Chapter 1 Introduction Why Bother to Read This Book?
In this book, we argue that partnerships among schools, families, and
community groups are not a luxury they are a necessity. In passing the
No Child Left Behind law, Congress and the president made a promise to
our children that all will have an equal opportunity to get a high-quality
education and master high academic standards. That means all
our children no matter what language they speak, how much their families earn,
what disabilities they may have, what God they worship (if any), or what
holidays they celebrate.
Quality public education may be national and state policy, but it is not
yet a civil right. There remain tremendous disparities in funding, facilities,
and instructional resources across our sixteen thousand school districts,
and this inequity underlies the poor outcomes that the law attempts
to address. Consequently, our public schools need all the help they can
get from parents, family members, community residents, local organizations,
and anyone else whom we can engage in children’s learning.
Demands for reform continue to mount. Federal and state action has
produced a strong move toward higher standards of achievement, increased
testing, and accountability to the public for results. There is considerable
backlash, however, especially against using high-stakes standardized tests
to hold schools liable for poor performance and to prevent students with
low scores from graduating.
While some see progress, many corporate and foundation leaders are
impatient with the pace of change. Educators and policy makers are arguing
over whether funding is adequate to meet all the new federal mandates.
Public support appears to be growing for vouchers and competition
from the private sector as the main tools for reform. We think that parents
and community members, working as partners with educators, can accomplish
change within the public sector but this will take a new model of
working together, one that goes way beyond the bake sale.
There are five reasons why you should read this book. 1. Partnership and student academic achievement are
Many years of research show that involving families
and the community contributes to children’s academic and social
The evidence is consistent, positive, and convincing: families have
a major influence on their children’s achievement. When schools,
families, and community groups work together to support learning,
children tend to do better in school, stay in school longer, and like
This statement summarizes the conclusion of A New Wave of Evidence:
The Impact of School, Family and Community Connections on Student
, the most recent and comprehensive review of the research.
Here are some key findings:
Students whose families are involved in their learning earn better
grades, enroll in higher-level programs, have higher graduation
rates, and are more likely to enroll in post-secondary
When families take an active interest in what they’re learning,
students display more positive attitudes toward school and
behave better both in and out of school.
Children do best if parents can play a variety of roles in their
learning: helping at home, volunteering at school, planning
their children’s future, and taking part in key decisions about
the school program.
Middle and high school students whose families remain involved
in these ways make better transitions, maintain the quality of
their work, develop realistic plans for the future, and are less
likely to drop out.
Children from diverse cultural backgrounds tend to do better
when families and school staff join forces to bridge the gap
between home and school cultures.
From early childhood through high school, families make key contributions
to student learning. School improvement programs are much more
effective when schools enlist families in the process. Regardless of income
level or education background, all families can and do support their
When parents become involved at school, they tend to become more
active in the community. Well-planned family learning and support activities
tend to increase self-confidence, so parents and family members go
on to pursue a high school diploma, additional job training, and higher
education. Knowledge is power. Well-informed parents can be more effective
and productive partners.
The more the relationship between families and the school is a real
partnership, the more student achievement increases. When schools
engage families in ways that are linked to improving learning, students
make greater gains. When families are engaged in positive ways, rather
than labeled as problems, schools can be transformed from places where
only certain students prosper to ones where all children do well.
Community groups make important contributions, too. One key difference
between high- and low-achieving children is how (and with whom)
they spend their time outside school. Community groups offer important
resources for students and families, and schools can provide a critical link
to these resources.
Be warned: positive results are not automatic. They are more likely to
be achieved when school, family, and community partnership programs
are well planned and carefully executed. How to do this is what this book
is all about. 2. Partnerships help build and sustain public support for
In this era of market-driven education reforms, including
vouchers and charter schools, public schools are seeking increased support.
The traditional approach is public relations. We think that three
other partnership strategies offer more direct benefits, both to schools and
to the community:
1.Conducting active programs to engage the public, including
parents and families
2. Working with community organizations to help students and
families and to improve educational quality
3. Promoting greater citizen participation in our democracy
Schools that embrace the partnership idea in practice enjoy higher levels
of respect and trust in the community, as well as among school staff
and families. Partnership schools tend to have better teacher morale and
higher ratings of teachers by families. They also have more support from
families, better reputations in the community, and more success at implementing
school reform initiatives.
Collaborative approaches can contribute to strengthening the human,
social, and economic foundation of neighborhoods. One goal of school community
initiatives is to develop a neighborhood’s ability to identify
its own issues and marshal sufficient resources to solve problems. This
kind of community capacity can help not only to improve the safety and
economic vitality of neighborhoods but also, as it evolves, to improve the
quality of teaching and learning in the schools.
Community agencies and institutions benefit, too. When they collaborate
with schools, they can reach more easily the people they want
to serve and gain access to school services and expertise. In the process,
they can increase public support for their work and even save money by
eliminating overlapping services.
Families are more stable and healthy if they can meet basic needs for
housing, food, transportation, and employment. When schools team up
with community organizations, families can gain access to a range of
social services. Then they are in a better position to take advantage of
other opportunities, such as counseling, additional education, and job
training. Many studies have documented the resulting benefits for families
and children, including:
Increased knowledge of child development
Greater confidence in their role as their child’s first teacher
More frequent attendance at school meetings and a stronger
sense of responsibility for children’s schooling
Improved literacy and other skills
Better communication with schools and teachers 3. Families and the community can help schools overcome
the challenges they face.
The challenges for America’s public
schools are great and growing, and many schools are making heroic efforts
to address them. Serious gaps in achievement persist between more affluent
children and those from low-income families. New waves of immigration
from Central America, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East are bringing
to many schools more children and families whose English is limited and
who are not familiar with our school system or society.
During the 1990s, between 14 million and 16 million people entered the
country, far more than in any decade in the nation’s history. This pace was
sustained during 2000 2004, with the foreign-born population increasing
by over 1 million per year. By 2000, immigrants represented one in nine of
all U.S. residents, and their children represented one in five of all children
under eighteen. While these children are at first concentrated in the great
gateway cities, they are rapidly dispersing across the country.
As poverty rates rise and manufacturing jobs decline, families and
communities face multiple economic and social problems. These have a
direct impact on the schools. For example, the number of highly mobile
families has increased. Of the more than 290 million people in the
United States, 43 million move each year. In many communities, the
shortage of affordable housing has put numerous families on the street.
Homelessness affects children’s health, their mental stability, and their
work in school.
The findings of a new, rigorous study on the actual dropout rate between
ninth and twelfth grades are summed up in its title: Losing Our Future:
How Minority Youth Are Being Left Behind by the Graduation Rate Crisis
predominantly black and Latino urban districts, high school graduation
rates are well under 50 percent. Where do the students who drop out go?
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about half of
prison inmates are dropouts, and a high proportion of these have been in
special education programs.
Changing family patterns also present schools with challenges. For
example, the 2000 Census shows that over 4 million children are living
with grandparents, and that one-fourth of these grandparents have sole
responsibility for the children. Nearly half of low-income children, those
in the bottom 20 percent, live with only one parent, and nearly half move
These changes in society and the economy have spawned what the
media call the culture wars.” Many communities are beset with sharp
debates about religious expression in schools (including prayer, religious
clubs, and how to teach evolution); appropriate treatment of gay, lesbian,
and transgendered students; and how to prevent bullying and sexual
harassment. School staff are coping with changes in traditional sexual
roles and values, and with cultural differences in food, dress, and music.
Language differences trigger debates on whether instruction for Englishlanguage
learners should be given in the home language or focus strictly
on English. Safety in and around schools is another pervasive challenge,
intensified by headline-grabbing incidents of violence.
There is wide disagreement about solutions to these controversies.
School leaders are in the uncomfortable position of having to mediate
the disputes and build a consensus about what to do. They know that
schools can address few, if any, of these challenges effectively by themselves.
Principals, teachers, and other staff already work long hours and
volunteer time during vacations to work with families and coordinate programs.
Common sense and years of experience suggest that a collaborative
approach is needed to define the problems, discuss productive approaches,
and design and implement possible solutions. Ideas and examples for how
to do this are presented throughout this book. 4. Teachers can benefit from parent and community
Teachers say they want more support from parents and
are troubled by what they see as low parent involvement and poor student
behavior. Yet they are unsure about how to collaborate productively with
families. Many tend to be more comfortable with helping families to be
involved with their children at home than with engaging families in their
classrooms and school buildings.
School leaders can help teachers and their unions understand how partnership
approaches can be of direct benefit to them. Plans for partnerships
are often developed with little or no teacher input, and teachers are told,
Just do it.” A top-down, management-driven approach confirms many
teachers’ perception that their views are often ignored. This can doom the
effort from the start. If, instead, teachers are involved in planning at the
outset, they can become powerful allies for expanding the connections
among schools, parents, and community members.
In addition, educators can learn a great deal from parents. Parents and other
family members bring knowledge and perspectives about their children, their
culture and values, and the strengths and problems of their communities. 5. The No Child Left Behind Act provides partnership
opportunities that can help schools meet the requirements of
No Child Left Behind (NCLB) holds public schools accountable
to provide all students with a quality education, putting educators
under intense pressure. School officials who ignore the requirements of
this federal program are at considerable financial risk.
For example, families in a Title I school (Title I of NCLB provides
funding to schools serving concentrations of low-income children) may
transfer their children to a higher-performing school if the current school
does not make adequate yearly progress” for two years in a row. Students
who do not transfer must be offered supplemental services, such as after-school
tutoring or classes in reading and math, paid for by the school
It is wise to pay careful attention to the law’s obligations and opportunities
for parent involvement, for they can offer resources to make that
adequate yearly progress.