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Education Department Releases Family-Engagement Guide For Schools

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The U.S. Department of Education has created a family and community-engagement model that it hopes school districts and schools nationwide will use to establish and strengthen family-school partnerships to increase student achievement.

The department released the Dual Capacity-Building Framework for Family-School Partnerships today during the National Family Engagement Conference in Cincinnati. The District Leaders Network on Family and Community Engagement at the Institute for Educational Leadership, a Washington-based nonprofit that supports education initiatives, is hosting the conference. 

In a department blog post, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Education Jonathan Brice described the framework as "a process used to teach school and district staff to effectively engage parents and for parents to work successfully with the schools to increase student achievement." Karen L. Mapp, a senior lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, worked for the past three years with department officials to develop this framework. 

S. Kwesi Rollins, the director of leadership programs at the Institute for Educational Leadership, called the framework "a big step in the right direction" to assist school systems to develop systemic family-engagement initiatives and processes.

The model encourages schools to link student learning to family engagement—a critical point that parent-involvement advocates have been touting. Most believe that many so-called "drive-by" school-community events lack meaningful purpose because they are not tied directly to the school's curriculum or student-achievement efforts.

The family-engagement framework also highlights the need for school staff to "honor and recognize families' funds of knowledge." Both Michele Brooks, assistant superintendent in the Office of Family and Student Engagement for Boston Public Schools, and Tracy Hill, executive director in the Office of Family and Community Engagement for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, have told me in recent interviews that school districts must work with parents' strengths rather than focus on their perceived weaknesses. (Brooks and Hill are among Education Week's Leaders To Learn From.)

Brooks said educators must do a better job learning about the communities where their students live. She stressed that they need to understand those differences rather than condemn them.

In a videotaped address prepared for the National Family Engagement Conference, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said: "When parents are involved in the educational process of their children, students are more likely to attend school regularly, to take more rigorous courses, earn higher grades, and graduate and go on to both college and careers." 

Duncan added that the department would release additional resources in the coming months to help support districts and schools bolster their family-engagement efforts.

Duncan also is expected to discuss school-family partnerships on Twitter at 9 p.m. Tuesday. Duncan will join #PTchat or Parent and Teacher Chat, which is the Institute For Educational Leadership's weekly social media conversation that encourages parents, teachers, and family-engagement practitioners to talk about education issues and develop partnerships. 

Each #PTchat averages up to 600 contributors each week, Rollins said. The Twitter chats, which are normally held every Wednesday, have covered a variety of topics including, literacy, bullying, and wrap-around services for children.

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