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Missouri Teachers See Student Academic Gains After Making Home Visits

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Teachers in the St. Louis area are showing up at their students' doorstep twice a year.

Typically, in the first visit, teachers build a relationship with the parents and learn more about the students' home environment. In the second visit, teachers speak to the parents about the students' academic performance and offer suggestions about how the family can enhance learning at home.

Those scheduled visits, a recent study found, are paying off. Students who received teacher home visits through the St. Louis program Home Works! did better on state tests and had better attendance records than students whose homes had not been visited by teachers.

In 2014-15, 340 teachers (who have undergone training) made 3,645 home visits. To gauge the visit's effectiveness, independent researchers examined that year's school records for about 3,000 students attending four school districts in and around the St. Louis region—a diverse pool of students in urban, surburban, and rural areas. The researchers compared students in the Home Works! program—who are performing below grade level—to similar, matched samples of students who are not in the program.

Students who received one home visit scored 5 percent higher on state standardized tests, and were 13 percent less likely to miss two weeks or more of school compared to students receiving no visits. Students who received two home visits scored 7 percent higher on state tests, and were 25 percent less likely to be chronically absent. 

"Children in Missouri are in their school buildings less than 14 percent of the time each year. Schools can't do 100 percent of the work of educating children in 14 percent of the time," said Karen Kalish, the founder of Home Works!, in a statement. "Parents and families have an important role to play."

In schools that participate in the Home Works! program, half of the classroom teachers visit the homes of their students performing below grade level twice a year. Two teachers go on each visit, and they undergo two mandatory trainings. At both visits, the families are invited to a "family dinner" at the school, and teachers do whatever it takes to get the parents to attend—including providing child care or transportation. The teachers are paid for each home visit.

In 2011, Education Week reported that more districts, philanthropists, and teachers' unions are funding these teacher home-visit programs. The benefits are two-fold: Parents will likely be more engaged in their child's academic progress if they feel connected to their child's teacher. And visiting a student's home can give teachers valuable insight—for example, a teacher visiting the home of a student who never does his homework might learn that the child doesn't have a quiet space to do work. 

Home Works! also collected comments from principals and teachers about how the home visits have affected learning in their schools: 

  • An elementary school principal said suspensions were down from 50 last year to 20 this year, which he attributes to stronger relationships with parents.
  • One teacher said after home visits began, 96 percent of her students were completing their homework—an increase of about 50 percent from the previous year.
  • A middle school principal said two science teachers—one who has visited every one of her students' homes, and one who has visited none—gave the same assignment. Eighty-seven percent of the students in the home-visiting class turned in the assignment on time, compared to 30 percent of the students in the other class.
  • A teacher said the home visits have enhanced her relationships with her students and their parents—"My parents will call me instead of waiting for me to get in touch. My students are open and share things with me. I have a better understanding of behaviors and 'bad' days." 

In the 2015-16 school year, there were 2,062 teacher home visits in the St. Louis area. A future phase of the study will use random selection and scientific survey methods to shed more light on whether teacher home visits actually cause student improvement. 

File photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Education Week


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