Promoting Equity through Family-School Partnerships

Promoting Equity through Family-School Partnerships

Striving to support growing populations of diverse students, states are increasingly employing family engagement strategies as a tool to promote educational equity. Many states are developing new and innovative approaches to integrate family engagement programs into their education systems.

The Dual Capacity-Building Framework for Family-School Partnerships, developed through a contract with the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (SEDL) and subsequently released by the U.S Department of Education in 2014, spurred states, districts, and schools to design initiatives that focus on building the capacity of educators and families to work collaboratively. States, local districts and schools can leverage these efforts to work with families as essential partners in supporting positive outcomes for all students.

The Family Engagement State Leaders Network is a national leadership collaborative, led by the American Institutes for Research, that builds state education agencies' capacity to implement, support, scale-up, and sustain quality family and community engagement programs that support student success. A primary focus of the Network has been to share and collect information about how states are incorporating the Dual Capacity-Building Framework into their statewide programs and policies.

Connecticut, a longstanding Network member, is one of many states aligning its work and policies with the Dual-Capacity Building Framework. The Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) recently organized its state family engagement conference around four key framework elements: 1) opportunities for partnerships; 2) conditions integral to the success of family–school partnerships; 3) strategies for building the capacities of staff and families to engage in partnerships; and 4) outcomes of successful family-school partnerships (see diagram).

The conference underscored that family engagement is an equity issue. Connecticut Education Commissioner Dianna R. Wentzell told some 250 conferees that "It's vital to understand that promoting educational equity necessitates family engagement. It is when families are authentically engaged and listened to as active partners that our students reach their full potential and graduate college and career ready." She also called the framework a centerpiece of the CSDE's new Plan for Equitable Access to Excellent Educators, developed to help ensure that students of all races, ethnicities and family income levels have equitable access to excellent educators.

ED's renewed emphasis on family engagement parallels equally encouraging developments in states. Commissioner Wentzell announced at the Connecticut conference that the state is developing a work group to look at how we can better support family engagement through our many different initiatives. She added, "Recognizing that we must work with parents to develop and implement policies and programs instead of attempting to bring them on board after the fact, I am convening the Commissioner's Round Table for Family Engagement in Education – to be made up of parents and guardians, along with school and district staff and community representatives." Expressing the excitement of many conferees at the prospect of putting the Dual Capacity-Building Framework into action, one participant said, "Parent engagement is key to the success of our children. Now it is time for the public, community, family and school to work together."

Connecticut's work so far is just one example of how states are partnering with families and advancing equity through family engagement. Initiatives like this that aim to build families' capacity to support student achievement can be strong levers for addressing racial and economic disparities. How does your state or district promoting family-school partnerships to improve student outcomes?

Lacy Wood, Principal Technical Assistance Consultant, American Institutes for Research
Judy Carson, Ph.D., Program Manager for School-Family-Community Partnerships, Connecticut State Department of Education