“Home Visits Lifted Up as Best Practice by U.S. Department of Education”

I’ve written a lot about the Parent-Teacher Home Visit Project, including our school’s — and my — active involvement in it (see The Best Resources For Learning About Teacher Home Visits).

I’ve also posted about the U.S Department of Education’s “Parent and Community Engagement Framework,” which they released in April and which talks about home visits (see Department of Education Releases New Parent and Community Engagement Framework).

The Parent-Teacher Home Visit Project has just issued a press release talking about the framework and, though it’s a bit late, it does say some useful things about parent engagement and home visits.

So, I’ve decided to reprint it here:

Local Grassroots Effort Highlighted in National Education Policy
Home Visits Lifted Up as Best Practice by U.S. Department of Education

WASHINGTON, D.C. – An elementary school in crisis that was trained by the Parent Teacher Home Visit Project (PTHVP) has been recognized as a best practice in the U.S. Department of Education’s report “Partners in Education: Dual Capacity Framework for Family Engagement.” The document, meant to guide policy and funding priorities, explains the characteristics of “high-impact” family and community engagement that makes the most difference to student performance.

The findings were researched and written by Dr. Karen Mapp, a Harvard University expert on family engagement, and her Harvard colleague Paul Kuttner, a researcher and author focused on community-based school reform.

The much-anticipated report has emerged at a time when the practice of home visits is expanding: PTHVP, originally a grass roots organization in Sacramento, has now set up a national office which supports local affiliates in 15 states.

The report is also timely for experts in family engagement who are themselves engaged 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 New York Times (April 13, 2014). In engagement efforts, 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, say theorists, they can help their children be more successful.

So what, according to the report, makes a program “high-impact?”

First of all, activities must be relational. Trust and respect must be established between a school and its community before any progress can be made. Barriers to this relationship may include the fact that the school staff is different ethnically and/or culturally from their students’ community, and all parties may have had negative experiences or associations from the past. PTHVP trains participants to identify and reflect upon their previous assumptions. Once they connect with a shared vision, their hopes and dreams for their children, teachers and families have a common language and action plan for the child’s success.

Secondly, programs must have “dual capacity building” outcomes. This means that the program raises the competence, and confidence, in everyone involved (teachers, families, students) instead of knowledge being transmitted in only one direction. For example, at PTHVP, evaluations show that home visits result in improved academic performance and positive behavior in children. But the benefits don’t just go one way: teachers and family members experience transformation as well. Parents and guardians report more trust and collaboration with the teacher, which often leads to increased involvement in the school. And they feel better equipped to help their child achieve their goals. For teachers, they report a deeper knowledge of their student’s lives, which helps them differentiate curriculum and make the classroom more relevant. Teachers also report that doing home visits teaches them to leave negative assumptions behind, and see families as essential partners in their mission to teach. Despite the extra effort, teachers credit home visits with more rewards and less burnout.

In addition, the researchers find that the highest impact engagement methods are collaborative. Strong, sustainable efforts that stand the test of time are supported by more than one agency. This aspect is also relevant to the PTHVP model. In fact, the project was born as a collaboration between a community organizing group, ACT, the Sacramento City Unified School District (SCUSD), and the local teachers union, CTA. The unusual coalition focused on building trust between teachers and parents, and developed a model that endured and was replicated in districts across the US, each with their own collaboration of local stakeholders.

And lastly, family engagement activities must be linked to learning in order to have the highest impact. In the home visit model, the first visit to a family home is an opportunity to make a personal connection, and the second visit is used to discuss how to support the child with academic enrichment. PTHVP has also teamed with Academic Parent Teacher Teams (APTT), pioneered by Maria Paredes and WestEd, and has collected data that shows that when academic parent teacher meetings are preceded by home visits, both attendance and performance rises dramatically.

Looking for examples of programs that built trust and increased capacity in families and schools at the same time, the authors lift up the Parent Teacher Home Visit Project (PTHVP) method of home visits 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, Stanton Elementary was in crisis, and the district brought in new administration, teachers, and a myriad of reforms to turn around what was the lowest performing school in the district. Traditional strategies such as improved instruction and a new behavior management system were implemented, along with traditional engagement activities such as bake sales, dances, and parent teacher conferences, which were poorly attended. Things actually got worse: a year later, test scores were down, and suspensions were up.

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. The staff did 450 visits during the 2011–2012 school year, and followed the visits with 30 APTT meetings for families. By the end of the 2012 school year, the report states, Stanton increased their math scores more than 18% and reading scores by more than 9%. And both staff and families reported a transformation in the culture of the school, crediting the relationships established by the visits.

Engagement programs across the country, with their diverse goals and strategies, have some self-reflection in store. How close does their program 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, www.ed.gov

The Parent Teacher Home Visit Project www.pthvp.org

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