From Public Relations to Partnerships: A Changing Paradigm in School, Family, and Community Relations

Prepared By

Howard Kirschenbaum
Frontier Professor Of School, Family And Community Relations
Margaret Warner Graduate School Of Education
And Human Development
University of Rochester
Rochester, New York


Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education David Seeley has written that, in American education, there are "two underlying concepts at the heart of the successful reforms now underway: (1) a shift to much higher standards and expectations for children's learning, and (2) a shift to a collaborative model to achieve these expectations."[1] Indeed, from the nineteen eighties to the present, this shift to a collaborative model has involved dramatic changes in school, family and community relations in the United States. These changes may be organized in the following framework:

School-Family Relations[2]

1. Parenting and Parent Education
2. School-Family Communication
3. Parent Involvement in School
4. Parent Involvement in Schoolwork
5. Parent Empowerment

School-Community Relations
1. School-Linked Services
2. Community Curricular Enrichment
3. Mentoring/Tutoring
4. School to Work Programs
5. Community Support
6. Service Learning
7. Community Schools

When viewed one area at a time, particular changes in practice might easily appear to be interesting, promising, useful innovations and improvements, but nothing startling or earth-shaking in themselves. However, when viewed collectively, changes occurring in recent years can be seen not merely as a quantitative difference in the number of useful practices, but as a qualitatively different model that rises to the level of a new paradigm in school-family-community relations.

This paper attempts to describe the new paradigm and the practices it encompasses. Moreover, it argues that the sincerity, speed, and effectiveness with which the field of education embraces the new paradigm will significantly affect the future of public education in the United States.


Attitude Shift

Older Paradigm:     "We're the professionals and we know best. Let us do our job."
                              "You do your job; we'll do ours."
                              "I taught them for the first five years; now it's up to you teachers."

Newer Paradigm:     "To do our job as professionals, we need your active support and
                                 "We need to work together so each of us can do our jobs."
                                 "I taught them for the first five years; now I look forward to
                                 working with you in the coming twelve years."

Particular practices aside, the newer paradigm involves a significant change in attitudes on the part of schools, families and communities. The earlier model can be characterized as one of "public relations," in which the goal is to create a public perception that the schools are doing a good job; so the public will continue to support the schools financially, parents will tell their kids to work hard and listen to their teachers, parents will participate and help out when needed, and beyond that, the parents and community will stay out of the school's way. The newer model can be characterized as one of "partnerships," where the goal is to create active working relationships in which schools, families and communities see one another as natural allies and welcome and initiate many strategies for collaborating on behalf of the community's children.

For the school, this is a profound shift in attitude. When administrators and teachers are stressed by too many students, too little time, too few resources, and too many discipline problems which sap time and energy from teaching and school improvement; and when administrators and teachers' previous experiences with parent and community involvement has often been to "waste time" at unproductive PTA meetings or defend themselves against irate parents who refuse to hold their children accountable for irresponsible behavior, or defend the schools against community members who behaved in untrustworthy, unfair or uncivil ways, it is understandable that their reaction to the thought of more parent and community involvement would be "No way! We don't have the time or energy for that. Would you please just leave us alone and let us do our job!"

How, then, do we account for other schools, who have made the shift in attitude and who seek out opportunities to communicate and work with their constituents? Their families fill the classroom or auditorium at school functions. Thousands of parents and community members come in and out of the schools to work with teachers and classes on curriculum and instruction and serve as mentors and tutors. Administrators communicate the attitude: "I welcome parent involvement. I'm glad when a parent comes in to complain; because if I can pull it off, that parent is going to leave my office as a volunteer." This is an entirely different attitude from public relations. It reflects the conviction that, in the end, good partnerships with families and communities lead to more community support for education, more motivated students, fewer discipline problems, and more time for teaching and learning.

The benefits of parent involvement on student achievement are reasonably well-documented[3], but so are the formidable barriers to parent involvement in schools: parents working long hours; both parents working; single-parents barely able to cope with all their responsibilities; transportation difficulties; child-care issues; fears over safety, especially for evening meetings; cultural and language barriers; some parents' finding schools intimidating; others addicted to drugs or alcohol; and some parents just too stressed, distressed or depressed to find the energy to care.[4] In spite of these obstacles, many schools and school districts have been raising the bar in their expectations and practices for parent involvement. Their success is based not only on the specific parental involvement practices they employ, but just as important, on an attitude shift from "You do your job and we'll do ours" to "We sink or swim together."

1. Parenting and Parent Education

Older Paradigm:     Parenting is the parents' job.

Newer Paradigm:     Parenting is the parents' job, and
                               Parents often need the school's support to do their job effectively.

It has always been the parents' responsibility to foster cognitive develop in their children's early years; to teach basic literacy and numeracy skills by reading to their children and teaching them to count; and to foster social, moral, and character development. These responsibilities still are and always will be the job of the parent. When the parent is unable or unwilling to fulfill these roles, the child comes to school less prepared to learn and to be a good citizen of the classroom and the school community. Unfortunately, too many children do come to school ill-prepared to succeed. This is not new; a certain number of children have always been disadvantaged in this respect. But now, a growing number of children are entering school with a poor foundation of cognitive, social, and emotional skills for successful learning. In addition, a growing number of parents are having difficulty parenting their adolescent children. This, too, results in young people adrift, with diminished attention and motivation to succeed in school and life.

Schools can throw up their hands and disclaim responsibility; or they can try to do something about it. Disclaiming responsibility may leave children and teenagers without the parental support they need. So, reluctantly, many schools have taken on the challenge, as have other agencies and community groups, and begun to offer parenting and parent education classes to their students' parents. They do this because they recognize there is no more powerful aid to children's success in school than effective parenting.

Some schools use nationally tested and disseminated programs like Home Instruction Program for Preschool Youth (HIPPY) and Parents as Teachers (PAT), which include home visitors teaching parents how to work with their children to foster cognitive and social development.[5] Others offer extensive parent education classes in the school building or district. Classes are typically one or two-session programs on specific topics like: Teaching Your Child to Read, How to Help Your Child With Math, Child Development, Helping Your Child With Homework, Communication Skills, Understanding Your Adolescent, and a myriad of other subjects. Some districts develop longer parent education courses and workshop series on how to foster children's reading and mathematics skills and overall cognitive and social development.[6] Some schools have "family resource centers" to coordinate parent classes, parent support groups, and informational resources for parents.[7]

It's not fair, one might say. Schools should not have to assume the additional responsibility of parent education. But many schools are choosing to do so, because they care about the children and their success in school.

2. School-Family Communication

Older Paradigm:     Occasional communication.
                              Limited variety of methods.
                              One-way communication: school to home.
                              Culturally and linguistically homogeneous.

Newer Paradigm:     Frequent communication.
                               Wider variety of methods.
                               Two-way communication.
                               Culturally and linguistically sensitive.

Schools have always communicated with the families of their students. Sometimes such communication is productive, as when teachers give students a letter to parents, students deliver the letter, parents read it, and parents respond appropriately. Sometimes communication is not successful, as when students do not deliver the letter, parents do not read it, parents do not understand it because they do not read English, or parents do not respond as requested. In recent years, many schools have ratcheted up the frequency and variety of their communication, employing a wide variety of methods to amply inform parents about what is happening in the schools and how they can help and participate in their children's education. In addition, schools are encouraging home-to-school communication, to empower parents to communicate regularly with the teachers and staff about how the school can be more effective in educating their children. Such methods include:

 •     Written Communications such as: letters from teacher and school (often with a section for
       the parent's response); newsletters from the teacher and school; a school calendar filled
       with useful information; information booklets and pamphlets.

 •     Phone Calls by the teacher, principal, or parent liaison - not just when there are problems,
       but also to share good news about the students' accomplishments and encourage parent
       attendance at upcoming events.

 •     Using Technology to enhance communication, including creative use of voice mail and
       voice messaging, homework hotlines, email, and school web-sites.[8]

 •     Home Visits by the teacher, principal or parent liaison.

 •     School Events for the purpose of communication, including: student-parent orientations
       before school begins; student-parent-teacher days; open house and back-to-school nights;
       parent-teacher conferences; and required report card pick-up meetings.

 •     Enhanced Quality of Communication, through: translating letters and written materials
       into the language of the parent; providing language interpreters at parent meetings; giving
       faculty and staff human relations and communications training to help them communicate
       more effectively with parents; training teachers and administrators in conflict resolution

 •     Transportation Help to parents for meetings and school events, including rides or
       reimbursement for travel.

 •     New Roles and Structures to facilitate communication with parents, including: parent
       centers as a place for communication; parent liaison, parent coordinator, family-school
       coordinator, and other para-professional positions designed specifically to enhance
       communication; parent/teacher outreach team, public engagement task force, Action Team,
       or other team structures in schools to focus on parent involvement.

An example may help to make this list of ideas more vivid. Bruce Davis is a principal in a multicultural elementary school with students from a wide variety of countries and ethnic groups. School newsletters are sent home in English, Spanish, Vietnamese and Chinese. Parent meetings are conducted with simultaneous translation in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, and the Chinese dialects of Cantonese, Mandarin, Chao Chow, and Fukienese. Davis also makes frequent phone calls to his students' parents. The teachers give him positive things to say about the children, so he can call their parents and say:

Mrs. Wheat, this is Mr. Davis. How are you today? I'm fine, thank you. I'm calling to congratulate you because Rebecca received the Student of the Week award from her teacher, Mrs. Rietow. Rebecca received the award because she's completed all her assignments ahead of time and volunteered to assist other students with their math. She turned in a beautiful art project as part of our Discipline-Based Art Education program, and she's always kind to her fellow classmates. Mrs. Rietow and I are very proud of Rebecca, and I wanted to call and congratulate you. Please tell Rebecca I called.[9]

That was his side of the conversation. He also uses such calls as an opportunity to hear if parents have any particular questions or concerns. Davis uses some of his weekend time to make such calls. He says he has fine-tuned his method so that in two hours he can reach about 40 families. At 40 families per week, since some families have more than one child in the school, he reaches each family in his school about 5-6 times per year! The parents love to receive these calls; the students love it and also know the school is communicating regularly with their parents; the principal has his finger on the pulse of the community; and the principal establishes relationships with all the parents that later pay off in more positive interactions, support for the teachers and school, and more volunteers when they are needed. Says Davis, "Without a doubt, with this system everybody wins."

3. Parent Involvement in School

Older Paradigm:     Parents attend functions and events.
                              Parents volunteer.

Newer Paradigm:     Same, plus:
                               Structured learning events for families.

It has always been important for parents to attend functions and events at school. Attending concerts, plays, awards assemblies, sports events, science fairs, and other performances and exhibitions is one way that parents can support and encourage their children, by showing them that they care about their child's activities and appreciate their accomplishments, and by demonstrating by their presence that school is an important place worthy of their attendance. Parents sometimes do not realize how important their presence at these events is to their children, whatever the child's age; so many schools are reminding parents of their responsibility in this area, encouraging them to see their attendance at school events not just as helping their children feel good, but an opportunity to help them succeed in school.

Similarly, parents' volunteering to chaperone school field trips and dances, to enrich the curriculum by sharing their experiences and skills, to help organize and conduct school events, and to assist the teacher in numerous ways have always been and remain important ways that parents can support the school, learn what is happening in the school, and show their children that they value education. It is true that many parents work long hours and do not have time to volunteer during the school day, and many single parents cannot leave their other children in the evening to volunteer at the school; so teachers often find other ways that parents can volunteer from home. Schools that have won the support of families find a substantial number of parents who are willing and able to volunteer, especially when asked directly.

Beyond these traditional, but important methods for involving parents in the school, many schools are creating new occasions for families to come together around learning activities.[1]0 "Family Fun and Learning Nights" is one such model, which the Arundel Elementary School in Baltimore employs one evening each month. The learning nights are designed "to bring parents, student and school staff together in a non-threatening, enjoyable situation where trust and a feeling of community and family can be developed; to help motivate students to learn by making learning fun, non-threatening, and a sociable experience; and to give parents ideas and tools for extending learning at home."[11] Such evenings include: Family Fun Computer and Calculator Night, Family Fun Science Night, Family Fun Math Night, Family Fun Story-telling and Music Night, Family Fun Reading Night, and Family Fun Writing and Art Night. Parents, students, siblings and other relatives can attend. Refreshments, sometimes meals, are served. Attendance is regularly 200-300 people. The principal says it was a major strategy in turning their inner city school from one that was failing so badly the state was about to take it over to one that is steadily improving.

The Arundel School's model was developed in-house. Other schools employ nationally disseminated programs, such as "Family Math," for bringing families, students and teachers together to advance learning and positive school-family relations.[12]

4. Parent Involvement in Homework

Older Paradigm:     Parent monitors and, if able, helps.

Newer Paradigm:     Same, plus:
                               Parent participates.

Schools have always expected parents to monitor their children's homework, and rightfully so. It is expected that parents will ask their children if they have any homework, ask them if they have completed their homework, remind them to do their homework, insist that they do their homework, and limit television or other activities until they do finish their homework - all in appropriate doses, with impeccable timing, diplomatically worded, and always welcomed by the child, of course. Moreover, if needed and if the parents are able, it could be expected that parents will help their children with problems they are having with their homework - again, never too much, never too little, but just the right amount of help delivered, and always received with great acceptance and appreciation by the young scholar.

All right, it's never been easy; but for generations conscientious parents have done their best. All parents, however, are not conscientious. And many parent who would like to be conscientious do not, by virtue of their own educational deficits, feel confident or competent to help their children with homework. So schools, knowing the importance of parents' motivating and supporting their children's homework, have increasingly begun to actively teach parents how to help their children at home.

Often this takes the form of teaching basic guidelines that might be common sense to some, but are not obvious unless one grew up in a home that valued and monitored the children's education. Such guidelines would include providing a quiet and conducive place of study, establishing routines including a regular time for homework, providing needed schoolwork supplies, and the like. Some schools also establish procedures for letting parents know what homework has been assigned, such as phone numbers parents can call to hear an announcement with the homework assignments, or a special notebook in which the teacher has her students write down the assignment and the parent knows to check that notebook each night.

Beyond the ways that teachers and schools help parents fulfill their traditional role of monitoring and supporting children's homework, many schools have also begun to employ methods by which parents actually participate in their children's homework. Such interactive methods might include having the parent:
 •     Observe a demonstration
 •     Play a support role, with no new input, ideas or experiences by the parent required
 •     Provide brief feedback to the teacher about the child's performance
 •     Participate in the assignment by responding with new input, ideas, or experiences, as
       requested by child
 •     Do an assignment together, participating as partners
 •     Help organize the homework, following instructions provided by the teacher

One such model being disseminated nationally is the Teachers Involving Parents in Schoolwork or TIPS program developed at Johns Hopkins University. Many sample learning activities have been designed for elementary and middle school language arts, math and science classes. In an elementary school math assignment, the child demonstrates to the parent how to convert words to numbers (for example, twelve thousand, three hundred fifty two becomes 12,352). In a middle school language arts homework assignment, the parent gets even more involved than watching a demonstration, as the student, who is learning about adjectives, asks the parent to fill in the blanks in sentences like the following, as the student writes in the parent's answers: "_______ [student's name] comes from a _____ family." "He/she was a _____ baby." "As he/she got older, he/she became more ______".[13] At the end of each TIPS interactive homework assignment, the parent (or other caring adult, if the child's parent is not available) checks one of the following choices:

 • _____ OK. Child seems to understand this skill.

 • _____ PLEASE CHECK. Child needed some help on this, but seems to understand.

 • _____ PLEASE HELP. Child still needs instruction on this skill.

 • _____ PLEASE NOTE (other comments). _________________________________

Finally the parent signs his or her name. Even parents with minimal education can participate successfully in TIPS interactive homework. The research shows that of all parent involvement methods for increasing school achievement, getting parents involved in supporting children's homework is one of the most important.[14] Teachers at all grade levels can learn how to involve parents in children's homework_once they begin to think of parents as partners.

5. Parent Empowerment

Older Paradigm:     Parents vote for school board.
                              Parents vote on budget and bond issues.
                              All other decisions made by professionals.
                              Parents conform to system.
                              Parents' rights limited.

Newer Paradigm:     Same first two, plus:
                               Parents sit on decision-making and school improvement teams.
                               System tries to accommodate parents.
                               Parents' rights expanded.

Of all areas within the umbrella of school-family relations, the one which is most dramatically different in the shift from the older to the newer paradigm is that of parent empowerment. All across the country, parents are becoming more meaningfully involved in shared decision making and school improvement efforts_working on teams at each school site and on the district level, and sitting on various committees and task forces on strategic planning, standards, public engagement, values and character education, assessment, discipline, violence prevention, and more. Parents sit on committees to hire the new superintendent and school administrators. Some districts are beginning to experiment with parents having input into teacher evaluation, at least as far as the teachers' parent involvement practices are concerned.[15] In many cases the roles are purely advisory. In many cases the parents have real power; their vote counts as much as that of professional staff.

Beyond decision making processes, there is an increasing movement to accommodate parents' requests for alternative curricular assignments. Within the public relations paradigm, skillful school administrators have always found ways to "keep parents happy" without disrupting the policies and procedures necessary to run a school system. Something more is at work in the newer paradigm, where administrators and teachers recognize that parents have a legitimate interest in their children's education, and short of pulling them out of the public school and enrolling them in a private school, they ought to have some choices regarding their children's education. Sex education has been a frequent battleground for this issue, where parents and interest groups have lobbied vigorously for their preferred approach to "abstinence only," "comprehensive," "character-based," or other approaches to human sexuality education. Whatever methods the schools have chosen, they have increasingly included "opt-out" provisions, within reason, for parts of the curriculum that might offend some parents.[16] This has sometimes been limited by state mandates for AIDS education or other required content.

On a broader level than particular curriculum units or courses, the movement to accommodate and empower parents in choices about their children's education has fueled the "school choice" movement, which is one of the most controversial and contentious issues in American education. From magnet schools to charter schools to vouchers and tuition tax credits, school choice has been seen as a way to meet students and families' diverse educational needs and philosophies, as well as invigorate educational establishments with new energy and healthy competition. Even short of the more controversial steps of vouchers and tax credits, parental choice has already increased significantly through: open enrollment policies in urban and suburban districts, whereby parents can send their children to any appropriate school in the district; magnet schools, in which the programs are intentionally different to appeal to different types of students and their diverse needs; and charter schools, which are organized independently or semi-independently of the school district to provide even greater diversity of choice. Charter schools legislation now exists in at least half the states, and charter schools number in the hundreds.[17]

How far can or should school choice go? Clearly, public funding of religious schools through vouchers and tax credits has been and will continue to be tested in the courts. Short of that, districts are beginning to explore the limits of choice within the public school context, including the establishment of schools with very distinct learning approaches_from constructivist to Afrocentric to those organized around tradition, uniforms, phonics, and cultural literacy. All this raises intriguing issues regarding how parents choose among different schools (grapevine, convenience, values, etc.) and whether and how school choice affects parent satisfaction and student performance.

In any case, the movement toward parent empowerment is not just taking place on the local district level. Some states have mandated parent participation on decision-making committees and passed school choice legislation. The Federal government has granted considerable power to parents of children with special needs. Currently, legislation before Congress would grant parents sweeping rights that could significantly change the balance of power between parents and schools.[18]

To accept the basic premise of the newer paradigm - that parents should be given the opportunity, as is their right, to have a more meaningful decision-making role in their children's education - does not necessarily commit one to all proposals for parent empowerment now being advocated. It is not clear how far parent empowerment will extend, but it is clear that the trend toward parent empowerment today represents a considerable departure from business as usual.


Attitude Shift

Older Paradigm:     "Give us the money and leave us alone."

Newer Paradigm:     "It takes a village to raise a child."

Just as the changing paradigm in school-family relations requires a change in attitude and perception that underlies the particular strategies one might adopt, the changing field of school-community relations involves an attitude shift of equal magnitude.

Depending on the paradigm employed, boundaries between school and community are viewed in a diametrically different fashion. In the older paradigm, there is a rigid, relatively impermeable boundary between school and community. Education takes place in the school building under the direction of the professional staff. Aside from the occasional field trip and current events discussion, the world beyond the school rarely penetrates the halls of learning. In the newer paradigm, the boundaries between school and community become much more permeable and the attitude of the faculty and administration much more receptive to intercourse with the community . Community volunteers become common sights in classrooms, laboratories, and tutoring/mentoring settings throughout the school, enriching academic and social development. Students actively learn out in the community. Education is related to the real world of work, and business and industry actively support the schools through a variety of funding mechanisms. Community members view the schools as "their schools" as they participate in a wide variety of recreational,. educational, and community activities there.

1. School-Linked Services

Older Paradigm:     Health and human services are separate from school.
                              Occasional information or referrals are provided.

Newer Paradigm:     Health and human services are in the school or closely linked to it.

Although there have been a number of periods in the past century when schools were seen and used as effective venues for helping children receive the health and social services needed to get a fair start in life and learning, schools have been seen traditionally, and particularly after 1970, solely as institutions of learning, separate from the health and human services provided by other community agencies and institutions.[19] In the past decade, the pendulum has swung again, particularly in urban and rural settings that have a large population of adults, children, and youth who are "under-served" by traditional health and human service providers. Today, thousands of schools have on their premises, or closely linked to them, facilities for providing one or many of the following services by non-school staff: [20]

Health screening
Employment counseling
Medical services
Family welfare services
Dental services
Parent education
Family planning
Housing services
Mental health services
Food and clothing
Substance abuse treatment
Child care
Nutrition/weight management
Case management
Health education
Crisis intervention

Whether called "school health clinics," "family wellness centers" or by other labels, the rationale for locating health and human services in the schools generally takes two forms. One is to improve health and welfare outcomes. This argument would say that entirely apart from education, young people deserve to receive quality health and human services for their own merits; therefore, it makes sense to locate them in the most convenient location, the school. Furthermore, teachers who see students every day will often recognize unmet needs in students and can refer them directly to the on-site services. The second argument is that it will improve educational outcomes. Clearly students with serious, or sometimes even minor, physical and mental health problems are not going to be able to concentrate on learning as well as they might. Getting them to health and human services presumably should contribute to their ability to learn. Overarching both objectives is the idea that schools and agencies are often working with the same families on different aspects of the same problems. More effective case management, with schools and agencies working together, is a way to ensure more consistent, better quality care and support, and avoid wasteful duplication of effort.

Initial research suggests that school-based and school-linked services yield more visits by young people to service providers and, therefore, better health outcomes.[21] Whether this contributes to greater learning is yet to be established. Schools and service-providing agencies need to learn how to collaborate in the most effective manner before the potential efficacy of school-linked services on health, welfare, and educational outcomes is fully understood. But this is no longer a theoretical question. School-linked services are a widespread fact of life as school and community work together for healthier children and families.

2. Community Curricular Enrichment

Older paradigm:     Teacher is sole provider of classroom learning.
                              Strong barrier between school and community.
                              Connections with museums, libraries, theaters, etc. are rare.
                              Enrichment programs used as add-ons, filler.

Newer paradigm:     Teacher regularly utilizes other resource people in the classroom.
                               Many learning opportunities in the community.
                               Connections with wide variety of community institutions.
                               Enrichment programs integrated with curriculum.

In the past, innovative teachers have utilized community resources to enhance teaching and learning. Today we see many more teachers enriching their curriculum and instruction by involving community members in all walks of life, and doing it often. City council members come in to read to children. Chemists from a local business work with high school science classes. Musicians from the regional orchestra conduct master classes for students. Graduate history students conduct a unit on local history for middle-school classes.

In addition to single enrichment experiences, teachers and community organizations jointly plan on-going learning experiences related to the curriculum. English classes read a play, are visited by some of the actors in a local production of the play, attend the performance, have follow-up discussions with the actors, and mount a production themselves which is attended by the community players. Classes visit the local art museum annually. Teachers and museum staff plan how to make each year's visit build on the one before. Medical students make monthly visits to health education classes, forming on-going relationships with the students which enhances their effectiveness as teachers and role models. Occasional, add-on enrichment experiences are increasingly being replaced by integrated, continuing, school-community partnerships such as these to enhance the school's curriculum and instruction. [22]

3. Mentoring/Tutoring

Older Paradigm:     Students seek out their own mentors and tutors.
                              Mentors are outside school (except occasional teacher, coach or
                              club leader).
                              Community members respond individually.

Newer Paradigm:     School actively finds mentors/tutors for students.
                               Mentoring/tutoring takes place within school.
                               Community businesses and institutions organize recruitment.

Traditionally, mentoring relationships occurred by chance, if and when a relative, neighbor, teacher, coach, or club leader and a young person happened to establish a special, on-going relationship. A few community organizations, like Big Brothers/Big Sisters, sponsored mentoring programs, but these worthy initiatives were exceptions and reached only a small number of the young people who could benefit from such relationships. As social problems worsened, and as mounting research and experience demonstrated that well-structured mentoring relationships can have important , positive effects on young people's academic and social development[23], there has been a great impetus for expanding the quantity and quality of mentoring relationships nationally. Schools, along with other youth-serving agencies, have begun to take on the role of actively organizing mentoring relationships. Similarly, schools have stepped up their efforts to pair at-risk students with tutors to help work directly on academic subjects.

Whether a program emphasizes overall youth development, academics, or both, the field has advanced to recognize that well-run programs are not casual, do-gooder opportunities for volunteers or casual, drop-in occasions for students, but require a carefully structured, professional approach to recruitment, selection, training, placement, and on-going evaluation of the mentor-mentee, tutor-tutee relationship.[24] On a national scale, well-publicized efforts like Gen. Colin Powell's "America's Promise" are attempting to establish millions of mentor-mentee pairs around the country. Similarly (and sometimes tied to a national campaign), local school districts have reached out to their own community groups to organize mentoring and tutoring programs. Many large school districts across the country have thousands of people from all walks of life - both as individuals and as organized cadres from businesses, senior citizens groups, women's organizations, and other community groups - working in the schools with elementary, middle, and high school students. For example, Virginia Beach, Virginia has some 12,000 adults volunteering in the schools, many of them as mentors and tutors. [25] Nationally, the 800,000 volunteers of Telephone Pioneers (retired or current employees of the telecommunications industry) have pledged 50 million hours of volunteer service to improve education, mentoring and tutoring being a major component of their program.[26] Numerous comparable examples could be given. This level of community involvement in the schools is unprecedented in the history of American education.

4. School to Work Programs

Older Paradigm:     School and work are separate.
                              Occasional career education is the exception.
                              Vocational/business education for the non-college bound.

Newer Paradigm:     Work-related learning permeates the curriculum for all.
                               Extensive involvement of business and industry.

One area where the boundaries between school and community are becoming most permeable is the relationship between school and work. Certainly a career and vocational consciousness have always played some part in education, especially for the non-college bound students who often have been tracked toward vocational and business courses and programs, sometimes at regional sites beyond their home school. Today, there is a great push in education toward "school-to-work" programs intended to bridge the gap between the classroom and the world of work for students at all grade levels and all academic abilities.[27]

School-to-work programs include various components appropriate to different grade levels. These include:

 • career awareness activities, such as classroom visits by people in different occupations and job site tours in the community
 • researching different occupations
 • choosing tentative career paths
 • job shadowing
 • worked-linked learning programs that partner with employers of students who are already
   working part time
 • workplace mentors
 • work-study and co-op programs
 • internships
 • apprenticeships
 • "certificates of employability" as another diploma option
 • career counseling
 • job search skill development
 • teachers' serving summer internships in other occupations to bring a "real world"
   understanding of the workplace back into the classroom

For such a diverse program of school-to-work learning opportunities to succeed, there must be extensive collaboration between the schools and business and industry. In addition to opening their doors to numerous career awareness field trips, many businesses are accommodating hundreds of high school students in work-study, internships and apprenticeships. These programs are designed not only for business and vocational students and to enhance motivation and readiness for young people at-risk for unemployment, but often are also directed at successful, college-bound students to enhance knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to succeed in a competitive, changing world of work. At a time when there is a shortage of skilled workers for many industries, businesses are just as motivated as schools to work as partners in helping prepare students for the world of work.[28]

5. Community Support for Schools

Older Paradigm:     Community passes school budgets and pays school taxes.
                              Community provides "extra" when students or parents solicit for
                              special projects.

Newer Paradigm:     Same, plus:
                               School actively solicits a wide variety of support
                               Community contributes in many different ways

It has always been expected that the community would support its schools by agreeing to provide an adequate level of funding for school operations. Just how many dollars constitute an adequate level of support has always been a debatable proposition; but once the decision was voted upon, it was assumed that the community had essentially fulfilled its obligation to the school system. If students occasionally have a fund drive to underwrite the yearbook or purchase band uniforms, or the PTA holds a fund-raiser for a special purpose, these are generally accepted as small, extra, optional contributions made on a primarily personal rather than institutional basis.

More recently, schools and school systems have become more creative and assertive in soliciting financial and in-kind contributions from the community. Simultaneously, businesses and other community organizations have become more willing to invest beyond taxes in the schools, as they have recognized that their employee base, property values, stability, safety, and quality of community life are all affected by the success or failure of the community's schools. As a result, we see the rise of school alumni associations for public schools. Long a fixture in higher education and private schools, now public school officials are recognizing the great untapped potential for alumni to contribute to their elementary and secondary alma maters_in dollars, in material support, as school-to-work sites, as tutors and mentors, and in other fashions. There is also the beginning of what promises to become a national movement in "school foundations," which are independent, non-profit, tax-exempt entities organized specifically to support particular schools or districts.[29] Individuals, alumni and businesses who would not dream of making an additional contribution to the school district ("I already paid my school taxes") often are very willing to make a tax-exempt contribution to a particular school foundation.

Beyond financial support, through the use of modern communications technology, schools are becoming more creative in soliciting equipment and supplies from the community. For example, a non-profit organization in New York City, using the New York Post's website, has created a system whereby schools with particular needs (e.g., 15 computers for their technology lab or a large amount of colored paper for an art program) can be matched with individuals and businesses who have equipment and supplies to donate. Everybody wins. The schools get the needed items, and the individual and corporate donors receive satisfaction, good will, and a tax deduction. There has also been a great increase in schools and businesses working together in providing awards - from McDonald's Happy Meals to college scholarships - for academic achievement, citizenship, character, and community service.

6. Service Learning.

Older Paradigm:     Rare.

Newer Paradigm:     Common, even required.
                               Integrated with the curriculum.

Community service and service learning have not been viewed traditionally as functions of the schools. With the exception of occasional, after-school service clubs, participated in by only a handful of students, it has been scouting, church groups, and other youth-serving organizations that have provided opportunities for young people to serve their community and develop useful knowledge, skills and values in the process. This has changed dramatically in recent years, as schools have become more deeply involved in character education, [30] and as service learning has being seen as an opportunity to teach young people basic civic values while simultaneously enriching the academic curriculum with real world applications.[31] Thousands of school districts now include service learning as a component of students' education. A number of states have a community service requirement for high school graduation. When done effectively, service experience is integrated closely with the school curriculum, so that each component enhances the other.

In the previous examples of school-community partnerships, the community enriches the schools by contributing a variety of services, resources, and support to staff and students. Through service learning, the community again enriches the students' education by providing real-world learning opportunities outside the classroom; but simultaneously, the students and school contribute to the community as they perform needed service for individuals, organizations, and wider community purposes. Again, the arbitrary boundary between school and community is bridged as students learn and serve in a real partnership where each side contributes and benefits.

7. Community Schools.

Older Paradigm:     Monday-Friday, approx. 8 am-3 pm, September-June.
                              For school purposes only.

Newer Paradigm:     Every day, before school through evening, year-round.
                               For a wide variety of community purposes.

In the progressive tradition dating from the early twentieth century, the "community school" is seen as a place for life-long learning, open to all members of the community, throughout the day, week, and year, for a wide variety of functions, including education, recreation, and community problem-solving and improvement.[32] In a community school, the boundaries between school and community are virtually eliminated, as the school becomes a vital part of the community, with people of all ages regularly participating in activities there. While community schools are nothing new and take many different forms [33], they have never been the primary model for public schools. More typical are schools whose hours of operation closely follow "school hours," whose participants are almost always young people of "school age," and whose main agenda is almost always, in a word, "school."

Yet today there is a renewed interest in the idea of community schools, as it is becoming widely recognized that schools are a largely under-utilized public resource, while young people have urgent need for safe, structured educational and recreational opportunities beyond normal school hours. Although the renewed interest falls short of recognizing the original, multi-dimensional concept of the community school, when it is combined with the movement to place a wide variety of health, human service, and family wellness center functions in the school, the concept of a "full-service community school" begins to emerge.[34]

Historical and Political Context for School, Family, and Community Partnerships

How do we understand the increase in school-family and school-community partnerships? Is it really a new and significant paradigm, or is it one of many educational movements, even fads, which rise and fall in connection with political, economic, and cultural trends?

Certainly some aspects of school-family-community collaboration practiced today will be seen by history as short-lived experiments. It would be a mistake to place too much emphasis on any single method or technique - from school-based planning teams to school health clinics to midnight basketball - as a permanent part of the future of school, family, and community collaboration.

On the other hand, the general thrust toward taking school, family, and community collaboration seriously, of reaffirming traditional approaches to working together while implementing new and different models that collectively rise to the level of a new paradigm, is not just a development of the past few years. Rather the contemporary trends in school, family, and community collaboration described above have roots dating to earlier this century. David Elkind has described some of these long-term trends as he compared today's "postmodern" society, family, and schools to those of earlier times.

In the modern era, when families moved from farm to city, schools took over vocational training and some health responsibilities, such as vaccinations and screening for hearing and visual defects. In addition, our [postmodern] schools today are providing much more in the way of child care, education for children with special needs, child support services, sex education, drug education, values education, and parent education than they did in the modern era."[35]

It is not that an ambitious education establishment sought out these additional responsibilities; rather, as the family and social order have themselves been transformed from modern cohesion to postmodern fractionalization, family and society have turned to the schools to fill the unmet needs. For several generations, public education has been assuming increasing responsibilities for education, child health and welfare, and family support. The more recent phenomenon of school-family-community partnerships, then, builds on historical trends of some duration and must be understood not as an isolated matter of "education policy" or "school reform," but as a reflection of larger forces and issues in the culture.

Having said that, it is also true that the modern partnership movement has taken on a life of its own in the past two decades. While it began in the early Reagan administration, it has developed steadily under both Republican and Democratic administrations. It is a movement that has brought together both conservative and liberal forces in education and society to an unusual degree and shows no sign of diminishing soon.

President Reagan made his position quite clear on the role of government in general, and the federal government in particular, in education and the economy. Less is more. He argued there was too much governmental interference and regulation which discouraged individual initiative; therefore we should decrease the size of government and reduce regulation. Instead of government spending large sums on unwieldy social welfare programs, we should rely more on local initiatives and volunteerism. In education, we should move away from a primary reliance on public education as we know it (which, it was argued, was not succeeding), and give parents more choice in their children's education, including vouchers and tuition tax credits, which would be usable at private religious schools as well as secular ones.

The "parents' rights movement" began during this period, responding to numerous perceived problems in public education. It urged that parents exercise more influence on school prayer, choice of library and curriculum materials, sex education, values education, and many other areas.[36] This movement both contributed to and resonated to the anti-public education chords emanating from Washington, creating a more hostile attitude toward the public schools, but also a movement that encouraged parents to become more involved in their children's education.

The Bush administration continued to sound similar themes regarding the inadequacy of the public schools, the benefits of private schools, the importance of parental choice, and the virtues of volunteerism. President Bush's "1000 Points of Light" program was a highly visible initiative designed to encouraged businesses, community groups, and individuals to get involved in improving their communities through grass-roots efforts to fight crime, enhance the environment, strengthen families, work with individual youngsters, and improve the schools. However, much of this movement to volunteerism and school-community partnerships had already begun during Reagan's second term. "The U.S. Department of Education reported that 40,000 partnerships existed in the nation's elementary and secondary schools in 1984. By 1988, that number had increased to 140,800.[37[ While federal support for public education on the one hand seemed dubious in terms of funding levels and public pronouncements, on the other hand the federal government was successful in catalyzing significant levels of public involvement in local schools, especially by businesses that were responsive to the Republican message of "devolution," i.e., distributing responsibility to state and local levels.

Unlike many Democrats who, at least initially, tended to scoff at the Republican emphasis on family values, Bill Clinton, as campaigner and as president, took up this theme himself. While he clearly differed from Republican legislators in advocating greater funding for public education, he fully accepted his counterparts' emphasis on family and community responsibility and, along with Secretary of Education Richard Riley, made school, family and community partnerships in education a central and important theme in his educational policy.

The president and secretary have promoted school, family, and community partnerships in innumerable public appearances. The U.S. Department of Education created a national "Partnership for Family Involvement in Education," which has enlisted thousands of businesses, educational institutions, and community organizations to further an agenda of school-family-community collaboration. The department has also sponsored a widely distributed series of publications on family and community involvement (see Appendix), most of which are practical yet substantive documents that further the partnership movement.

Even more substantially, the Clinton administration has introduced successful legislation providing for billions of dollars of funding for various school-community collaboration initiatives. The School-To-Work Opportunities Act of 1994 and the Corporation for National and Community Service with its Learn and Serve America program provide substantial funding for school-to-work and service learning programs. Recently enacted legislation authorized $200 million for The 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, the first installment of a billion dollar appropriation the administration is pursuing. The same legislation authorized $120 million for new mentoring initiatives and $100 million for charter schools funding. [38] School-linked services are supported through Maternal and Child Health Block Grants, Drug-Free Schools funding, Medicaid, and other federal programs.

Another strategy by which the current administration has advanced school-family collaboration is by making parent involvement a requirement for receiving many different types of federal funding. The most far-reaching example of this is the Title I requirements built into the Improving America's Schools Act of 1994.[39]

In spite of their differences, then, both Republican and Democratic leadership at the highest levels came to view parent and community involvement as a major key to improving American education. Both Republican and Democratic administrations initiated pronouncements and policies that helped foster a vital resurgence of family and community participation in the schools.

As robust as this movement is, however, there is no guarantee of its longevity or ultimate impact on American education. It may, in the end, turn out to be another temporal trend. If so, the consequences will be significant. Indeed, I would argue that the future of school, family, and community partnerships is integrally connected to the success of American education, and the actions taken in the coming years about school, family, and community relations will, to a great degree, determine the future of public education in the United States.

The Current Dilemma

We find ourselves today in a somewhat contradictory situation with respect to the relationship between the community and the public schools. On the one hand, there is much disenchantment about public education in the land. For many, the disenchantment is so great that, to the extent possible, they would move from a primary reliance on public education and use government funding or tax credits to shift support to private alternatives. Whether or not this would ultimately benefit public education by creating greater choice and competition is a matter of opinion; but there is no question that the lobby for privatization is currently supported by the Congressional leadership and is as strong nationally as it has been in decades.

On the other hand, there is also a great deal of public engagement in education throughout the land.[40] Some of the very same business leaders who philosophically support privatization are also actively engaged in working with and supporting the public schools in their local area. By their actions, these businesses, along with local civic leaders, parents, senior citizens, and other community groups are demonstrating that they have not yet given up on the public schools. While often expressing frustration with the perceived slow pace of change in public education, they are willing, at least "one more time," to work with the schools to initiate new programs and initiatives to improve public education.

It could go either way. Whether their disenchantment is fair or not, critics of public education and proponents of government support for private and parochial school choice may be on the verge of success in achieving major changes in public policy toward American education. This is a critical time for those who believe that such changes will likely lead toward a retreat from the community's commitment, inadequate as it has sometimes been, to universal quality education and instead lead toward increasing selfishness and balkanization in education and society. If the drift toward educational separatism is to be reversed, arguably, a combination of four things are needed to generate the kind of public support that can sustain and renew the nation's system of public education:

 • improved results
 • the perception of improved results
 • greater public understanding of how hard teachers and administrators are working on
   behalf of children
 • public connection to and sense of ownership of the schools

None of these things will happen unless public education steadily moves toward embracing and implementing the newer paradigm in school, family and community relations described above. No matter how hard the professionals try, schools will not dramatically improve their results without meaningful parental support and involvement in their children's education and without the community's varied and significant support. Nor does it matter if schools actually achieve improvements and gains, if the parents and community do not perceive that improvements are occurring. One does not necessarily learn what really is happening in schools from the media. Bad news about schools gets front page attention; good news about schools and test scores often is ignored or minimized.[41[ Only by being meaningfully involved with the schools will the public perceive the many good things that are occurring in public education. Only by real involvement in schools will parents and community members develop a sympathetic understanding of the numerous ways that so many teachers and administrators are working to improve education for the community's children. Even when schools fail to achieve results, such empathy regarding how many obstacles educators face, how inadequate the resources often are, and how hard many of them work can help reduce public disenchantment and increase support for public education. Finally, as long as the public perceives the schools, or the suburban public perceives the urban schools, as someone else's schools serving someone else's children, commitment to universal quality education will be minimal. But when parents become truly involved with their children's schools, and the community becomes deeply engaged in the schools, then the schools become their own schools, and parents and community are much less likely to abandon them.

The future of public education, then, depends on parent and community involvement. It is not a matter of whether this or that initiative is a good idea; although the merits must be considered in each instance. Rather it is a matter of survival. Embrace the newer model of school, family, and community relations; build on the many positive developments and innovations already occurring, and public education has a chance of surviving and thriving. Malinger in the older paradigm and witness public education's demise, as people take their money and run and the gap between the educational haves and have-nots widens farther than ever.

Policy Implications and Recommendations

If successful parent and community involvement is requisite to sustainable and effective public education, what can be done to foster it? Many different and complementary approaches to school, family, and community partnerships have been described. Is it simply a matter of doing more of these things - getting more parents involved, providing more community services to students, facilitating more mentor-mentee relationships, creating more service learning programs, and the like - and while we're at it, learning from research and experience how to conduct these partnerships more effectively? [42]

Certainly we should expand the scope of school, family and community partnerships, and we should learn to do so more effectively. Professionals, parents, and community members across the country are, at this moment, working on doing just that.[43] But it is easier said than done. The approaches, movements, programs, and projects described above are being used successfully in many places, but they are not being used, or being used very effectively, in most places. American education can still be described more in terms of the older than the newer model of school, family, and community relations. A certain number of educational leaders, teachers, and schools will make the paradigm shift, but for effective school-family-community partnerships to "go to scale," to become the new norm in American education, more needs to be done than simply urging others to join the movement. There are obstacles to systemic change in education, as in all institutions, and to address these, a number of significant changes will be required of the education profession itself, of local school districts, of state education departments, and of the federal government. Without such changes, effective school, family, and community partnerships will never achieve the critical mass needed to significantly improve the schools and the public's perception of them.

To truly make the newer paradigm the predominant model of school-family-community relations, the following changes in policy and practice will be required.

The Education Profession

1.     Train school administrators to think and operate in the partnership paradigm.
        Running a school is just not the same as it used to be, when only a handful of parents or paraprofessionals entered the building during school hours. Administrators today may see hundreds of parents and community members coming in and out of the school on a regular basis - providing health and human services, curricular enrichment, tutoring, school-to-work interventions, volunteering, attending parent-teacher meetings, sitting on decision-making councils - as well as students leaving the building for school-to-work assignments, community service projects, and other activities. Learning to operate in this fashion requires a whole new way of thinking about issues of control, power, conflict resolution with parents, shared decision making, shared use of the school with the community, safety and security, human resource allocation, curriculum and instruction, budgeting, and other management issues. Administration textbooks and training need to reflect the world administrators not only will face, but must help to create, if schools are to regain and maintain the community's trust.

2.     Train teachers to think and operate in the partnership model.[44]
        Just as administrators must develop a different orientation as educational leaders and managers, so teachers need both pre-service and in-service training that prepares them to communicate with parents frequently and effectively, to become parent educators, to involve parents in their children's homework, to work with parents and community members on decision-making committees, to resolve conflicts with parents as they arise so they don't escalate out of control, to work with community resources to enrich the curriculum, to connect their teaching to the world of work, to utilize community service learning, and to collaborate with health and human service providers. The day of shutting one's door and simply doing one's thing is over. Teachers will be required to work with families and communities more frequently, closely, and skillfully than ever. Teacher training must rise to this challenge.

3.     Develop new models for union-administration flexibility around parent and
        community involvement.

        If parent and community partnerships become an increasingly frequent aspect of conducting education, this has implications for appropriate expectations of teachers. Is it appropriate to expect or require teachers to send home regular newsletters to parents, to phone parents about problems or successes involving their children, or to make home visits? Can teachers be expected or required to attend shared-decision-making meetings in the late afternoon or evenings, so working parents can also attend? Will parent feedback regarding a teacher's parent involvement practices become a part of the teacher evaluation process? These and other such questions often are subject to union-district contract negotiations. Clearly teachers need to be protected against unreasonable demands on their time, privacy, or safety. But just as clearly, unless there is some willingness to consider various partnership practices as reasonable expectations for teachers, then little will change, and unproductive or antagonistic school-home-community relations will continue to erode confidence in public education.
        We need to be honest about these three recommendations. We are talking about a major re-orientation in the thinking and practice of the education profession. Honest conversation with teachers and administrators often reveals considerable skepticism about the feasibility of achieving meaningful parent involvement on the one hand and the prospect of too much parent involvement on the other hand. Just about any administrator or teacher can tell you stories about parents who just don't seem to care about their children's education and parents who think they have a right to barge into the principal's office or teacher's classroom at any time and make unreasonable demands for their children. They also can tell you of spending endless unproductive hours at PTA or shared decision-making meetings listening to parents complain about problems but appear unable or unwilling to move the meeting forward to solve them. Many excellent and well-meaning educators have become jaded about parent and community involvement, having witnessed enough examples of parent and community indifference, unwillingness to take responsibility for themselves or their children, or downright hostility. We may point to research that shows how the great majority of parents do care and how "the evidence suggests that school policies and teacher practices are more important than race, parent education, family size, marital status, and even grade level in determining whether parents continue to be part of their children's education."[45] We may describe examples where professionals, parents, and community members have learned to work together successfully, where mistrust and barriers have been overcome, where failing schools have been revitalized through parent and community partnerships. Still this may not be enough initially to convince individual teachers, individual schools, and individual districts that it is worth the effort and the risk to adopt a new approach to school, family, and community relations. Changing attitudes and practices in this area will not be easy, but it will be necessary to maintain or achieve quality public education.

Local School District Level

4.     Adopt a concerted policy about parent and community involvement and a
        comprehensive plan to implement the policy.

        Adopting a policy is only a beginning; but it is an important beginning when the district examines its current policies and practices regarding parent and community involvement with a fresh eye and adopts a broader, deeper, more committed policy of public engagement. For example, of all aspects of parent involvement, districts currently are "least likely to have policies to train teachers to work with families."[46] New or revised policies regarding parent and community involvement must not simply be an exercise in incorporating the latest jargon, but must address issues like professional training, district structures and roles, funding, and evaluation of public engagement initiatives.
        Of course, the proof of the policy is in its implementation. The many forms and examples of parent and community involvement described in the body of this paper are some of the major ways that districts and schools have, in fact, moved to implement a policy of more meaningful parent and community involvement. However, as parent and community involvement strategies and initiatives proliferate in a district, matters can soon get out of hand. Before one knows it, parents are bombarded with a half-dozen surveys asking them about their needs and perceptions. Businesses are approached by multiple schools asking for donations and volunteers. Beleaguered nursing home administrators are inundated with ten-year-olds wanting to read to their residents. Overlapping newsletters from teachers, schools, and district office clutter the landfills. New programs are introduced in one part of the district without recognizing that comparable programs are underway elsewhere in the system. These are hardly exaggerations. For both efficiency and accountability, schools and districts need to develop a comprehensive partnership plan that insures good supervision and follow-through, avoids wasteful duplication of resources, and insures sensitivity to the needs of families and community partners.

5.     Create and fund new professional roles that foster parent and community

        Significantly greater parent and community involvement does not just happen. It needs to be promoted and then it needs to be managed. Administrators and teachers can do just so much on their own; at some point new staff are needed. At the district level, many school systems are designating positions such as Director of Parent Involvement, Director of Parent and Community Involvement, Public Engagement Coordinator, Volunteer Coordinator, and the like. In large districts, there may be coordinators for parent involvement and also for health and human services, school to work programs, service learning, and other major areas, with an overall coordinator of these programs having cabinet level status. At the school level, we are seeing a proliferation of new paraprofessional roles such as parent coordinator, parent liaison, parent center coordinator, or parent advocate. In some cases, existing positions can be redefined to fill these new responsibilities; but in most cases, for it to be meaningful, new funding will be required to give these functions the time and priority necessary for them to be carried out successfully. Without adequate human resources to accomplish the job, meaningful school, parent, and community partnerships will be limited.

6.     Make successful public engagement a part of professional evaluation.
        Districts have always done this in reverse. Teachers and principals who have problems dealing with the community, as evidenced by unacceptable levels of conflicts, complaints, or bad press, hear about it from their superiors. There is always some clause in the contract, like "good communication skills" or "positive relationships with the community," that can be invoked for reference or rebuke. But for the most part, as far as parent and community relations go, no news is good news. Avoid complaints or controversy and it will be assumed that you know how to get along with the public. Such an implicit policy does little to motivate teachers and principals to ever higher standards for positive public engagement. It may even promote the opposite effect, following the premise that the less one has to do with parents and community, the less likely they are to have something to complain about.
        A different approach is to expect teachers and administrators to actively and effectively reach out to parents and community and involve them in the educational process. Teachers might demonstrate their public engagement practices by a portfolio of newsletters sent home, assignments involving parent-student interaction, records of calls or home visits, volunteer participation, community resources involved in curriculum development and instruction, school surveys in which parents give feedback about the teacher's involvement practices, and other means. Many of the same methods work for administrators. Districts who are beginning to employ such approaches as one part of the professional evaluation process are demonstrating that they mean business, that parent and community involvement is an important part of the job of a school administrator and teacher.

State Level

7.     Develop guidelines for districts regarding parent and community involvement.
        It is always an open question as to when it is appropriate for higher authorities to legislate or require compliance, versus when it is better to educate, encourage, and provide incentives to motivate behavior change. Perhaps the federal Title I guidelines are a good model here, in which meeting certain guidelines for parent and community involvement is required for funding of Title I programs, but the particular methods employed are determined at the local level.
        State mandates help educate local districts about state priorities. They also generate a good deal of paperwork which districts submit to demonstrate compliance with the mandates. However, as anyone who has worked in bureaucracy knows, successful completion of forms does not insure meaningful implementation of programs. Since all districts are engaged in parent and community involvement to some degree, state monitoring must be sufficiently sophisticated and adaquately staffed to identify districts whose implementation of parent and community partnerships is sub-standard and to help them improve.

8.     Develop guidelines for teacher training institutions regarding
        parent and community involvement.

        As discussed in Recommendation #2, pre-service and inservice teacher education must train and re-train educators to think and operate within the newer paradigm of parent and community partnerships. It would be nice to think that departments and schools of education are ready to meet this challenge, but many will be reluctant to change from their current practices. To that extent, state departments of education will have to institute some standards and even some mandates to encourage teacher training institutions to make the changes needed to produce a new generation of educators prepared to work in more effective partnerships with families and communities.

National Level

9.     Continue current approaches to promoting positive school-family-community

        While the federal government is often the last to respond to local and state demands for funding or legislation, ironically it has been the federal government that has led the movement toward school, family, and community partnerships. By using the bully pulpit and passing legislation and funding for various types of school, family, and community collaboration, the government has energized and motivated an enormous amount of activity at the state and local levels. This has been carried out under successive Republican and Democratic administrations, each with somewhat different emphases, but both affirming and supporting the importance of parent and community involvement in education. Such approaches have successfully encouraged and facilitated numerous state-level and local partnerships around education. The federal government should continue in this leadership role.

10.     Provide leadership on the coordination and evaluation of school, family, and
         community partnerships.

         As the scale of partnership activity increases, new challenges already are presenting themselves concerning the coordination and evaluation of collaboration activities in school districts. There is often a great deal of activity taking place, but as described in Recommendation #4, it is not always carried out with a clear policy and comprehensive plan; hence parent and community involvement may be widespread but superficial. To encourage the next stage in the practice of school-family-community partnerships, the federal government should encourage, fund, collect, and disseminate research and development activities aimed at improving the coordination and evaluation of school, family and community collaboration. The focus should be on effective strategies for managing, coordinating, measuring, and evaluating school-family and school-community collaboration, so that schools do not just initiate a plethora of partnership activity but do so in an increasingly effective manner.

All Levels

11.     Make education funding commensurate with the task being given to the public

         Any fair appraisal of public education today must acknowledge the contradictory set of expectations that schools are being asked to accomplish. On the one hand there is a hue and cry for schools to focus on their basic mission, i.e., to set and achieve rigorous academic standards. At the same time, schools are being asked to be responsive to parents. This often requires major investments of time and resources in providing parenting education, carrying on extensive communication and problem solving with parents, involving parents in the life of the school, involving parents in their children's homework, and spending many afternoon and evening hours with parents on shared decision-making groups. Still further, schools today are expected to become much more involved with the community, again spending enormous time and resources on housing school health clinics and sometimes providing health and human services, collaborating with businesses on school-to-work programs, opening their doors as community schools for numerous activities at all hours, getting their students working out in the community on service projects, and coordinating thousands of mentors, tutors and volunteers working in the schools. (Not to mention the equally great demand for serving growing numbers of students with special education needs; developing technology infrastructure and programs to meet the requirements of the computer age; providing drug abuse prevention and a host of remediation services, and more.)
         Given these expectations, it is unreasonable to maintain current funding levels, let alone decrease funding levels, and then criticize the schools for not fulfilling the public's expectations. Any sound educational policy - whether at the federal, state, or local level - must recognize that if schools are going to fulfill the increasingly broad role that society is assigning to them, society must provide increasing levels of funding for them to do their job. This includes ample funding for education in general and for the various forms of school, family, and community collaboration in particular. It includes funding for new construction and rehabilitation of school buildings which are being asked to provide housing for an increasing number of programs, for the staffing and human resources needed to implement and administer the wide variety of home and community partnerships, and the training required to help personnel make the transition to the partnership model. Although the allocation of responsibility among federal, state and local levels will always be a subject of debate, all levels must make the substantial funding of education a priority for the common good. This includes city and town governments who, beyond school taxes, must contribute their fair share as society places increasing demands on limited school budgets for health, education, welfare, and recreation services that go beyond the traditional purview of the schools.

12.     Balance rights with responsibilities.
         In the changing climate of school, family, and community relations, there is a great deal of emphasis on rights - parents' rights to participate in school decision making and make choices about their children's education, teachers' rights to operate as professionals within contractual protections, the community's right to determine financial support levels and to expect the schools to graduate qualified workers and good citizens. These are all reasonable expectations. But if education is to succeed, such rights must be balanced with responsibilities.[47] In particular:
         (a) Parent organizations should encourage and teach their members not just to demand their rights, but to exercise their responsibilities as parents in motivating and monitoring their children's schoolwork, in building values and good character, and in teaching their children to take responsibility for their actions. They should also emphasize the responsibility of parents in getting involved in the life of the school and supporting the administration and teachers, even while demanding their best efforts.[48]
         (b) Professional organizations, as suggested earlier, should of course protect their member's rights to professional treatment, reasonable work limitations, and personal protections. But educators today should also recognize that their responsibility as professionals goes beyond teaching students. It also involves communicating with and involving families and communities. How that responsibility is manifested in job descriptions is subject to negotiation, but contract negotiations and day-to-day behavior should be predicated on accepting responsibility for being active partners with parents and community.
         (c) Businesses should do their part as responsible community organizations, not only by being a partner in education in the ways described above, but by supporting parent involvement through a variety of family-friendly policies, such as providing options that help parents attend meetings and events at school during the day, offering flexible work schedules that help parents balance work hours with family responsibilities, and encouraging and supporting employees who mentor or volunteer in the schools.[49]
         (d) Citizens. Citizens not only have a right to criticize the schools, they have the right and power, directly or indirectly, to help them thrive or put them out of business. It is citizens, through their words and actions, through their votes on budgets and bond issues, and through their elected representatives, who ultimately will determine the future of American education. With that right comes a great responsibility, for the quality of our schools will determine the quality of our society. Responsible citizens will not only provide adequate means for all our children to receive a quality education, they will, each in his or her own way, find ways to get involved in and support their local schools.


If one accepts the analysis that the future of public education depends on the degree to which the schools truly engage parents and the community in positive ways, nothing short of the measures recommended here will be sufficient to accomplish that purpose. If one does not accept such a dire analysis, but is still concerned about the significant levels of criticism and hostility facing the public schools today, the same conclusion is evident. On the other hand, if one has no particular concern about the public and its perceptions of education, but simply wishes to tap all available resources to support young people's learning, once again the newer model of school, family, and community relations provides an important direction. From any perspective, whether the goal is to improve public education or improve the public's perception of it, sustained and meaningful public engagement in the schools is an essential part of the solution.

As former Assistant Secretary of Education Seeley, quoted at the outset, wrote,

The two underlying concepts of systematic reform - high expectations and the collaboration of home, school, and community to achieve these expectations - call for a radical shift in the American public education system. Once they are recognized not just as platitudes, but as fundamental concepts of reform, they can become the banner around which the forces of public education can unite in rebuilding support for a restructured public school system."[50]


Selected U.S. Government Publications on School-Family-Community Partnerships

School-Family Partnerships

Moles, Oliver. (Ed.) (1996). Reaching all families: Creating family-friendly schools. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.

Shartrand, Angela, et al. (1997). New skills for new schools: Preparing teachers in family involvement. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Family Research Project, Harvard Graduate School of Education. (Also available from U.S. Dept. of Education).

U.S. Department of Education. (1994). Strong families, strong schools: Building community partnerships for learning. Washington, DC.

U.S. Department of Education.(1997). Simple things you can do: To help all children read well and independently by the end of the third grade. (America Reads Challenge: Read*Write*Now!)

U.S. Department of Education. (1996). Activities for reading and writing fun. (America Reads Challenge: Read*Write*Now!).

U.S. Department of Education. (1996). Parents ask about parent involvement policies.

U.S. Department of Education. (1996). Parents ask about compacts.

U.S. Department of Education. (1997). Achieving the goals: Goal 8: Parental involvement and participation. Washington, DC.

U.S. Department of Education. (1997). Learning partners: A guide to educational activities for families. Washington, DC.

U.S. Department of Education. (1997). Parents guide to the Internet. Washington, DC.

School-Community Partnerships

U.S. Department of Education. (1994). An invitation to your community: Building community partnerships for learning. Washington, DC.

U.S. Department of Education. (1995). Employers, families, and education: Promoting family involvement in learning: A Report. Washington, DC.

U.S. Department of Education. (1996). Putting the pieces together: Comprehensive school-linked strategies for children and families. Washington, DC.

U.S. Department of Education. (1997). Keeping schools open as community learning centers: Extending learning in a safe, drug-free environment before and after school. Washington, DC.


1. Seeley, D.S. (1998, January 1). The best (only?) alternative to vouchers. Education Week, 60.

2. This framework for school-family relations encompasses five of the six types of parent involvement in Joyce Epstein's popular model. See, for example, Epstein, J. (1995, May). School/family/community partnerships: Caring for the children we share. Phi Delta Kappan, 77(9), 701-712.

3. Stevenson, D., & Baker, D. (1987). The family-school relation and the child's school performance. Child Development, 58, 1348-1357; Fehrmann, P., Keith, T., & Reimers, T. (1987). Home influence on school learning: Direct and indirect effects of parent involvement on high school grades. Journal of Educational Research, 80, 330-337; Lareau, A. (1989). Home advantage: Social class and parental intervention in elementary education. London: Falmer Press; Clark, R. (1993). Homework-focused parenting practices that positively affect student achievement. In N. Chavkin (Ed.), Families and schools in a pluralistic society. Albany, NY: SUNY Press; Muller, C. (1993). Parent involvement and academic achievement. In B. Schneider, & J. Coleman (Eds.) Parents, their children and schools. Boulder, CO: Westview Press; Swap, S. (1993). Developing home school partnerships: From concepts to practice. New York: Teachers College Press, 2-10.

4. Burns, R. (1993). Parents and schools: From visitors to partners. Washington, DC: National Education Association, 10-15; Barclay, K., & Boone, E. (1996). The parent difference: Uniting school, family and community: Revised Edition. Arlington Heights, IL: Skylight, 24-37; Carrasquillo, A., & London, C. (1993). Parents and schools: A source book. New York: Garland, 99-100.

5. Home Instruction Program for Preschool Youth, 220 E. 23rd Street, Suite 300, New York, NY 10010, 212-532-7730,; Parents as Teachers National Center, 10176 Corporate Square Drive, Suite 230, St. Louis, MO 63132, 314-432-4330,

6. Kirschenbaum, H., & Stein, P. (1998). Evaluation of "Play That Works" [a parent education program piloted in the Rochester City School District]. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester, Warner Graduate School of Education and Human Development.

7. Carfora, J., & O'Rourke, M.L. (1997). Family resource center handbook. Bloomington, IN: EdInfo Press, ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading, English and Communication; Johnson, V. (1996). Family center guidebook. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University, Center on Families, Communities, Schools and Children's Learning.

8. Bauch, J.P. (1997). The bridge project: Connecting parents and schools through voice messaging: Report on the pilot projects. Nashville, TN: Peabody College of Vanderbilt University, Betty Phillips Center for Parenthood Education; McAfee, O. (1993). The potential of communications technology. In R.C. Burns (Ed.), Parents and schools: From visitors to partners. Washington, DC: National Education Assn., 35-45.

9. Davis, B. (1995). How to involve parents in a multicultural school. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 14.

10. Several "family learning nights" are described in Developmental Studies Center (1994). At home in our schools: A guide to schoolwide activities that build community. Oakland, CA: Author.

11. Lafferty, L.E. (1997). Family fun and learning nights: Promoting a community of learners. Paper presented at the annual conference of Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, Baltimore, MD.

12. Lawrence Hall of Science. (1988). Family Math. Berkeley, CA: University of California.

13. Epstein, J., & Salinas, K. (1992). TIPS: Interactive homework in math: Prototype activities; Epstein, J., Salinas, K., & Jackson, V. (1995). Manual for Teachers: Language arts, science/health, and math interactive homework in the middle grades. Both from Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University, Center on Families, Communities, Schools and Children's Learning.

14. See notes 2 and 3.

15. Janey, C.B. (1997, October 1). Seeking customer satisfaction: An experiment to quell public skepticism about public schools. Education Week, 39.

16. Communitarian Network. (1997). Education for interpersonal relations, family life, and intimacy. In Character building for a democratic, civil society: Task force reports. Washington, DC: Author, 61.

17. Center for Governmental Research (1997). Competition in public education. Close-Up on Education, 1(2), 1-5. Rochester, NY: Author.

18. Fege, A. Parent rights: Yes! Parental rights legislation: No!; Klicka, C, & Phillips, D. Why parental rights laws are necessary; Belter, C. Parental rights legislation: A bad idea. All appearing in Educational Leadership, 55 (3) (November 1997), 76-86.

19. Tyack, D. (1992) Health and social services in public schools: Historical perspectives. The Future of Children, 2 (1), 19-31.

20. Dryfoos, J. (1994). Full-service schools: A revolution in health and social services for children, youth and families. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

21. Dryfoos, J. (1998). A look at community schools in 1998: Occasional paper #2. New York: Fordham University, National Center for Schools and Communities.

22. E.g., Kirschenbaum, H. and Reagan, C. University-school partnerships: An analysis of 57 collaborations between a university and an urban school district. University of Rochester, Warner Graduate School of Education and Human Development.

23. Sipe, C. (1996). Mentoring: A synthesis of P/PV's research: 1988-1995. Philadelphia: Public/Private Ventures.

24. Rochester City School District. (1995, revised edition 1999). Rochester area mentoring resource book. Rochester, NY: Author; Robinson, V. (Ed.) (1987). Organizing and managing school volunteer programs. Alexandria, VA: National Association of Partners in Education.

25. Reported by Laynee Timlin, Partnership Coordinator, Virginia Beach City Public Schools, at Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development annual conference, March 1998.

26. U.S. Department of Education. (1998, July/August). Telephone pioneers join Partnership for Family Involvement in Education [special insert]. Community Update, 59.

27. Packer, A., & Pines, M. (1996). School-to-Work. Princeton, NJ: Eye On Education; Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. (1995, May). Connecting with the community and the world of work [special issue]. Educational Leadership, 52 (8).

28. Shortage of skilled labor creates new opportunities in technology partnerships. (1998, April). Partnership Progressions, 1, 5, 8. Alexandria. VA: National Association of Partners in Education.

29. Graduate Connection. (1994). How to start a foundation. White Plains, NY: Bernard C. Harris Publishing Co.

30. E.g., Lickona, T. (1991). Educating for character: How our schools can teach respect and responsibility. New York: Bantam Books; Benninga, J. (Ed.) (1991). Moral, character, and civic education in the elementary school. New York: Teachers College Press; Kirschenbaum, H. (1995). One hundred ways to enhance values and morality in schools and youth settings. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

31. Wade, R. (Ed.). (1997). Community service learning: A guide to including service in the public school curriculum. Albany, NY: SUNY Press; National Association of Secondary School Principals. (1997, October). [Special issue on service learning]. Bulletin, 81 (591); Kinsley, C., & McPherson, K. (1995). Enriching the curriculum through service learning. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

32. Decker, L., & Boo, M.R. (1996). Community schools: Linking home, school and community. Fairfax, VA: National Community Education Association.

33. Edwards, P, & Biocchi, K. (1996). Community schools across America: 135 community/school partnerships that are making a difference. Flint, MI: National Center for Community Education.

34. Notes 20 and 21; see also: Denham, C., & Etzioni, A. (1997). Community schools. Washington, DC: The Communitarian Network.

35. Elkind, D. (1995, September). School and family in the postmodern world. Phi Delta Kappan, 8-14.

36. Note 16; see also: Rowson, J. (1982). New voices on the right: Impact on schools. Arlington, VA: National School Public Relations Association; Gaddy, B., Hall, T., & Marzano, R. (1996). School wars: Resolving our conflicts over religion and values. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

37. McDonald, N., et al. (1990). Business and education: A practical guide to creating and managing a business/education partnership. Alexandria, VA: National Association of Partners in Education.

38. The FY 1999 Omnibus Appropriation Bill. National Community Education Association. (1998, October). Community Education Today, 25 (8), 1; U.S. Department of Education. (1998, February). Community learning centers can expand learning and provide a safe haven for students. Community Update, 54, 1.

39. U.S. Office of Education. (1996). Parents ask about parent involvement policies; U.S. Office of Education. (1996). Parents ask about compacts. Washington, DC: Author. Both papers explain federal mandates about parent involvement in concise language.

40. See, for example, Engaging Americans in Public Education, a newsletter from the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, Brown University, Hanover, NH, which is both documenting and promoting public engagement in the schools.

41. Bracey, G. (1997). Setting the record straight: Responses to misconceptions about public education in the United States. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development; Berliner, D., & Biddle, B. (1995). The manufactured crisis: Myths, fraud, and the attack on America's public schools. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

42. For example, the National Community Education Association's 1998 legislative platform calls for federal legislation and funding in support of: community education, community learning centers, school construction, family and community involvement in education, community service learning, adult education, community reading programs, and families at risk. Community Education Today. (1998, January), 25, 1, 4.

43. The National Network of Partnership Schools, coordinated by the Center on School, Family and Community Relations at Johns Hopkins University, has an excellent dissemination model and research program.

44. Shartrand, A., Weiss, H., Kreider, H., and Lopez, M.E. (1997). New skills for new schools: Preparing teachers in family involvement. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Family Research Project, Harvard Graduate School of Education.

45. Epstein, J. (1990). School and family connections: Theory, research, and implications for integrating sociologies of education and family. In D. Unger & M. Sussman (Eds.), Families in community settings: Interdisciplinary perspectives. New York: Haworth Press, 109.

46. Baker, A., & Kessler-Sklar, S. (1997). School district parent involvement policies and programs: A survey of superintendents. New York: National Council of Jewish Women, Center for the Child.

47. Etzioni, A. (1993). The spirit of community: Rights, responsibilities and the Communitarian agenda. New York: Crown Publishers.

48. National PTA. (1997). National standards for parent/family involvement programs. Chicago: Author.

49. U.S. Department of Education. (1995). Employers, families and education: Promoting family involvement in learning: A report. Washington, DC. Author.

50. Seeley, D.S. (1998, January 1). The best (only?) alternative to vouchers. Education Week, 43

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