The importance of parent engagement: A list of research and thought leadership

The following scholars and influencers are what we at Families and Schools Together, Inc. consider to be a select list of the current thought leaders in parent engagement. Along with offering ideas and methods for improving the school-family alliance, as well as identifying the most effective components of parent engagement programming, each influencer validates the strong relationship between parent engagement and student academic success. We provide a brief summary of each author, as well as their research and practice interests, and a list of relevant articles, books and key findings. We hope this list will offer information to support parent engagement efforts in your school or community.

1. Dr. Susan Auerbach

Dr. Susan Auerbach is an Associate Professor at Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at California State University Northridge. Susan Auerbach’s research interests include parent/family engagement in education, school-community partnerships, as well as social context of urban education. In her heavily cited work “Portraits of Leadership for Family Engagement in Urban Schools,” Dr. Auerbach details the qualities of effective leadership for engaging families in their child’s education.

Key Findings of this Qualitative Study:

  • Strong Belief in the Importance Parent Engagement: Effective school leaders “were convinced that meaningful family engagement was not only desirable, but possible in their schools, and that it was up to them to take proactive steps to achieve it.”
  • Proactive Roles: The school leaders were who were most likely to engage parents were also “more likely to be directly involved in initiating, planning, and implementing substantive activities with families, rather than appearing at events as figureheads and delegating the organization of activities to parent center staff”
  • Doing the Right Thing: A Social Justice Orientation: Effective leaders were motivated by an ethical commitment to social justice.

Selected Book: School Leadership for Authentic Family and Community Partnerships: Research Perspectives for Transforming Practice

With the apparent success of parent engagement at increasing student achievement, school leaders are increasingly encouraged to pursue meaningful alliances with communities and families. However, due cultural barriers and other challenges, school leaders are often left without the skills, tools and means to support authentic alliances. In order to establish socially-just schools, where parents are not only engaged but also leaders within the school community, school leaders must seek meaningful community-school partnerships. This book gathers the research surrounding school leadership and best practices regarding enthusing meaningful family-school collaboration.

2. Dr. James Comer

Dr. Comer is best known for establishing the Comer School Development Program in 1968, which is an institute that promotes the collaboration of parents, educators and communities to improve the academic trajectories of their children. With a strong foundation in developmental science, psychiatry and public health, Dr. Comer understands the social determinants of academic achievement and therefore emphasizes the importance of strong families in ensuring and preparing students for school success. Dr. Comer dedicates his research to understanding and identifying the developmental factors related to academic ability. In other words, Dr. Comer has identified the importance of strong, nurturing families on the development of children, especially those living in areas affected by poverty.

Selected Quote:

 “The purpose of school is not to raise test scores, but rather to prepare our young children to be successful in life. It starts with home life as early as possible.”

Selected article: Dr. Comer Emphasizes Development of the Whole Child

Selected book: What I Learned In School: Reflections on Race, Child Development, and School Reform (2009)

3. Dr. Joyce Epstein

Dr. Joyce L. Epstein is director of both the Center on School, Family, and Community Partnerships and the National Network of Partnership Schools, as well as a professor of education and sociology at Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Epstein’s research focuses on school leadership, as well as school programming and its effects on family and community involvement as well as academic achievement.

Dr. Epstein is perhaps most famous for her heavily cited framework on the six types of parent involvement.

  1. Parenting: Support the home environment and strengthen families so as to support students at school.
  2. Communicating: Create effective modes of school-to-home and home-to-school communications regarding school programs and child progress.
  3. Volunteering: Recruit parents to support school endeavors.
  4. Learning at Home: Share information regarding ideas for learning at home, as well what is going on in the classroom to support family-school alignment regarding educational endeavors.
  5. Decision Making: Empower parents to be leaders, and involve them in school decision-making.
  6. Collaborating with Community: Identify and integrate resources and services from the community to strengthen school programs, family practices, and student learning and development.

Selected Quote:

“The way schools care about children is reflected in the way schools care about the children’s families. If educators view children simply as students, they are likely to see the family as separate from the school. That is, the family is expected to do its job and leave the education of children to the schools. If educators view students as children, they are likely to see both the family and the community as partners with the school in children’s education and development.”

4. Dr. Nancy Hill

Dr. Nancy Hill is a developmental psychologist and focuses her research on the ways in which race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status affect parenting beliefs and behaviors across different racial and ethnic groups. In her research, she has identified the ways in which parent practices have different impacts on child mental health and behavior depending on demographic differences.

In a recent meta-analysis, Dr. Hill examined strategies that best promote academic achievement among middle schoolers, who historically show lower engagement and declines in academics performance.

Key Findings:

  • Across 50 studies, parental involvement was positively associated with achievement, with the exception of parental help with homework.
  • Involvement that reflected academic socialization had the strongest positive association with achievement.

Academic socialization includes “communicating parental expectations for education and its value or utility, linking school-work to current events, fostering educational and occupational aspirations, discussing learning strategies with children, and making preparations and plans for the future.”

Selected Quote:

“No Child Left Behind talks about parental involvement in terms of communication and accountability. But, too often, teacher-parent communication is problem-driven. If parents could receive more information about their children’s strengths and about curriculum content, they would be better equipped to offer effective guidance and to reinforce classroom learning in real world situations.”

5. Dr. William Jeynes

Dr. William Jeynes is a professor of Education at California State University, Long Beach. Dr. Jeynes has published over 100 academic articles with a broad range of focus, but is particularly dedicated to parent engagement programming. Recently, Dr. Jeynes synthesized over 51 empirical studies focused on the efficacy of school-based parent involvement programs. In doing so, Dr. Jeynes evaluated the effectiveness of parent involvement programs, as well as what components of programs tend to be most effective at increasing student achievement.

Key Findings of Meta-Analysis:

Parental involvement programs are associated with higher student achievement.

Of the different components within parent engagement programming studied in the meta-analysis, the components most effective at improving student academic achievement were programs that involved teacher-parent partnerships, teacher-parent communication, checking homework and shared reading.

Full Meta-Analysis can be found here.

Selected Book: Parental Involvement and Academic Success (2010)

6. Dr. Karen Mapp

Dr. Karen L. Mapp, Ed.D., is a senior lecturer on education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the faculty director of the Education Policy and Management master’s program. Dr. Mapp focuses her research on creating and strengthening family, community, and school partnerships in order to increase student achievement.

Key Findings:

Dr. Mapp, through her research, has identified that increased family engagement in schools is strongly associated with:

  • Faster rates of literacy acquisition among children
  • Increased rates of going on to secondary education among youth
  • Increased attendance rates among students
  • Decreased rates of school dropout among youth

Dr. Mapp has also identified that when schools conduct home visits, students show a 20% decline in absences at school and those children are also more likely to read at or above grade level than their peers without home visits.

Selected Quote:

“We have 50 years of research showing that what families do matters. Whether it’s loving school, college access, good attendance, or academic success, family engagement has positive correlations with all sorts of indicators.”

Suggestions for schools:

Dr. Karen Mapp, as a consultant on family engagement to the U.S. Department of Education, has established a framework for family-school partnerships. Within this framework, she has identified 5 key factors of strong family-school partnerships:

  • Linked to learning: Initiatives must be aligned with school and district achievement goals and connect parents to the teaching and learning goals for the students.
  • Relational: A major focus of the initiative is on building respectful and trusting relationships between families and district, school and program staff.
  • Developmental: The initiatives focus not only on providing a service but also on building the intellectual, social, and human capital of stakeholders engaged in the program.
  • Collective/Collaborative: Learning is conducted in group versus individual settings and focused on building strong networks and learning communities.
  • Interactive: Participants are given opportunities to test out, practice, and apply new skills.

In conclusion, we have detailed just a few of the thought leaders in parent engagement research to support and guide school stakeholders in their process of engaging and establishing strong alliances with parents in their community. Again, we hope that understanding importance of, and best practices in, parent engagement will help schools to support the academic trajectory of their students. Please look for more collation articles like this in the future to continue exploring and learning the latest developments in parent/family engagement.