Guest Post: Report From The National Family Engagement Conference

I’ve previously published short reports on last month’s National Family Engagement Conference. Today, Carrie Rose, Executive Director of the Parent-Teacher Home Visit Project, has written this guest post about it:

Parent-Teacher Home Visits Fit DOE’s Vision

Researcher Karen L. Mapp lifts up PTHVP in Family Engagement Framework

CINCINNATI- Back in the day, did your grandma help with costumes for the school play, or did your dad change a shift at work so he could attend your parent-teacher conference? These days, parent involvement is more important to schools than ever. New research shows that if schools are really going to meet the needs of 21st Century students, they’ve got to form more meaningful relationships with families. But there’s been controversy over which activities make a difference. Will Johnny read at grade level if his dad brings cookies for the bake sale?

In order to provide answers, Dr. Karen L. Mapp of the Harvard Graduate School of Education stood on the stage two weeks ago at the first National Family and Community Engagement Conference, hosted in Cincinnati by the Institute for Educational Leadership. In front of her were a few hundred of the nation’s family engagement professionals, charged with involving parents, grandparents and other guardians in their child’s life at school. Dr. Mapp announced that just that morning the U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, had released the graphic illustration “The Dual Capacity Building Framework for Family-School Partnerships.” With the official release, Dr. Mapp was able to take the audience through an outline of the framework, explaining the kind of relationships schools can build that make a lasting impact.

The Framework’s companion report,“Partners in Education: The Dual Capacity Building Framework for Family-School Partnerships,” also by Mapp and Kuttner, was released the next day by Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (SEDL).  The much-anticipated report has emerged at a time when the experts in family engagement are engaged themselves in debate. Books such as “Broken Compass: Parental Involvement with Children’s Education” by Keith Robinson and Angel L. Harris have inspired the media to issue provocative headlines, such as “Parental Involvement Is Overrated” in a recent New York Times (April 13, 2014). And the definition of parental involvement varies widely. In some programs, it has a social service bent, where adults are enticed to learn parenting skills with a free dinner, or giveaways of diapers or toys. Another family engagement approach is academic. If parents can be taught classroom subjects like long division, they can help their children be more successful.

The most effective programs, according to Dr. Mapp and the “Dual Capacity Building Framework,” have three main components: they 1) increase the capacity (skills, knowledge, and relationships) of the adults involved via a two-way street – families and staff learn from each other how best to meet the needs of the child;  2) build respect and trust using a relational approach, and 3) have activities tied to learning.

Looking for examples of programs that built trust and increased capacity in families and schools at the same time, Dr. Mapp lifted up home visits as a best practice in family engagement. The Parent Teacher Home Visit Project (PTHVP) method of home visits is described in the first of three case studies in the DOE report, which chronicles the turnaround of Stanton Elementary School in Southeast Washington DC.

In 2010, the school was in crisis, and a new principal came in with a new staff and myriad of reforms. But things got worse. Then in the summer of 2011, a partnership between local Flamboyan Foundation and DC Public Schools brought PTHVP in to train the staff to do home visits. And this, say Stanton teachers and parents, is what made the difference.

Trained teachers and other school staff visited their students’ families with the purpose of building relationships and trust. Participation, on the part of the teachers and the parents, was voluntary, and students were not targeted but picked randomly with the goal of visiting as many as possible. School staff entered the families’ homes and neighborhoods ready for the two-way learning and sharing process described by Dr. Mapp’s Framework as “Dual Capacity Building.”

“The visits are not designed to be assessments of families; rather, they are relational in nature and are specifically designed to be respectful of families’ assets and strengths and to build the capacity of both the educator and the family to support the academic and social success of every student.”

Parent Katrina Grant is quoted in the report as saying she was not initially open to school personnel coming to see her at home, but her feelings changed after the first visit.

“What made me more engaged was the home visit. When they first called about the home visit, first, I was skeptical. I thought it was a CPS (Child Protection Services) visit. For the teachers to take the initiative, to come to my area where I live and have no problem with it, to sit in my living room, and ask about me and my child, that really meant something to me. It meant that this person is going to be my partner, and we were going to work together, and she cares for my child. The whole time we discussed my child. For me, that was the first engagement that signaled a change for me.”

Both teachers and parents felt the higher levels of trust and respect at the school “immediately,” which is typical of the improved school culture that comes out of home visits. Independent evaluations have found improved attendance, decreased behavior issues, and improved student performance in schools that use the PTHVP model.

The PTHVP model fits other aspects of the DOE Framework, including recommendations for making the program systemic, embedded in curriculum, and sustainable.

Dr. Mapp, from Harvard, standing on the stage, spent a year working as a consultant to the Department of Education refining her research on what makes family engagement effective. The professionals, in the audience, came to the conference to be better at engaging families.  Each engagement program, with their very diverse goals and strategies, has some self-reflection in store. How close do their programs come to the DOE’s recommended framework? Do they build capacity in both families and schools? Do they mutually build trust and respect? And are they linked to learning? How will our answers to the above questions change our ideas of what is effective family engagement? Will it change what we fund and what we do? With time and funds in short supply, schools and districts, as well as parents and communities, must address these questions in light of the research.


For more information

Partners in Education: The Dual Capacity Building Framework for Family-School Partnerships at the Department of Education,

The Parent Teacher Home Visit Project

Carrie Rose, Executive Director, Parent Teacher Home Visit Project,, (916) 448-5290

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