by Francine Johnson (Chicago)
"It takes a village to raise a child," so states a vintage African proverb. As it relates to education, I interpret this proverb to mean students, teachers, other school personnel and the family [including the greater community] are responsible for the education of the child. Teachers, students and their families are essential components for student achievement. However, in many cases the students and teachers are working at a disadvantage because the third component --the family and community members -- have little or no effective involvement.
The Role of the Teacher
Some teachers do not understand the need for home-school connections. Some teachers may view students' families as intruders. Some teachers often appear to have little or no understanding of the world upon which they have embarked. Teachers need to have many opportunities during their pre-service preparation to understand the world in which their students and their families live. Some teachers don't seem to understand the complexities, diversities and social ills that influence the progress or development of the student. All teachers need to understand the role of the students' families in the student's academic progress. However, some teachers hold parents at bay as if to say, "The classroom is not your place; it is mine." "Your place is in the home." Similarly some teachers are reluctant to call the homes of their students, unless there is a "problem" [in school] that needs familial [ home ] correction. Finally, for a multitude of reasons, many teachers who understand the value of home-school partnerships are not able to effectively institute home-school partnerships that enhance student development.
The Role of the "Expert" Student
Students are expected to come to school fully prepared and eager to learn. Teachers expect students to sit sometimes for hours without doing what is extremely natural-- communicating with their fellow students. Teachers sometimes prepare lessons for students that negate their learning styles and are otherwise not conducive to them. The children [students] themselves have much to teach us about how they learn and other valuable lessons. The First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton states: " If we listen, we'll be able to hear them"[ Rodham-Clinton 1996]. Students believe that parental involvement is important. One clear message that youngsters sent to us in Chicago in a report sponsored by the Consortium on Chicago School Research Charting Reform in Chicago: The Students Speak, is they feel their parents are involved in their learning. Students..... indicated parents and other adults living with them, "encourage them to work hard at school," " praise them for doing well," and "check to see if they are doing their homework." [ Consortium 1996 p 69] Shelly, a student who was interviewed, experienced success in high school. Her elementary school teachers believed she would do well. Both her mother and father are involved in her education. Shelly's mom constantly inquires as to how she can better prepare Shelly for college. She also attended an orientation, " day in the life of a student," where she followed her daughter's schedule and met her teachers. Shelly feels that teachers at her school care about students because the teachers offer to help them when they're not doing so well. Shelly wants to be a doctor. Her mother works in a hospital. She has Shelly volunteer in the hospital. Together they go over medical books and take trips to the library. Charles, another student, whose parents (due to social ills) are unavailable to him lives with his grandmother. His grandmother, though her own health is challenged, is very supportive of Charles. She volunteers in his school. Charles wants to be an engineer. Presently, with the help and guidance of his grandmother he is meeting his goals and surviving his challenges (Consortium).
The Role of the Parents
Parents are reluctant to approach teachers for a variety of reasons. Some parents do not have pleasant memories or experiences of school themselves. They are reluctant to come to school for fear of reliving these memories. For these parents their own personal experiences create obstacles to involvement. One father's experience created mistrust and prevented him from participating more in his son's education. He states,
They expect me to go to school so they can tell me my kid is stupid or crazy. They have been telling me that for three years so why should I go and hear it again. See I've been there. I know and it scares me. They called me a troubled boy. I was a boy in trouble..... I dropped out nine times. They wanted me gone (Finders/Lewis).
Some parents work physically demanding jobs. "At times, parents' financial concerns present a major obstacle to participation in their child's school activities" [ Finders/Lewis].
A mother torn between the pressures of stretching a tight budget and wanting her daughter to belong states:
I do not understand why they assume that everybody has tons of money, and every time I turn around it's more money for this and more money for that. Where do they get the idea that we've got all this money?
These feelings of fear and or apprehension are not synonymous with any particular socio-economic and or cultural group. It transcends all groups. The First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton acknowledges in her book, It Takes A Village,
Schools are a frightening place for many parents. When Bill and I went to our first parent-teacher conference when Chelsea was in kindergarten, we were apprehensive. For the first time, another adult was going to pass judgment on our child and all our years of schooling did nothing to ease the anxiety [ Rodham Clinton 1996 p 261].
The Role of the System
In the Report of the National Education Commission on Time and Learning; Prisoners of Time, VIII Shared Responsibility :Finger Pointing and Evasion Must End, it is stated;
The school can not do it alone. All of us must share the responsibility. If we think this transformation too difficult, we must again learn the wisdom of the African proverb, "It Takes A Village To Raise A Child" The report further states and I agree, There is a circle of blame, finger pointing and evasion that must end. What must be done should be done by the people who are directly involved. Parents, students and teachers must lead the way. We must speak directly to the people with the greatest stake in the learning enterprise- -parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, foster parents and guardians, and to teachers and students themselves." [ National Commission on Education Prisoners of Time, 1994 ]
Having little or no course work or pre-service training on how to view or include family members in the education of their children, we as educators are left at our discretion to include or work with the families of our students in ways that vary. Some are effective and others are not. This variation runs the gamut. Some teachers take the position that parents need only take care of the children at home , that is provide adequate environments that support that students complete school- related work at home (homework), behave and perform well at school. Others take the position that parents are free to assist in class, and or drop in when it is convenient for them. Yet others invite, request, and or mandate that parents actively engage themselves in in-school curricular and extra curricular activities on a regular basis. Perhaps, all teachers and students can benefit from effective familial involvement in the education of children.
The National Response
Efforts are being made in various parts of the United States to improve or implement parental involvement programs in schools. In many states and on the federal level, much of the recent policy making efforts related to standards for certification of new teachers include some family/community involvement components.
The U. S. Department of Education's America Goes Back To School initiative promotes familial-community involvement especially in grades three to eight. The National Education Goals incorporated in the "Goals 2000": Educate America Act defined eight goals. Parental participation is the eighth goal which states: " Every school will promote partnerships that will increase parental involvement and participation in promoting the social, emotional, and academic growth of children."
- The Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium [INTASC] in its document to guide new teacher licensure, has defined 10 [ten] principles. The Tenth Principle mandates family / community involvement; it states:
The teacher fosters relationships with school colleagues, parents, and agencies in the larger community to support students' learning and well-being.
- The National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education [ NCATE ] has also set forth a set of standards which includes a family/community component. Standard 1. D. 2 states:
Candidates complete a well-balanced sequence of courses and / or experiences in pedagogical studies that help develop understanding and use of (8) collaboration with school colleagues, parents, and agencies in the larger community for supporting students' learning and well-being.
Despite all efforts, only a small percentage of the nation's schools and or educational institutions have "bought into" this position that families and the greater community must become equal partners or stake-holders in the education of all the nation's children, if the nation is to successfully educate and adequately prepare all of its children for productive livelihood. I believe where there is mutual respect, understanding, and appropriate familial involvement in the education of children, failure for children is not an option.
- The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards in its document, "What Teachers Should Know and Be Able To Do", suggests that accomplished teachers should be able to build and maintain effective parental involvement in the education of children. The 5th Standard: Teachers Are Members Of Learning Communities states:
There are two broad areas of responsibility. The second one entails engaging parents and others in the community in the education of young people. Teachers share with parents the education of the young. They communicate regularly with parents and guardians, listening to their concerns and respecting their perspective, enlisting their support in fostering learning and good habits, informing them of their child's accomplishments and successes, and educating them about school programs. Kindergarten teachers, for example, can help parents understand that reading stories to their children is more important to literacy than completing worksheets on letters ( NBPTS, 1994 page 33).
When teachers and schools effectively create partnerships with families, this results in families understanding the educational process and changes that might have occurred since the adult family members were young students. This understanding leads to more productive familial interaction with the children and their school work. In order to become more effective, educators and schools that view parents, families and the greater community as "partners" in the education of children tend to welcome and, in some cases, even demand parental, familial and or community involvement. These schools and educators create trust and mutual respect among the groups. These educators and schools actively pursue familial-community partnerships. The school-family-community involvement in these schools can look very different. It can mean involving family members in the students' school work at home, in class or both.
If we make explicit the multiple ways we value the language, culture and knowledge of the parents in our communities, parents may more readily accept our invitations [ Finders/Lewis 1994].
Some schools and educators understand the need for familial involvement and how to incorporate it in their effort to educate children. The following are testimonies from the field.
Model of Familial Involvement
DePriest School's First Grade Home - School Partnership
A first grade group at the Oscar Stanton DePriest Elementary School in Chicago, Illinois gets a boost with academics through its home-school partnership. Parental-Familial-Community involvement is both invited and strongly encouraged. The students, parents and teachers sign a commitment of intent to work together to attain student success. By invitation the families are asked to R S V P to quarterly in-class intergenerational activities. The program addresses academic as well as social-emotional growth. The children and their adult family members work in the class to complete recipes, and other objects- some having cultural and historical value. Writing is also a part of this activity. The class maintains it's own in-class library which works much like a public library. Shared child-adult [at home] reading is a daily activity. Other student-adult shared activity is promoted by school co-sponsored evening and weekend field excursions to children's bookstores, museums and concerts. This activity is open to students in all grade levels. Weekend student-adult shared writing activities allow students to connect academic skills to life skills. When needed, weekly feedback about the child's progress is given to parents. However, the student-adult partner teams that have been created serve as an effective assessment tool for families to know how and what their children are doing in school and how they can best support the academic process. The program, in its ninth year, has a high success rate for familial involvement. Achievement for this group varies, but is up from 1989, the year the program began.
The Comer Development Schools Programs
"Dr. James P. Comers, a child psychiatrist at the Yale Child Study Center, created the Development School Program as a means of reducing barriers between home and school. More than 600 schools in twenty-one states have adopted Comer's approach, which teaches parents how to help their children learn, encourages parents to help plan academic programs, and brings parents, teachers and other school staff together in relaxed settings" [ Rodham-Clinton 1996]. Following are some words from Dr. Comer on his program:
"What children need as much as they need computers and books, says James Comer, is relationships with caring adults. After a quarter-century, the school Development Program is continuing to model how educators can work with families to create caring communities in schools. In the Comer Model the social/emotional development is stressed along with the academic program. They have welcome back pot luck dinners. Comer reasons about these dinners.
"We didn't do them because they are nice. We wanted to establish relationships among the adults, to create authority figures for the children to identify with and become attached to. We involved parents in developing the curriculum by asking them what they wanted for their children as adults. We found they wanted the same things middle class parents wanted-- good jobs, families, responsible citizenship. We then asked them what kinds of activities would help their children develop the capacity to achieve these things. So we developed units in those areas that integrated the teaching of basic academic with social interaction skills and appreciation for the arts. [ Comer/ O'Neil, 1997, pages 6-10 ]
Dr. Williams introduced the Comer Process at the West Meck School . "The results have been dramatic."
" And now that Dr. Williams has moved uptown, the changes at West Meck are a sign of things to come at all 115 Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools." [ Yale Child Study Center Website SDP, 1995, page 12]
- SAT scores have risen by an average of 16 points. The number of students making the honor (sic) has jumped 75 percent. The number of students enrolled in advance-level courses has increased by 25 percent.
- Attendance rates have gone from 89 percent to almost 94 percent.
What the Research Says Much research on parental involvement as it relates to student achievement has been conducted in recent years. A most comprehensive study was recently conducted by the Johns Hopkins Center on School, Family and Community Partnerships in collaboration with the Center for Research on Education of Students Placed At Risk [ CRESPAR] with support from the United State Department of Education's Office of Educational Research. Since 1990, over 50 reports, guidebooks, and classroom material, videos, surveys and other products created from the research that has been conducted by the center's more than twenty researchers are available in the center's publication office. The research clearly shows that there is a solid link between teacher initiated effective familial/parental support or involvement and student achievement. The amounts and ways in which teachers included parent involvement varied. This study concludes that the social/economic and cultural background of the students did not have a significant effect on their achievement. For all groups, when parents and families were actively involved in effective ways there was increased student achievement. The study included longitudinal data from 293 third and fifth graders in the Baltimore City schools. The California Achievement Test (CAT) was administered in both the fall and spring of the 1980-81 academic year.
Although many factors influence learning, we were especially interested in whether teachers' practices of involving parents have persistent, independent effects on student achievement. We see the teachers' leadership in parent involvement in learning activities at home contributed independently to positive change in reading achievement from fall to spring, even after teacher quality, students' initial achievement, parents' education, parents' improved understanding of the school program, and the quality of students' homework are taken into account. Indeed the influence of teachers' practice of parent involvement may be even more important than the coefficient suggests, because improved parents' understanding and better homework quality are also influenced by these practices ( Epstein 1982, 1986).
There was, however, an observable difference in the growth between the areas of math and reading. The difference in the math and reading achievement was attributed to the fact that parents were reading to their children more and could do so without further assistance from the teachers. However, many parents are not able to assist children with their math assignments without more in-depth assistance from teachers. There were some variations in the student achievement in the areas of math and reading. Students who did well at the beginning of the year showed less progress than the students who showed lower achievement in the fall.
All variables are included in this analysis that are significantly correlated with change in math achievement. We also include teachers' leadership in parent involvement despite its low correlation to compare its effects on math with those reported for reading (Epstein 1986).
However, the resounding conclusion of the study was that students increased in both areas when parent and families were involved directly with the students.
Teacher education programs do not include and embrace the understandings in the stories and the research above. Their course work currently ignores the "village" concept in its preparation of teachers. Generally, catalogs for teacher education programs beyond the Early Childhood Programs do not include clinical experience or course work relative to familial involvement in education.
A Graduate/Research Institution's Course Work
Erikson Institute is a private graduate school and research center for advanced study in child development. It is one of only four such universities in the nation. It focuses on educating leaders in child development. Its work has been centered around reforming and improving services to children and families. For eight years Erikson Institute has been working with Chicago public schools to promote developmentally appropriate teaching and assessment practices. Several courses related to the family in the education setting are required by its students. The classes explore such topics as Family Cultures and Studies. These courses are specifically designed for professionals who are preparing for their work with children from infancy through eight years of age. However, I believe we can best service the elementary, middle, and high school child if we follow the lead of the early childhood programs' professional preparation and continue to educate the elementary, middle and high school children as "whole" persons, also Perhaps, we as educators might best serve our students if course work and clinical experiences similar to that stated above is required of all prospective educators.
Teacher education programs are presently being restructured. I believe they will best serve their prospective students if they include some course, clinical and field work that specifically, in-depthly explores student, familial, and community interactions which support student learning. As stated in the previous section, in the early childhood teacher programs several courses explore the family as it relates to the growth of the child. If all colleges and universities' education programs incorporate familial involvement within their course work, clinical and field experiences then prospective educators will have some idea as to the possible interactions, problems or variants in situations and environments that might lie ahead of them as they begin to work with their students. I believe that all educators may need to be immersed in ways or techniques for including familial involvement in their programs.
Instead of operating on the assumptions that absence translates into non-caring, we need to focus on ways to draw parents into the schools. [ Finders/Lewis 1994]
Of what would this course, clinical and pre-service field work consist and what should it do? The prospective educators should have to successfully complete clinical and field work in middle income areas as well as lower income areas. They should have to spend some hours in schools that are largely composed of at-risk students as well as others. This way prospective educators will likely have had some prior experience in whatever social, economic, and or cultural group that he / she might find himself / herself involved with as a practitioner.
As we embark upon the twenty-first century, we have before us all the information that is essential for successfully educating the All of America's children. If we choose to ignore it, then how do we propose to provide for the education of all children and to what extent do we prosper as a nation if many of our children do not receive a "world-class" education. To insure that all of the nation's children are well-educated, I propose we institute the following recommendations.
Require all teacher education pre-service programs to provide course work and clinical experiences that include working with families and understanding the role of the family in the education of children. Require all prospective teachers to take course work and clinical experiences that include working with families and understanding the role of the family in the education of children. Require all Teacher Education pre-service programs to follow the NCATE Standards.
References and Resources
"Charting Reform in Chicago: The Students Speak," [ July 1996], A Report Sponsored by the Consortium on Chicago School Research pages 58, 64 and 69-70.
Clinton, H. Rodham,
It Takes A Village, Simon and Schuster, (1996) pages 252 and 261.
Comer, J. P. [May 1997]
Educational Leadership, "Building Schools as Communities," Volume 54, No. 8, pages 6-10.
Comer, "School Development Schools Newsline," World Wide Web, Yale Child Study Center Website's Homepage, (Autumn 1995) SDP Newsline page 12.
Epstien, Joyce L.,
Effects on Student Achievement of Teachers' Practice of Parental Involvement, page 261-275,  , JAI Press, Inc. Reading/ Learning Research Vol. 5.
Erikson Institute 1996-98 BULLETIN ( 1996) pages 9, 15 , 23 & 26.
Finders, M. and Lewis, C. [May 1994]
Educational Leadership, "Why Some Parents Don't Come to School," pages 50-54.
Johns Hopskins University, "Center on School Family and Community Partnership" [ CRESPAR ] Homepage World Wide Web (1996) pages 1-3.
INTASC Draft for Model Standard for Beginning Teacher Licensure, INTASC document, (1996).
Johnson, F. [May, 1997] Chicago Panel on School Policy workshop presentation; family involvement in education,
Handbook for DePriest School First Grade Parent-Student Partnership.
National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (1994) "What Teachers Should Know and Be Able To Do," page 33.
National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education Programs  NCATE Standards.
"Prisoners of Time," Report of the National Commission on Time and Learning, U. S. Government, [April 1994] Section 8, pages 1-3.
U. S. Dept. of Education's Community Update, No. 41, November 1996.
U. S. Dept. of Education's Community Update, No. 45, March 1997.
U. S. Dept. of Education's America Goes Back to School Initiative Goals 2000: Educate America Act U. S. Dept. of Education Teacher listserv.