By: Darcy Hutchins, Ph.D.
November in Colorado is Family and School Partnership in Education Month. While family, school, and community partnerships (FSCP) are important for positive student outcomes all year, now is a good time to identify and celebrate current practices and set some goals for how you’d like to improve.
Over fifty-five years of research indicate the importance of Families, Schools, and Communities Partnering (FSCP) for student learning. National data shows that students gain academically, as well as behaviorally, when families and school staff work together to support student success. Current and notable research findings include that:
Parent-Community Ties is one of five “essential elements” of school improvement (Hart et al., 2020).
Students have better attendance and higher reading comprehension scores when districts, schools, and public charter schools conduct home visits (Sheldon & Jung, 2018).
School-initiated, specific family participation programs - such as shared reading, homework checking, and teamed two-way communication -are significantly and positively related to academic achievement for students at all levels (Epstein et al., 2018).
These data findings show that perhaps the greatest challenge surrounding FSCP is not whether they impact student achievement. Rather, the greater challenge is what is needed for high quality partnership structures and how to sustain and embed through structures in established organization. This article includes information about the components of a comprehensive partnership structure that can support student learning, as well as promising partnership practices for middle schools to when considering how to partner with every family to support every student.
Components of a Comprehensive Partnership Structure
As more research and examples of promising practices emerge, districts, schools, and public charter schools are beginning to move away from “random acts of partnership” to instead have a comprehensive, sustainable partnership structure that aligns with school improvement goals and student outcomes. The Colorado Department of Education (CDE) recommends that schools implement the following four components of comprehensive FSCP, adapted from Dr. Joyce Epstein’s research (2018):
Implementing the Framework of the National Standards for Family-School Partnerships
Framework of the National Standards for Family-School Partnerships
In 2009, state legislation mandated that Colorado align its FSCP work with the National Standards for Family-School Partnerships (2022). These Standards help schools to organize FSCP outreach to partner with every family to support their children’s learning both inside and outside of school. The National Standards are:
CDE has several resources available to guide and support districts, schools, and public charter schools in implementing and customizing the National Standards to best meet the needs of their local populations. The National Standards goals and indicators are outlined at National Standards.
There is also a Starting Points Inventory for school staff to complete, ideally with advice from families, to determine whether the site is emerging, progressing, or excelling in each of the National Standards.
Finally, CDE annually collects Promising Partnership Practices from schools and districts across the state, aligned with the National Standards.
The Flamboyan Foundation, located in Washington, D.C. conducted a summary of current FSCP research to determine which partnership initiatives have the highest impact on student achievement. This graphic shows the summary of their findings. When viewing this graphic, it is important to note that while the initiatives on the right side have a higher, direct impact on student achievement, the lower impact strategies are still good things to do. Celebrations, potlucks, and fundraisers may not directly lead to better student grades and test scores. However, many of the lower impact strategies indirectly impact achievement by creating a welcoming climate of partnerships.
School staff, particularly principals, have many opportunities to share leadership with families, community members, classroom teachers, and support staff. These teams include the School Accountability Committee (SAC), PTAs or PTOs, culture clubs, etc. Effective FSCP teams include families that mirror “significantly represented populations of students” in the school. Teams are most likely to be sustainable when the leaders:
Help members communicate with each other.
Plan goal-oriented partnerships.
Conduct useful meetings with a good agenda.
Make decisions collegially and share leadership for planned activities.
Continue to write and implement plans to improve partnerships.
Schools in Colorado write a Unified Improvement Plan (UIP) to identify and prioritize major improvement strategies. Schools should reach out to families on the SAC and beyond to gather input on include FSCP initiatives in the plan.
Additionally, districts, schools, and public charter schools identify as Priority Improvement or Turnaround must include on their UIP how they work with families to improve student outcomes. Schools may also use this strategy guide to help FSCP teams plan and evaluate their work.
Evaluating FSCP work is no easy task, many initiatives indirectly, rather than directly, impact achievement. FSCP teams should think through how to measure impact of both individual initiatives and the partnership structure as a whole.
Counting heads in a room is only one, rather superficial, way to measure the success of a school’s FSCP. Other methods of evaluation include:
The Colorado Department of Education has several evaluation tools to help schools effectively evaluate FSCP initiatives and whole programs of partnership.
Putting it All Together
Family-school-community partnerships are an essential component of district, school, and public charter school improvement and, more important, student success. Moving from ineffective to effective partnerships is a team effort. As the old Chinese proverb states, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Change does not happen overnight, yet the impact of FSCP is strong indisputable when implemented intentionally.
Epstein, J. L., Sanders, M. G., Sheldon, S. B., Simon, B. S., Salinas, K. C., Jansorn, N. R., ... & Williams,
K. J. (2018). School, family, and community partnerships: Your handbook for action. Corwin Press.
Hart, H., Young, C., Chen, A., Zou, A., & Allensworth, E. M. (2020). Supporting School Improvement:
Early Findings from a Reexamination of the" 5Essentials" Survey. Research Report. University of Chicago Consortium on School Research.
Sheldon, S. B., & Jung, S. B. (2018). Student outcomes and parent teacher home visits. Center on
School, Family, & Community Partnerships, Johns Hopkins University.