmingly positive results that we have already begun to see as a product of family engagement in education.

The Family and Community Engagement (FCE) Network within the Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL) is one of many organizations today that promotes the growth of family engagement in school districts. The FCE Network operates at both local and national levels. On a larger scale, events such as the National Family and Community Engagement Conference “unite family and community engagement stakeholders across the country face-to-face.” However, the FCE Network is also able to make localized impacts on specific school districts across the country through its District Leaders Network. This network connects leaders from more than 125 districts nationwide as they strengthen partnerships among families, communities and schools.

Just this past year, Springfield (MA) Public Schools’ Chief Parent and Community Engagement Officer Patricia Spradley was recognized by Education Week as a Leader to Learn From. Spradley was praised for her implementation of the district’s Springfield Parent Academy, which she has used to engage parents from all over the district by offering courses for parents to “serve as role models for students when it comes to the importance of lifelong learning.” Acknowledged for her leadership in parent engagement, Spradley is the third consecutive member of IEL’s District Leaders Network to be recognized by Education Week as one of the nation’s most outstanding school district leaders.

More recently, IEL’s Kwesi Rollins and EPFP alum and IEL board member Karen Mapp also were featured in Education Week, discussing the momentum that parent engagement efforts are gaining and their high impact on national conversations about education. Kwesi Rollins, the director of leadership programs at IEL, acknowledges the national support that parent engagement initiatives have received. In this Education Week article, Rollins claims that “many national leaders are in a collaborative spirit, which is helping to gain traction and is providing a mechanism for sharing high-impact strategies.” A senior lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Mapp works with superintendents on building family engagement in schools and has seen acceptance of the movement grow at a more local level. Speaking to the support that parent collaboration has received from teachers, she is quoted in a separate Education Week article as saying, “once teachers experience how partnering with parents can make their jobs easier as educators, they are eager to encourage their colleagues to join them.”

While the growing support and awareness of family engagement in schools is promising, Mapp also acknowledges that many communities and schools still remain unsure of how to implement such programs. In a recent YouTube video, Mapp explains that “none of the stakeholders in education have really had any good guidance” in building these partnerships between educators and family members. Without the infrastructure necessary to build upon, schools are unable to offer platforms for engaging family members of students. Mapp provides this infrastructure in her video, detailing the framework necessary to promote family and community engagement. According to Mapp, while ineffective family-school partnerships are the result of a lack of capacity to build partnerships, effective family-school partnerships are those that fulfill opportunity conditions such as being sustainable and collaborative, display growth of policy and program goals, and connect welcoming and supportive staff and families.