An Interview with Joyce Epstein: About Parental Involvement

An Interview with Joyce Epstein: About Parental Involvement

An Interview With Joyce Epstein: About Parental Involvement
Wednesday, November 23 , 2005
Suzi Cottrell
Michael F. Shaughnessy
Senior Columnist
Eastern New MexicoUniversity
Portales, New Mexico

Although a lot of people talk about parental involvement, Joyce Epstein is someone who has consistently done something in this area. For more than 20 years she has been conducting research to understand the components and effects of partnerships. For more than 10 years, she has been helping educators put the research to use in practice to develop more effective programs of family and community involvement..

Joyce L. Epstein, Ph.D., is currently Director of the Center on School, Family, and Community Partnerships and the National Network of Partnership Schools (NNPS), and Research Professor of Sociology at JohnsHopkinsUniversity. She has over one hundred publications, with many on family and community involvement. In all of her work, she is interested in the connections of research, policy, and practice.

In this interview, she reviews issues regarding partnerships, discusses involvement, and the importance of positive communications between educators and parents. She highlights the work that she has done in this area and discusses how to develop programs that are effective and sustainable.

1) What is a partnership program?

There is no topic in education on which there is greater agreement than the need for "parent involvement." Everyone wants more and better involvement, but most educators need help in how to develop productive programs of school-family-community partnerships.

In order for families and communities to become informed about and involved in children's education and in the schools, partnerships must be viewed as an essential component of school organization. A good program must be planned, just as a reading or math program is planned, rather than be treated as an optional activity or a matter of public relations. It takes time, organization, and effort to develop and sustain an effective partnership program.

Over the past decade, researchers, educators, parents, students, community members, and others have worked together to learn how to help all elementary, middle, and high schools plan, implement, evaluate, and continually improve programs of family and community involvement that contribute to student success in school. The National Network of Partnership Schools (NNPS) at Johns Hopkins University invites schools, districts, and state departments of education to work together to use research-based approaches to develop more effective programs of family and community involvement. (See more information.)

2) What are your six types of involvements?

The framework of six types of involvement helps educators develop more comprehensive programs of school-family-community partnerships.

Each type of involvement includes many different practices of partnership. Each type has particular challenges that must be met in order to involve all families, and each type requires redefinitions of some basic principles of involvement. Finally, each type leads to different results for students, families, and teachers .

Although all schools may use the framework of six types of involvement as a guide, each school must choose particular practices that will help achieve its goals for students and meet the needs of its students and families.

· TYPE 1--PARENTING: Assist families with parenting and child-rearing skills, understanding child and adolescent development, and setting home conditions that support children as students at each age and grade level. Assist schools in understanding families.

· TYPE 2--COMMUNICATING: Communicate with families about school programs and student progress through effective school-to-home and home-to-school communications.

· TYPE 3--VOLUNTEERING: Improve recruitment, training, work, and schedules to involve families as volunteers and audiences at the school or in other locations to support students and school programs.

· TYPE 4--LEARNING AT HOME: Involve families with their children in learning activities at home, including homework and other curriculum-linked activities and decisions.

· TYPE 5--DECISION MAKING: Include families as participants in school decisions, governance, and advocacy through PTA/PTO, school councils, committees, and other parent organizations.

· TYPE 6--COLLABORATING WITH THE COMMUNITY: Coordinate resources and services for families, students, and the school with businesses, agencies, and other groups, and provide services to the community.

3) What are some essential steps for developing a school-based program of school-family-community partnerships?

Our handbook, School, Family, and Community Partnerships: Your Handbook for Action, Second Edition (Corwin Press, 2002) outlines many steps that any elementary, middle, and high school may take to organize its work on family and community involvement. Among other actions, schools must:

· Create or identify an Action Team for Partnerships consisting of teachers, parents, and an administrator that is a committee or "action arm" of the School Council or School Improvement Team. Community partners may be added to the team. At the high school level, students also serve on the team.

· Obtain funds and official support for developing a partnership program. Principals must strongly support school-based plans for family and community involvement, but district leaders also are key for helping schools strengthen their teamwork and plans for partnerships.

· Provide training and guidelines to Action Team members for understanding the framework of six types of involvement and for implementing goal-linked practices of partnership.

· Identify starting points --present activities, strengths and weaknesses. An inventory called "Starting Points" is included in the handbook for schools to take stock of present practices to involve families and community partners.

· Write a one-year action plan for partnerships. This detailed action plan should be appended to the school improvement plan. It shows how families and community partners will be involved with teachers, students, and administrators to help students and the school reach important goals. The action plan may serve as a "school-parent compact" - a detailed plan for partnerships to improve student achievement and success - for Title I schools.

· Enlist staff, parents, students, and community groups to help conduct activities. The Action Team for Partnerships calls upon many to provide ideas, lead activities, and participate as partners in the activities that are in the one-year action plan.

· Evaluate the quality of implementations and results . The Handbook for Action includes "built in" evaluation tools. Also the National Network of Partnership Schools (NNPS) helps schools and districts assess progress every year.

· Conduct annual celebrations, share best practices, and report progress to all participants.

· Continue working toward a comprehensive, on-going, positive program of partnerships that reaches out to inform and involve all families.

There also are guidelines for district leaders to enable them to facilitate the work on partnerships in all elementary, middle, and high schools.

4) Communication seems to be key in a partnership program. What are some results you have seen from Type 2 involvement?

Many positive results happen when there are clear communications among teachers, students, and parents. Type 2 communications, for example, help students become more aware of their own progress in various subjects and, with teachers' and parents' assistance, take action to maintain or improve their grades. . Good communications with students and families also help students make informed decisions about their courses or about special programs at the school. At all grade levels, students are key to good partnerships. They must gain an awareness of their own role as couriers of messages from school to home and from home to school.

There also are results for parents. Good communications from teachers and administrators help parents understand school programs and policies. They can monitor their child's progress in various subjects and respond to students' problems more quickly and more positively, if problems arise.

Finally, good communications produce results for teachers. Teachers learn different ways to communicate with parents and gain skills to communicate more clearly in print, by phone, and using new technologies. . With clear communications, teachers may better understand family views about school matters and more successfully guide parents to help students when they have academic or behavioral problems.

5) How do members of NNPS fund their partnership programs?

Members of the National Network of Partnership Schools must allocate a budget to fund the activities planned for their partnership program. Running a successful partnership program does not have to cost a lot of money at the school level. Studies of NNPS schools indicate that funding must adequately cover the activities for the six types of involvement that are scheduled in the One-Year Action Plan for partnerships. On average, a school can start a program of partnerships with about $2500 per year, or, in per pupil expenditure terms, about $10 per student. No doubt more money could be spent, but there are a lot of things a school can do to develop strong partnerships with their families and community that do not require large budgets.

Most schools already spend money on partnership activities but have not identified those expenses in a line-item budget for partnerships. For example, if your school has a newsletter, the money spent on paper and printing counts as funds for school, family, and community partnerships. Or, your school may spend money on postage to mail communications home. Or, your school may conduct an open house at the start of the school year that requires refreshments and other support.

One of the purposes of requiring that schools allocate an annual budget for partnership activities is to help educators recognize that they already spend money on partnership activities, to identify the different budgets or categories from which the money comes, consider helpful reallocations, and to re-assign those funds for school, family, and community partnerships to a specific line-item in the budget so that there will be fuller accountability for the benefits of partnership programs. Funds from Title I, Title II, Title VI, Safe and DrugFreeSchools, and other federal and state programs can be used to support partnership practices because these programs require or support parental involvement.

NNPS analyzed data from members on their 1998 UPDATE progress report that revealed some important findings about how schools, districts, and states fund partnerships and how this funding influences the quality of partnership programs. Read, "Network Members Report Low Costs for Quality Partnership Programs," from Type 2, No. 7, fall, 1999 for more information. See a chart on funding levels and sources of funds for partnerships in the Handbook for Action, Second Edition (p. 270) .

6) What is TIPS?

Researchers at NNPS worked with many teachers to design, implement, and test a teacher-parent partnership process called Teachers Involve Parents in Schoolwork (TIPS) Interactive Homework. With TIPS, any teacher can regularly help all families stay informed and involved in their children's learning activities at home, and help all students complete homework that should promote greater success in school. TIPS Interactive Homework asks teachers to design homework that guides students to show, share, and discuss ideas with a family partner.

Many prototype assignments are available for elementary math (grades K-5) and middle grades language arts, science, and math (grades 6-8) that may be adopted or adapted. TIPS helps schools implement meaningful Type 4 -Learning at Home activities without expecting parents to "teach" school subjects, which is not fair or possible for the vast majority of parents. Still, all parents want to know how their children are doing in class, and can be guided to have positive conversations about schoolwork with their children. For information on TIPS, teacher manuals for the elementary and middle grades, and a CD with over 500 examples of interactive homework, visit click on the TIPS section.

7) What are the goals of TIPS Interactive Homework?

TIPS interactive homework has several goals. Good assignments that help students talk about their work with a family partner should do the following:

· Build students' confidence by requiring them to show their work, share ideas, gather reactions, interview parents, or conduct other interactions with a family partner.

· Link schoolwork with real-life situations.

· Help parents understand more about what their children are learning in school.

· Encourage parents and children to talk regularly about schoolwork and progress.

· Enable parents and teachers to frequently communicate about children's work, progress, or problems.

8) Why is parent involvement in schoolwork important?

Educators are increasingly aware of the importance of involving parents in the education of their children. Research shows that parent involvement improves student achievement. When parents are involved, children do better in school. Parental encouragement and assistance contribute to students' higher achievement, report card grades, better attitudes, and higher aspirations. For a research summary of recent studies on the development of partnership programs and effects for students conducted by NNPS researchers from 2000-2005, visit click on Research Summary on the homepage.


November 23rd, 2005

Michael F. Shaughnessy

Senior Columnist