A New Framework: Improving Family Engagement

Duncan at Stanton

Secretary Duncan visited a classroom at DC’s Scholars Stanton Elementary School. Official Department of Education photo by Paul Wood.

For many, it’s just common sense. The more a student’s family is engaged in their child’s learning and in the improvement of their child’s school, the better off the student and the school. On Wednesday, Secretary Duncan joined more than 80 family engagement thought leaders at DC’s Scholars Stanton Elementary School to discuss the strong correlation between family engagement and academic outcomes, and how the Department of Education can provide more support.

Research supports the common sense idea that family plays a vital role in student performance. Yet despite the evidence and logic, many schools and educators struggle with how to cultivate and sustain effective family engagement initiatives. The Department of Education has taken some steps to provide more support in the area of family engagement, but Secretary Duncan readily admits that it hasn’t done enough.

As part of Wednesday’s event, Dr. Karen Mapp of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and a consultant to Department, unveiled a draft framework of new ideas about the possible future direction and focus for family engagement at the Department of Education.

The framework had been a year in the making as Dr. Mapp met with a variety of senior staff members to gauge how a framework embedded with research and modeled after best practices would be operationalized at the Department.

Stanton Elementary is an example of how a school can build positive relationships with families and allow teachers to gain family support in and out of the classroom. Stanton’s family engagement strategy is the type of initiative the new framework would endorse. Through a partnership between the Flamboyan Foundation and Scholar Academies, Stanton utilizes Academic Parent Teacher Teams (APTT), replacing traditional parent-teacher conferences.

Panel at Stanton

Stanton Teacher Melissa Bryant explains how family engagement made her want to keep teaching. Official Department of Education photo by Paul Wood.

APTT, developed by Maria Paredes, brings parents into classroom more often than once a year and creates an environment where families work as a team to improve the class’s performance, sharing strategies for supporting their students at home and learning techniques from the classroom teacher. Teachers also visit their students’ families at home, too. Stanton’s success with APTT, as well as help from a Department of Education School Improvement Grant, has contributed to a dramatic increase in the academic performance of students and a cultural shift at the school.

During the visit, which included classroom visits, Secretary Duncan listened to a panel discussion with panelists Principal Caroline John, teachers Melissa Bryant and Megan Lucas, and parents Katrina Branch and Michael Hudson. The panelists spoke passionately in support of family engagement and how it has benefited the entire school community. Bryant said that family engagement “made me want to keep being a teacher.”

Mapp and ED will continue to receive feedback on the framework in the coming year. Stay tuned to the Homeroom Blog for future updates. You can also watch a short video of the APTT model at Stanton.


  1. I work at a school in CA. Our school has been in a budget crises and we had to lay our classroom aides off and would love to use parent volunteers in the classroom, the union is preventing this. The union will only allow parents in the classroom in the afternoon, and they can not help the children they can only make copies for teachers and help with any cut outs of paper for crafts. Is there a law I can show board members that eliminates the union from preventing parents in the classroom?

  2. Families are the vital key that should always be a part of the equation and decision making in public education. Families should not be bought into the success after the fact or after all attempts have been made.

    Most parents can tell you everything they know their child is capable of, they just need the guidance from schools and the commuity to put that knowledge in such a way that the child, home school and community benefits.

    Families raise children in the home, schools raise families in an academic setting and communites rasie families in our society. So I believe It’s apPARENT, It’s aSKOOL, It’s a COMMUNITY that make the difference.

  3. The message presented in the framework has been long the voice of parents and their involvement. However the framework still lacks in providing specific tools or practices that can engage families ,keep them involved, sustained and committed. If parents and their families are not a priority, then begins the snowball effect of trust and territory. What are specific, identifiable practices to have all stakeholders involved in the success of student academic achievement. It is recommended that as you enlist comment, utilize the voice of the families and implement through stronger policies and practice.

  4. These are all interesting comments. What I see missing is that by the time families and their children are not doing well it’s often too late.

    Early childhood programs like Parents as Teachers work with families and children long before school age. It’s this early support that helps parents become a partner in their children’s success at school. And it helps those parents be interested in the growth and development of their children in ways that translate not only to success in school, but later in life.

    It is important that the support of the family begin well before school age.

    • All families don’t need this level of support. For those that do, it’s fine. Educated middle income and well off parents have a lot to offer if only schools would listen and be more receptive to change.

      School board involvement in many places doesn’t help because school boards are often dysfunctional and rely too much on administrators. Plus, unqualified people, albeit well meaning, often sit on school boards.

      Somehow, parent input needs to be captured and measured with schools required to take action or come up with some reasonable basis for not taking action. Companies do it, there is no reason why schools can’t.

  5. I would like to see the federal government require schools to survey parents and/or guardians anonymously (with the option of adding your real name) to determine how schools can improve. Schools should then be required to report the results. The base survey could be one that is designed by the federal government to avoid having local school districts try to game the system with overly positive results.

    To be fair to teachers and administrators, they should be anonymously survey also with a requirement to report results publicly.

    All results should be reported to a third party, not the school district itself (or the state department of education).

    If family engagement is important, schools should be forced to measure it. Problems with family engagement can’t be solved until these problems are identified with specificity.

  6. Charter Schools are terrible at engaging families. The Charter School in my town nominated a Board Member affiliated with group thta is on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of white nationalists hate groups. 75% of parents of the school signed a petition asking the Board not to appoint this person. Unfortunately, with Charter School’s the Board isn’t elected by voters so it looks like there is NOTHING parents can do.

  7. It is unfortunate, given that the US DOE is apparently recognizing the value of family engagement, that they ended funding for the Parent Information Resource Center (PIRC) network that worked with families and with districts and schools to help strengthen parent engagement and family-professional partnerships. Money going directly to states, districts or schools rarely ends up being spent on effective family engagement. Instead, funds should be allocated to family-led organizations that have as their sole mission and purpose to inform, engage, and support families in the decisions that impact their children.

  8. Head Start has been doing this from almost the beginning of Head Start. Not only the home visits but parents and family volunteering in the classroom. The major part of any parent engagment is to treet the parents as the “prime educator ” of their child. Parents are also engaged in the managment and policy development of Head Start as well ongoing assessments of the program !

  9. The real problem is that school administrators and boards only want certain kinds of family engagement. In my district, schools certainly try to get poor families involved by adding social work services and free dinners and are delighted when these parents show up. The district administrators also like to put parent teacher organization members on curriculum committees (whether they are qualified or not) because these supportive family members are unlikely to truly push schools to improve.

    Unfortunately, my district doesn’t do enough to get parents involved who could offer a working perspective about what the district needs to do to improve or parents who have valid criticisms about what is going on in the schools and constructive advice about how to improve schools.

    Too often, school administrators and boards only want support from people they can feel good about having show up (low income parents) and those parents who are so supportive, they don’t offer much in the way of how to improve.

    • I agree with the comment above. I would also like to add that when a parent who is not low income and wants to advocate on half of those who are low income or those in the Achievement gap, they are not received kindly by administrators and school district staff.

      They don’t want a truly engaged school community, they want something that looks good and is not a catalyst for change. I have been on a school district task force to address the achievement gap for 2 years. I have consistently encouraged the task force, (which by the way is heavy with school administrator) that to make headway with the achievement gap we must first look at the child as part of a family. It is the family that we need to engage and support to help support the child. This brings up the conversation about what exactly is “engagement” and how does that look structurally. These are not conversation that school administrators want to have with parents or community members.

  10. As a parent and as an educator, I often feel some level of frustration about the concept of parental involvement. I think it is important to recognize that parent involvement is not limited to the time that parents spend in the school classroom. Parent involvement should also includes those hours upon hours of at home time that many parents spend supporting the school when they are helping children with homework, fun raising or just talking to their children about the importance of education. It is often the working parents that frequently cannot attend parent in the classrooms activities that are overlooked. While, I cannot be at the school science fair, math field day or even bring a parent to lunch…I AM very involved in the educational process. With all of that said, I really think that we must think outside of the box for defining parent involvement…especially for the working parents that just can’t get to the classroom.

    • In response to the issue of working parents. As a former principal and superintendent of a large urban district I too struggled with how to best involve parents in meaningful and sustainable ways. It is one thing to bring parents to school and yet another to know what to do with them. What we do know is that individuals in the workplace look up to their supervisors and the company’s where they work. The employing entities can provide powerful motivational incentives to working parents to assume a proper and responsible role in assisting schools in the teaching and learning process. Imagine a company with a policy that recognizes their workers in the merit pay process for showing evidences of improved student attendance, high student behavior marks, and grade-level performance in their children’s reading and math subjects. It is my sense that this would cause parents to spend more time at home with their children helping with homework, communicating with teachers, and setting higher expectations at home. This requires strategic community engagement partnerships between the school district and the employing entities in the community. A joint partnership between the school district and the City government to launch an initiative like this would also have far-reaching merits. Municipal governments are interested in a higher educated workforce for economic prosperity and improved quality of life of its citizenry. Municipal governments (mayors, and elected councilman) have influence with the business community and the chambers of commerce. They to0 would need to embrace and support such initiatives. Maybe this is the kind of thinking outside the box to which Leatha is referring.

  11. I am a retired teacher, K-12 principal, ALE Director, and grant writer. I have been involved with 21st Century Learning Communities and Schools of the 21st Century since the beginning of these programs. I received one of the first 21st CCLC grants.
    The advantage of parental involvement has been recognized ever since the 90-90-90 schools. As a K-12 principal with extremely at risk students, I could count my professional parents on my hands and feet.
    Through my career in rural Arkansas I threw over two hundred thousands of dollars at parents to improve education and involvement for our schools. It did not happend –plain and simple. I would have stopped except that in the grants I wrote and with Title funds it mandates to have and show parental involvement activities. I would have rather had that money and be able to hire more personnel to service my students individually.
    The only way in the at risk communities (those that have over 60% free and reduced lunch rates) to improve parental involvement is to transform the WELFARE SYSTEM. The majority of parents who do not particpate are on welfare and disability social security. These people not only need to take a drug test to receive their checks but, be made to spend 15 or more hours volunteering in a public school.
    The welfare system is a major reason why our public schools are struggling. The parents with means take their children out of public schools or put them in charter schools. We are promoting a system of segregation in America. Basically, public schools are doing a great job with their test scores….because they have all the AT RISK students. The only truly at risk students in private schools are athletes on scholarships.
    If the government would truly reform welfare and get most of the people under 50 who are on disability social security off of it….we would save millions of dollars. It is a joke….these people tell each other what lawyers and doctors to use to be able to claim Social Security Disability. There are people who say I’m depressed or stressed and get on medications to qualify. People who take anti depressants can work.
    The parents who do work have a hard time making it to the schools after work especially with gas prices. The public schools in major cities can not afford to pay their teachers to stay till 8p.m. at night when parents can come.
    Now, with big money people (Waltons, Rockefellars, Hussman, etc) pushing for massive consolidation in the states (Arkansas, West Virginia, Kentucky) parents find it even harder to get to the schools because they have to travel so far. Their children can not partcipate in after school activities because the districts can’t run 2 or more bus routes…..There are lots of SIMPLE SOLUTIONS to these problems but no one wants to do those because it does not meet what BIG CAMPAIGN DONORS WANT…..

  12. Our Country will not truly see improved education results and families engaged in education until we as a nation decide to make it a reality. It is all about highly qualified school leaders.

    Highly Qualified School Leaders (HQSL)
    The goal is to ensure that all school administrators are highly qualified including; Public Education Department Administrators, School Superintendents and School Principals. In order to make this happen the President and Congress must pass appropritate requirements, universities must develop course work that ensures these requirements are met and ultimately the requirements are integrated into licensure requirements for school administrators.

    “Attention Paid Indicates Relative Importance” along with the development of Highly Qualified School Leaders we must be able to evaluate if school leaders are effective. Research shows that parents/families make a difference in the education of students. Great school leaders make family engagement a reality. We must include families in the evaluation of effectiveness of school leaders.
    States must develop licensure that demonstrates competent leaders by meeting the following criteria:
     Highly qualified school leaders must be ethical in their practices to set a tone for excellence in their school.
     Highly qualified school leaders must be able to listen to stakeholders and build/lead teams to improve schools
     Highly qualified school leaders must have a VISION to create a positive school environment that supports student success, facilitates quality instruction
     Highly qualified school leaders are competent in the six national standards of parent involvement in the education process.
     Highly qualified school leaders must be skilled school managers and understand business concepts including budgets.
     Highly qualified school leaders are effective supervisors of all school staff,
     Highly qualified school leaders are data collectors and planners who use data for continuous improvement.
     Highly qualified school leaders, must understand and be able to implement “school wide positive behavior intervention and supports” (PBIS)
     Highly qualified school leaders must have working knowledge of ESEA, IDEA and other laws impacting schools.

    Use HOUSSE as a guide of evaluating leaders. High, Objective, Uniform State Standard of Evaluation (HOUSSE): ESEA allows states to develop an additional way for current leaders to demonstrate competency and meet highly qualified leader requirements. Proof may consist of a combination of school leadership experience, professional development, and knowledge in the subject garnered over time in a leadership position.

    Reference; “Organizing Schools for Improvement” Elaine Allensworth, Anthony Bryk, John Easton, Stuart Luppescu and Penny Sebring.

  13. If parent involvement is desired, please explain the reason my son’s district held his IEP meeting and refused to allow me to enter the room. I was kept in a separate room and never permitted to speak to the teachers. My only recourse is to file a complaint, which really is no consequence because he has now moved on to high school. The district is only told they were out if compliance, when they deliberately broke the law.

    • It is my understanding that according to IDEA an IEP meeting cannot be held without all team members or their representative present at the meeting. School district officials should are aware of this. You should research your district, state, and federal guidelines to ensure alignment. It sounds like something is off balance at either the school, district, or state level. Districts tend to be very astute to avoiding procedural errors because it can cost them millions in comp ed settlements.

    • Actually, if you disagree with the IEP plan you can file a request for hearing alleging a denial of FAPE (free appropriate public education). Look for the number for your star office of Protection and Advocacy, or many private attorneys will take the case if they understand IDEA.there is an attorney fees provision, so if you win the district has to pay your attorney’s fees.

  14. Families have changed but results are the same. The more involved a family is with their child’s education process the more productive the school expierence. It makes a big difference if someone is asking the school how there child is doing. It is not enough to pop in at a conference. Today weekly contact or even daily is sometimes necessary to help produce a strong unit of parent/teacher/child trust.
    You only get once to do this, they grow up and are gone. It is worth the effort.

  15. As a parent, I find it critical to be engaged in my children’s education. I have grown step children and a freshman in high school. However, I will say that often in the community, children are not as fortunate to have engaged parents – especially in households that are lower income or single parent families. I think alternative methods of communication with parents is a critical key to successful engagement. Also, educating parents (and the community) about the critical role they play in the success of their child’s education is a key element. If their parents were not engaged then it is very likely that they will not be engaged (or even have a clue how to engage). Offering options that fit a variety of family dynamics (schedules, time to commit, educational material available, etc.) is extremely helpful. I’ve found that in our public school district, there was a huge difference when students transitioned from elementary school to middle school with regards to parent involvement & communication from the school. At the high school level, it seems much improved however, by the time your child is in high school, you’ve missed out on some critical educational opportunities. A plan to improve this gap would be a great idea.

    • Shannon – thanks for your thoughtful comment and suggestions!

      Cameron Brenchley
      Office of Communications and Outreach

  16. Family engagement is critical to academic progress and achievement. It is also a “benchmark” of a highly accomplished teacher when he/she has been prepared to demonstrate EVIDENECE of knowledge, application and assessment of SPECIFIC strategies and approaches that intentionally engage parents/families in regular, two-way interactions. National Board Certified Teachers will rarely earn Certification if they cannot demonstrate their ability to engage families as partners that drive and INFORM planning and instruction. The National Board standards and the process of certification (the assessment) ensures that teachers understand and VALUE the participation of parents and families in the education process and that the result of this cognizant communication is observed and documented in terms of student learning outcomes. New teachers to the field need to learn these standards AND to observe models like Stanton’s ATTP so that more students across the country benefit.

  17. I have had the privilege to work with Ms. Parades in the inception of the FELA team in Arizona that has adopted her APTT model. My challenge is to incorporate this model into an Alternative High School program. I look forward to receiving support from our Department of Ed. on this matter and totally support this new program for family engagement.


    Linda Garcia
    Homeless, Parent Involvement, ECAP and Student Services Coordinator
    PPPE TEC High School
    Tucson, Arizona

  18. Interesting initiative but once again why is it the responsibility of the school to try to solve a problem. Why must the school try to determine ways to engage families? This assumes the school is responsible for a family’s committment and engagement in their own children’s education. The emphasis for this must be placed where it belongs….with the family.
    Aren’t there other organizations in a community who could take on this responsibility…that may be in a better position to lead families in this direction? How about family services departments or other agencies closely connected with family support? This is really outside the realm, expertise and responsibility of schools/teachers and until we put the responsiblity where it can make a difference then we just continue to misplace a solution with a problem and the cycle/problem persists.

    • Dear Pat,

      I can understand your frustration. Society has changed and the public education system has not kept up. Historically, the school was always an extension of home, as schooling was done at home. Modern schooling is a relatively recent phenomenon. That said, schools generally involve themselves these days with families by demanding that parents and students do things on the schools’ schedule: turn in forms, get students to and from at certain times, come to meetings. While many educators hold that only their schedule is correct and the only one there is, there are many parents who work different shifts, are bedridden, or are taking care of many other people and other responsibilities, including disabled students, relatives, and friends, without the luxury of nannies, butlers, lawyers, advocates, or other paid or unpaid supports. In many instances it is not that parents and students are irresponsible and lazy, but that they have more responsibilities and are working to and beyond their individual capacities.

      I believe the encouragement now, is to engage families in a friendlier, more democratic and supportive way than the autocratic, top-down communication that is now most prevalent in America. Schools engage families now by threat. Hopefully, engagement will be engendered by mutual support. I also hope that more schools will consider alternatives to the lecture and homework at-home model, in which most parents now are forced to be or hire private tutors. The school model to which I refer is called Flipping endorsed by the NEA. Here’s the link: http://neapriorityschools.org/successful-students/flipping-the-classroom-homework-in-class-lessons-at-home-2

      This is where technology is used to deliver the lecture via school, library, or home computer, and the teacher is now student coach, mentor, and support in the classroom. Evidence-based best practices supports this educational delivery system. It is time. It is a new day–and we have the technology. It is time we use it.

  19. Karen Mapp’s work and that of her colleagues at Johns Hopkins and Harvard was part of my doctoral research, and it is heartening to see the concept of the triad of family, school, and student be reinforced with APTT. Family involvement or engagement is vital to the academic and school success of children, and yet it must be encouraged, taught, and nurtured from the classroom to the Board room. Preservice programs and districts need to expect that this concept will be offered as a required course, and then seek evidence of it during student teaching, and later in the districts, in teacher evaluation systems. I’ll be including it in the course I teach, and sharing with the teachers in my district to complement the culture change in teaching and learning. This is the third leg of the change stool for educators.

  20. Families are a strong part of the educational process for their children. It’s how schools develop a strong relational culture with students and their families. That’s key!

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