Family Engagement in Washington, D.C.
We define family engagement as the collaboration between families and schools that drives student achievement. A strong body of research shows that students do better in school and in life when their parents are engaged in their education. Teachers are only with children an average 14% of their time, so it is essential that families reinforce messages about learning outside of school.
The most important roles parents play in their children’s success include having high expectations, constantly reinforcing the value of education, monitoring performance and holding children accountable, supporting learning, guiding children through important decisions, and advocating for them.
Schools’ family engagement efforts should focus on equipping parents to play these roles by giving them timely, individualized and actionable information about what children are learning in school, how they are learning it, and what families can do to support that learning at home. Educators should communicate regularly with families to understand their hopes and dreams for their child, to co-construct academic goals to help achieve those hopes and dreams, and to report on the student’s progress in meeting those goals.
While many service providers, funders and policymakers focus on training families so that they can play these roles, often teachers and school administrators do not receive support and training to engage families in ways that improve student learning. As such, much of Flamboyan Foundation’s work focuses on building the capacity of schools, principals, teachers and districts to reach out and partner effectively with families.
Understanding the Local Environment
We began our work in Washington, D.C. in 2008 by having a series of conversations with local experts on education.
We were specifically interested in education reform strategies that impact student achievement but that weren’t receiving adequate attention in the District of Columbia. So, we asked the question of everyone we spoke with, “if you had time, energy and some money, what would you work on in education locally?”
From the responses we heard, two clear patterns emerged: “Family Engagement” was a common issue that people felt was important but inadequately addressed and there wasn’t a common definition for “Family Engagement.” So, we set out to learn more.
Landscape Assessment & Selection
We contracted with the Endeavor Group to help us learn:
- Whether Family Engagement does, in fact, lead to student achievement.
- Who is doing what in Family Engagement both nationally and locally.
From the results of this landscape assessment, we heard a resounding “yes” that Family Engagement does lead to student achievement. We also collected valuable information about the major players working on this issue in the district and across the nation, and the various strategies they are pursuing to improve family engagement.
More importantly, we learned that people mean very different things when they say family engagement, and there were actually two interdependent but quite different issues that needed attention. Family Engagement is the collaboration between families and educators that improves an individual child’s learningwhereas Education Advocacy is about mobilizing families to demand high quality schools. We decided to work on both issues and began building a local team with expertise in both areas.
Developing a Deep Understanding
Having chosen to work on Family Engagement and Education Advocacy, we needed to learn more. So, we asked the Endeavor Group to conduct focus groups with 150 families from all wards in Washington, D.C. to understand the sentiments, concerns, and suggestions of local residents.
Once the Flamboyan team came on board, we conducted further research to understand what types of family engagement actually lead to student achievement. To do so, the team reviewed over 200 books, peer-reviewed journal articles and policy briefs and interviewed dozens of experts in the field.
From this work we developed research briefs and synthesized our learning into a framework of effective family engagement with both classroom and school rubrics. We set out to test these documents in partnership with teachers, local school and district leaders, and other experts in the field.
Over the course of a year, we discussed and tested our framework, refining and adapting it to the specifics of Washington, D.C.’s environment. At the same time, we began crafting and refining the outcomes we wanted to see from our family engagement work, identifying the barriers to achieving those outcomes, and developing strategies to overcome the most important barriers. Our theory of change lays out how we believe our work in family engagement will improve student achievement over the long term.
Proposed Outcomes & Strategy
We are currently working on Strategy for Family Engagement. Would you like to follow our progress?
Selecting & Working with Partners
We are currently working on Partners for Family Engagement. Would you like to follow our progress?
Evaluation & Results
Since we have only been making grants since June 2010, we are currently focusing our evaluation efforts on monitoring implementation and evaluating short-term outcomes, including impacts on beliefs, knowledge, and behavior. Would you like to receive occasional updates on our progress via email?