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District of Columbia Family Involvement Program Finds Success, Study Shows

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A family-involvement program in the District of Columbia school system is encouraging parents and teachers to work together with children on their academics—and it is showing some success. 

The program was featured in a March 29 story by Michael Levenson in the Boston Globe, as the Boston school system explores improving its family involvement. And the District of Columbia program is receiving national attention, especially with research from Johns Hopkins University backing up its successes.

This is the way the Boston Globe describes the program now in 23 Washington, D.C., public schools:

Rather than encourage parents to attend bake sales and spaghetti dinners—which have long been the domain of middle-class families and have no direct link to academic achievement—these schools are effectively training parents of all backgrounds to become informed and confident tutors at home.

A September 2015 study by Johns Hopkins, called the "Family Engagement Partnership: Student Outcome Evaluation," studied ties between 4,000 students in 12 elementary schools and their teachers and families' participation in the Family Engagement Partnership, which aims to improve how educators work with families. The program, which started in its first schools in 2011-12, is financially supported by the Flamboyan Foundation.

The study concluded that home visits could help: Students who had a home visit from an educator were absent 2.7 days fewer than those from families who had no home visits, a 24 percent improvement. Also, students with home visits scored higher on reading comprehension tests than those who did not receive home visits.

In addition to the home visits, the schools hold follow-up academic meetings, giving parents direction on what their children are learning in class and tips on helping children improve their achievement.

The Globe story focused on Beers Elementary School, where students are predominantly African-American and low-income.

"Our public school system is one that has not been a welcoming place for decades and decades and decades to people living in poverty, people of color, and people who don't 'speak teacher,' so we start with an assumption that parents love their children and want what's best for their children," said Vincent Baxter, deputy chief of family engagement in the Washington public schools.

The issue of parent engagement and Flamboyan Foundation's efforts have been featured in Education Week before, including when the program expanded in 2014. A 2011 story explored the issue of educators conducting home visits, such as the one promoted by Flamboyan.

But the question is, how far can such programs go?

That's something schools struggle with, as Michelle Brooks, who was assistant superintendent in charge of Boston's Office of Family Engagement from 2008 to 2015, noted in the Globe story. How do you make family engagement a "nonnegotiable" instead of an "add-on?" she asked.

Let us know what your schools doing. Are there home visits or other family-engagement programs that work? How effective are they in improving student achievement?

Contact Sarah Tully at [email protected].

Follow @ParentAndPublic for the latest news on schools and parental involvement.

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