For two decades, educators have attempted to get parents more involved in children’s learning. Experts agree that parental involvement is crucial to student success, but too often the typical involvement-work on fundraising, open houses, and school committees-is detached from an understanding of the type of involvement that research has shown necessary for improved student learning. Thus, parental support of teachers in helping students with schoolwork and responsible conduct is often overlooked. A blueprint for research and educational guidance begun and has engaged parents by promoting implementation of school communities and extension of the curriculum into the home.
The blueprint is based on the beliefs that shared values among teachers, parents, and students improve academic achievement and that school and home belong to the same, mutually influencing system. Informing these beliefs is research on learning factors, social capital, and the school community.
Each school’s principal, teachers, and parents should form a School Community Council (SCC) and a Planning Guide for regular meetings to be followed to ensure that educational values develop school-home communication and education thrive, intergenerational bonds strengthen, and community agencies help shape the school community.
A review of the literature on community shows a rich sociological tradition relevant to recent ideas about children’s learning. The school community has increasingly been seen as resisting an alienating modern society by operating with values shared by schools, families, and the larger community. Sociologists have long understood that communities are based on values like collective action, reciprocal obligations, and group loyalty. These values can free individuals from restrictions of families and buffer them from an increasingly impersonal society. Recent research shows that communities help children cope with the demands of individualism and peer pressure by providing stable values. The idea of social capital, examined by Coleman and Putnam, suggests that society must invest in values; otherwise they can be lost just as financial capital can. Walberg urges that schools help families generate social capital through what he calls “the curriculum of the home.” Other researchers, studying effects of parental involvement on children’s achievement, conclude that parental cooperation in instruction improves academic performance. Yet attempts to use this understanding have been disappointing, partly because of changes in family structure, such as the growing absence of fathers.
Yet attempts to increase parental support continue, using innovative ideas like intergenerational closure to facilitate children’s contact with adults beyond the family in the school community.
Schools should understand the high commitment required of School Community Councils, and adequate field support for the councils should be provided, including extension offices. Reporting and publicizing of implementation progress should also be augmented, and SCC members from different schools should interact more often.
Objectives for further work also include extending supportive activities, such as certifications and conferences, for current sites; supporting implementation with a revised Planning Guide; and sustaining research and training to help more schools build themselves into true and flourishing communities.