Brookings Institution shares research on the value of family-school engagement


This article first appeared in, a NEXTpittsburgh media partner that aims to make Pittsburgh a better place to raise children.

When the pandemic forced schools to be creative in communicating with families, a startling thing happened. As teachers around the world have committed to reaching families in any way they can – texts, emails, calls, video chats, and even knocking on people’s doors – they have started to truly connect with parents.

Schools were closed and yet many teachers forged stronger bonds than ever with families. Some even contacted parents who had been particularly difficult to reach. And parents have reached out, throwing themselves into the sometimes daunting work of helping their children learn.

Researchers from Brookings Institution’s Center for Universal Education (SIGNAL) had been digging into the subject of family-school engagement for more than a year before Covid-19 erupted.

The folks at CUE aim to help people understand and tackle inequalities in education, and make progress towards the best possible education for all children around the world. The pandemic has made teaching and learning difficult in ways no one had seen coming, and it has led these researchers to delve even deeper into why the family-school connection matters – and to understand the obstacles that prevent it from happening.

“This is a real time to transform the way we ensure long-term family / school engagement,” says Rebecca Winthrop, Director of CUE. “Parents in the future really expect to be more involved in the education of their children. “

Brookings has just released data from surveys of more than 24,000 parents and 6,000 teachers in 14 communities in 10 countries. This included many communities in the Pittsburgh area.

The data is shared in the form of a “playbook” designed for use by decision makers. But the ideas – and the interactive database of tools and strategies they’ve built from that research – are also useful for parents and educators.

The playbook, titled “Transform education through family-school collaboration, ”Includes this information:

FAMILY AND SCHOOL ENGAGEMENT IS HUGE VALUE – AND OFTEN IGNORED. Before the pandemic, communication between families and schools was not a priority in most communities. There was no system or habit in place to help these connections develop. Educators haven’t learned how to connect with parents. And many parents did not see a place for themselves in their children’s school life.

Yet Brookings has discovered that helping families and schools work better together is not just the right thing to do; it is also the smart thing to do. Schools with strong family engagement are 10 times more likely to improve student learning outcomes.

After examining 500 strategies used in communities around the world, Brookings found that increased parental engagement in learning can:

  • Improve student attendance and course completion.
  • Improve student learning and development.
  • Redefine the purpose of school for students.
  • Redefine the purpose of school for society.

Best of all, this progress is inexpensive. The study found that it can actually “deliver the equivalent of three more years of high-quality education for a low cost per student.”

WE NEED TO AGREE. Connection is clearly important. But right now, some basic roadblocks exist in communities all over the planet.

Parents and schools rarely talk to each other about their main goals for schooling: is it just a place for academics? Or a place to train for the best job possible, or learn to be a good citizen, or become someone with the social and emotional skills to get along with others and through the ups and downs that life throws at us all?

Some parents and schools reflexively assume that they don’t agree. Brookings found that across the world, many parents and schools view social / emotional learning as a key school goal. Yet each group said they believed the other group primarily cared about academics.

The data also revealed that a child’s age greatly influences parents’ beliefs and perceptions about what constitutes a quality school experience. Most parents of younger children focused more on the well-being of their child, while parents of older students focused on education.

Parents’ own education levels also play a role in shaping their beliefs about school. Parents with less education are more likely to be influenced by people in their day-to-day lives.

In different parts of the world, this may be the child’s teacher, a local religious leader or other community leader, or perhaps other relatives in the community. More educated parents are more likely to listen to people outside their local community, such as college admissions officers, journalists, and quoted experts in the media.

Whatever parents and teachers may currently believe, one thing is clear: whether the two parties are truly listening to each other – discussing their views on the school’s purpose and goals and respecting each other’s goals. hear – common ground is possible. This paves the way for collaboration to help children thrive.

WE CAN SEIZE THIS MOMENT. Our world is changing rapidly, not only because of Covid, but also because of globalization, automation, climate change and other external pressures. In this case, schools and education systems must adapt. As the global pandemic has made clear, true partnerships between families, communities and schools can help us navigate this time of disruptive change.

With parents more involved than ever in their children’s learning, this moment is an opportunity to forge long-term relationships.

But Brookings found three major barriers to engaging parents in the world: First, schools are not designed to engage with parents. Second, teachers and school administrators are generally not trained to interact effectively with parents. And third, the power dynamic leaves many parents uncomfortable and unsure of their place in the school community.

Noticing these roadblocks is the first step towards resolving them. The interactive tools included in the Brookings Playbook can help you with this process.

Parents will find strategies to better support their children’s learning and claim a voice in the transformation of education systems. Teachers and schools can use the tools in the playbook to better understand parents’ perspectives and develop new ways to collaborate. And ideally, policy makers will use this knowledge to transform education in their communities.


Brookings’ research and the resulting playbook are part of the global Parents as Allies research project, funded by the Grable Foundation. This collaboration between four organizations – the CUE at Brookings, the Teachers Guild x School Retool team of groundbreaking design company IDEO, the Finland-based educational innovation nonprofit HundrED and Kidsburgh – will continue throughout. of 2021 as these organizations explore the many facets of parenting. commitment.

The IDEO team recently completed a design sprint process with 14 communities around the world to design impactful and affordable hacks to increase parental engagement. HundreD has researched innovative approaches around the world and published details on 12 of them in their recent report. Spotlight on parental engagement report.

And throughout this fall, Kidsburgh is hosting a series of in-person brainstorming sessions with parents and educators called the Great learning conversations.

Brookings Brookings Institution Brookings Institution Center for Universal Education

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