The U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently released a draft statement on family engagement “from the early years to the early grades.” It reeks of big government.
On one hand the need for family engagement is evident. Parents who are engaged in their children’s education, I believe and research backs-up, are one of the most vital factors in a child’s academic success. So engaging families in principle is not a bad idea, and it is needed.
The 18-page statement goes south from there however.
Right on the first page of the report they write:
It is the position of the Departments that all early childhood programs and schools recognize families as equal partners in improving children’s development, learning and wellness across all settings, and over the course of their children’s developmental and educational experiences.
Equal? Parents are primary, this is not an equal partnership. Parents have the ultimate responsibility.
They do back track a little bit however. In several places in the statement the refer to parents as “children’s first and most important teachers, advocates, and nurturers.”
On page 5 they acknowledge that isn’t the current climate in educational settings.
The first step in systemically embedding effective family engagement practices in educational settings is to establish a culture where families are seen as assets and partners in children’s development, learning and wellness.
They state training is needed to accomplish this. They say schools should “(p)rioritize professional development that helps staff engage parents as capable, competent partners,” (pg. 6).
To what end? “Research indicates that families’ positive attitudes about schools are associated with children’s improved performance at school,” they write on pg. 2. It isn’t about parents being engaged in their children’s education rather it’s about the family having a positive attitude about the school.
Also they want to help address meeting a family’s basic needs as their lack would negatively impact a child’s education:
It is much more difficult to engage in children’s learning if a family’s basic needs are not met. This research indicates that the institutions where children learn cannot ignore family wellness if they want to meaningfully engage families and fulfill their mission to prepare children for school and academic success. While some of these needs may be met in schools and early childhood programs through onsite comprehensive services, others can be met through partnerships with organizations and specialists in the community, (pg. 3).
How are they going to learn about that? They need to prioritize a child’s social emotional and behavioral health because school isn’t about just academics don’t you know.
Engage families around children’s social-emotional and behavioral health. Ensure constant monitoring and communication regarding children’s social-emotional and behavioral health. Ensure that children’s social-emotional and behavioral needs are met and that families and staff are connected with relevant community partners, such as early childhood mental health consultants and children’s medical homes, (pg. 6).
They are to keep track of this through data collection:
States should collect data about the extent to which early childhood programs and schools are engaging families, the strategies that they are using, and their effectiveness. States can use this data to better understand current practices and policies, strengthen those that are working, and modify those that are not. States can collect and analyze family engagement data found in:
- Child care licensing or quality rating and improvement systems with a focus on indicators on family engagement policies, pre-service training and in-service coaching, or programs’ cultural and linguistic responsiveness to the families they serve;
- Professional development registries that identify whether and to what extent the workforce has access to or received family engagement focused training;
- Higher education coursework to determine which family engagement practices are included in teacher and administrator preparation programs; and
- Family surveys that assess family experiences alongside data on children’s development.
Data collection efforts should help States monitor progress toward their goals, and these efforts should ensure family privacy and administrative clarity and transparency in how data will be used to improve family engagement efforts, (pg. 9 emphasis mine).
Also what I find most disturbing is the encouragement within the statement for schools to make home visits.
To support ongoing relationship building with families, programs and schools should conduct periodic home visits so that teachers and families can get to know each other and communicate about children’s ’goals, strengths, challenges, and progress. If home visits are not possible for all families, schools or programs should require that teachers or providers and families communicate at the beginning of the year to ensure that the relationship is started in a positive way, (pg. 13).
Also they write that educators and parents should “agree” on activities to be done at home. “Families and teachers or providers should track children’s progress together, and should agree on activities that can be done at home and in the classroom to promote positive outcomes,” (pg. 12).
This lays the ground work of school intervention into the lives of families, expanding the scope of schools beyond academics and possibly violating a family’s privacy through data collection, surveys and home visits.
Schools should stick to academics and leave the social emotional and behavioral health to parents and the resources they choose to utilize, like churches. Family engagement is great provided it’s parents engaging with the school and not the school trying to meddle in home.
Read the draft statement below: