What kinds of school-family connections are more likely to produce higher levels of student achievement? K12 educators are asking this as they implement various school-family-community involvement programs to comply with the No Child Left Behind act (NCLB). Fortunately, educational research offers insights and direction for school districts. For example, researchers Anne Henderson and Karen Mapp recently synthesized 51 high-quality studies on parent and community involvement, 31 of which address relationships between student achievement and parent-community involvement activities. Key recommendations include:
Link family involvement with learning. Henderson & Mapp found that parent involvement linked directly to student learning-for example, workshops that explain what students are doing in school and how parents can help-has a stronger association with achievement than general involvement.
Support children's learning at home. Henderson and Mapp also found that programs and interventions that engage families in supporting children's learning at home are also linked to higher achievement. For example, in two experimental studies where math kits were loaned to African American and Latino families and mothers were taught how to use the kits, the children developed greater math knowledge and skills in four months than did those in the control group (Starkey and Klein, 2000).
Help families influence student aspirations. According to the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988-a national sample of eighth-graders first surveyed in 1988-students whose parents communicated with them and supported their learning were more likely planning to finish college (Trusty, 1999). Similarly, in a meta-analysis of 25 studies, Fan and Chen (1999) found that parent expectations for their children to continue their education were associated with higher grades, test scores and passing rates.
Invite participation from diverse families. Cultural background and socio-economic levels appear to influence parent involvement in schools, and families with more education and income are typically more involved than other families. Numerous studies have also documented that Latino parents, while highly interested in their children's education, define the parent's role as nurturer and instiller of values and view education as the teacher's role. However, educational programs can mitigate such barriers. Most participating parents in a 2000 study reported realigning their parenting styles, discipline methods and communications with teachers.
Increase educator awareness of home, school and societal factors. Paul Barton (2003) synthesized much research and identified 14 factors associated with elementary and secondary school achievement. Six factors pertained to school conditions, including rigor of curriculum, teacher preparation, availability of technology-related instruction and school safety.
But eight factors were related to conditions outside school, including reading aloud to young children, amount of TV watching, parent availability, student birth weight, lead poisoning, and nutrition. For all 14 factors, Barton found gaps between minority and majority student populations. "There is fear that looking outside school will give excuses to the schools," Barton writes, but "denying the role of these outside happenings . . . will not help teachers and schools reduce achievement gaps." Greater awareness of home, school and societal factors within districts lead to responsive parent involvement practices and higher student achievement.
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