Reschly, A. L., & Christenson, S. L. (2009). Parents as Essential Partners for FosteringStudents' Learning Outcomes. In R. G. Michael J. Furlong, Handbook of PositivePsychology in Schools (pp. 257-272). New York: Routledge.20Parents as Essential Partners for FosteringStudents' Learning OutcomesAMY 1. RESCHLY AND SANDRA 1. CHRISTENSONThe evidence is consistent, positive, and convincing: families have amajor influence on their children's achievement in school and throughlife . When schools, families, and community groups work togetherto support learning, children tend to do better in school, stay in schoollonger, and like school more.(Henderson & Mapp, 2002, p. 7)Years of research, and hundreds of studies, indicate the major role offamilies in promoting academic,social, emotional, and behavioral outcomes among youth (Barton & Coley, 2007; Hess & Hollo way, 1984; Wahlberg, 1984; White, 1982). The desire to tap family involvement for the educativepurposes of schools is not surprising, particularly in this era of accountability and the ubiquitouspress for improved achievement among students in our schools. The national precedence given tofamily involvement in education is evidenced in legislation-No Child Left Behind (NCLB; citedin Epstein, 2005); the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA);initiatives such as the National Education Goals (Goals 1 and 8; National Education Goals Panel,1999); countless policy and position statements put forth by such organizations as the NationalPTA (1998, 2000), National Association ofSchool Psychologists (2005), and even accrediting bodiessuch as National Council for Accreditation on Teacher Education (NCATE, 2002, cited in Epstein& Sanders, 2006); and, although to a somewhat lesser extent, state educator licensing guidelines(Radcliffe, Malone, & Nathan, 1994). Very interesting are the findings of a recent study, "The Fam ily: America's Smallest School;' by the Educational Testing Service (ETS; Barton & Coley, 2007).These ETS researchers identified four variables that are out of the direct control of schools (singleparent household, attendance, amount of daily reading at home, and amount of TV watching)that predicted student success on state reading standardized tests with impressive accuracy. Wheninterviewed for the New York Times article (Winerip, 2007), Coley stated:Kids start school from platforms of different heights and teachers don't have a magic wandthey can wave to get kids on the same platform. If we're really interested in raising overalllevels of achievement and in closing the achievement gap, we need to pay as much attentionto the starting line as we do the finish line.257
258 Amy L. Reschly and Sandra L. ChristensonThis statement aligns with the preventive nature of and need for family-school partnershipsacross grade levels; yet, they remain an unmet national educational priority (Barton & Coley, 2007;Carlson & Christenson, 2005). Students' adaptation to schooling depends in part on the degree ofsupport, opportunity to learn, and resources available to the student; these come from home andschool and must fit the specific developmental period.The desire to utilize family involvement in order to improve student outcomes has outpacededucator pre-service and in-service training necessary to accomplish this aim. Pre-service trainingthat addresses working or partnering with families has generally been limited to the areas of earlychildhood and special education (Chavkin & Williams, 1988), rather than all K-16 students andtheir families. Although there has been some progress in family involvement and/or partnershipsin other pre-service coursework, educators are largely unprepared to carry out this expected andvital portion of their jobs (Epstein & Sanders, 2006). This lack of preparedness continues intopractice. As such, there is a national need for in-service training in this area for educators andadministrators (Jordan, Orzco, & Averett, 2001).Similarly, national initiatives and the inclination to utilize family involvement have outstrippedknowledge ofeffective implementation processes (Jordan et a!., 2001) and evidence-based programsand practices (Carlson & Christenson, 2005). Much of the research and publications to date havebeen correlational, descriptive, and/or policy focused. Currently, however, the field has begun todelineate effective programs and practices (e.g., Carlson & Christenson). Furthermore, articles andliterature reviews published in the recent years have detailed the methodological issues in research,delineated areas of promise and greatest need, and outlined necessary research agendas to movethe field forward (e.g., Carlson & Christenson, 2005; Jordan et a!., 2001; Sheridan, 2005).The purpose of this chapter is to provide an overview of the literature related to partneringwith families to promote child competence. First, the theoretical foundation of this work-systemsecological theory-is described, along with implications of systems theory for work in education.The next section describes how this theoretical framework has influenced several recent changes inthe field, including definitions of families, involvement, and partnerships and the role of the meso systemic relationship for promoting competence. The focus of current inquiry in family-schoolrelationships to promote positive outcomes is on questions of how and what works. These questionsare addressed in the last sections of the chapter, followed by future directions for research.An Evolving FieldTheoretical FoundationA number of studies and policies related to involving or working with families were developed inthe absence of a theoretical framework, a step necessary to advance research and guide practice inthe field (Jordan et a!., 2001). Ecological systems theory (Bronfenbrenner, 1979, 1992) provides thetheoretical foundation for working across families and schools to promote student success. Bronfen brenner stressed understanding child development in context, noting the importance of immediateor proximal settings (family, school, community) and those more distal in nature, such as parents'workplace, legislation, cultural norms, and so forth. In this view, children are embedded withincontexts. There are reciprocal interactions or relationships among these contexts over time, ratherthan a unidirectional influence of a setting, such as family or school, on student outcomes.There are several implications ofthis theory for work in education. First, child competence can not be understood as a function of home or school inputs (for reviews of the literature regardinghome, school, and teaching influences related to student outcomes, see Christenson & Buerkle,1999, Bickel, 1999, and Brophy & Good, 1986, respectively) but rather must be considered part ofthe entire system, e.g., child, family, school, community, and peer contexts. Furthermore, of chief
Parents as Essential Partners for Fostering Students' Learning Outcomes 259importance for promoting competence are relationships, particularly the relationship betweenthe two primary socializing contexts, home and school (Pianta & Walsh, 1996). As such, childcompetence is best understood as a result of co-action, or as the dynamic influence of relation ships among systems.This theoretical framework also affects how risk is conceptualized. Risk is not located withinthe student, home or school systems, but rather is distributed across systems and represented inthe interactions among these systems. Thus, high-risk circumstances are those in which there is alack of congruence in messages and poor relationships between home and school. Low-risk con ditions are those in which family and school systems are well-functioning and there is a positiverelationship between these two major socializing influences, promoting congruence and sharedresponsibility (Pianta & Walsh, 1996). In other words, relationships among these contexts (e.g.,home-school) and subsystems (e.g., teacher-student, parent-child) represent a social system thatenhances or thwarts students' learning across school levels (Christenson & Anderson, 2002).Manifestation of Theory: Current Thinking about Families and SchoolsCurrent thinking about families, research, and future directions is reflective of this system's ecologi cal theoretical framework. Although not exhaustive, some of the more substantive changes andstatus of the field are described briefly in the paragraphs that follow. These changes include chang ing definitions of families, acknowledgement of the role of context and purpose of involvementinitiatives, a reduced focus on school-determined activity-based involvement, and recognition ofthe importance of the family-school relationship.One of the signature developments in recent years is the changing conceptualization andpurpose of involvement. Parent Involvement has given way to a broader view of families and Fa m ily Involvement, recognizing the many configurations of families and diversity of roles in whichrelatives and close friends may have in raising children and adolescents. Furthermore, there is nosingle definition of family involvement; rather, families take part in a wide-range of participatoryand support behaviors across settings (school, home, community; Jordan et aI., 2001). Hence, thepredominant emphasis on school-defined involvement, which is reflective ofthe school's priorities,is insufficient to capture how families support learning, may inhibit involvement of some fami lies, and preclude the development of constructive relationships with others. There is variation inboth the definition and purpose of family involvement initiatives, which may include (a) a focuson increaSing or improving family involvement in schooling (e.g., Grolnick, Benjet, Kurowski, &Apostieris, 1997); (b) enhancing the interactions between home and school with a goal of improv ing student learning; or (c) establishing partnerships between families and schools to create themost favorable conditions possible for enhancing student learning and competence (Christenson,2004). Our preference is a focus on the creation of partnerships between families and schools withthe goal of facilitating optimal student learning across academic, social, behavioral, and emotionaldomains of competence.Furthermore, partnerships imply engaged relationships, one wherein teachers are engaged withstudents, parents are engaged with their children's learning and lives, and parents, educators, andstudents are actively engaged with each other toward the shared goal ofpromoting students' successand schooling experiences. An effective parent-school engagement process is based in problem solving approaches (e.g., sharing of information, data, suggestions; listening, co-construction ofconcerns, intervention plans, and so forth) that provide parents, educators, and students access(right to inclusion), voice (feeling that they were heard and listened to throughout the process), andownership (agree with and are committed to any plan concerning them) during shared decisionmaking to address referral concerns (Osher, 1997).
260 Amy L. Reschly and Sandra L. ChristensonAnother shift that has occurred in this field is a reduced focus on activities. Much of the initialwork in both academic and practitioner venues related to family involvement at school was activ ity focused, providing ideas or lists of activities for family involvement. These lists, while useful tosome extent, have yielded to the greater appreciation of context inherent in a systems ecologicaltheoretical framework for family-school relationships. Any number of activities may accomplisha specific goal or outcome, such as communication (Epstein & Sheldon, 2006), but it is not theactivity per se that matters (although these must occur), but rather the activity must match thedesired goal or outcome within a given context. Effective practices for engaging and partneringwith families vary across sites, depending on the unique needs of families, students, and schoolsand the resources available to families, schools, and communities. Furthermore, particular pro grams or strategies may have different effects at different ages (Jordan et aI., 2001). For example,a family literacy program that is effective for improving the reading performance kindergartenand first grade students may not be appropriate for high school students in a language arts class.Similarly, the content of the partnership effort may be coordinated home learning activities forelementary students, but shift to more motivational home support for learning such as discussionabout student interests, parental expectations, and planning for postsecondary enrollment optionsfor adolescents (Gonzalez-DeHass,Willems, & Holbein, 2005; Henderson & Mapp, 2002). In short,context matters.Focus on the MesosystemAccording to Bronfenbrenner's seminal theory (1979,1992), the mesosystem refers to interactionsamong the contexts in which the child directly participates, typically home, school, and community.The relationship between home and school, the primary socializing agents for children and adoles cents, is part of the mesosystem. There has been a gradual deconstruction of the notion that familiesand schools have separate responsibilities for student learning. Rather, the learning environmentfor students is comprised of home, school, and home-school relationship components (Ysseldyke& Christenson, 2002). The meso-systemic home-school relationship is increasingly recognizedas being imperative to student success (Barton & Coley, 2007; Kreider, Caspe, Kennedy, & Weiss,2007). Recognition of the importance of the home-school relationship for promoting students'academic, behavioral, social, and emotional competence orients educators and researchers to thequality of the home-school relationship, importance of congruence and consideration of the powerof out ofschool time.Relationship QualityPrevious research and applied work in the field of family involvement in schooling was dominated y the aforementioned focus on activities and typologies of family involvement. The most influen tIal of.these typologies is Epstein's six types: Parenting, Communicating, Volunteering, Enhancing earmng at Home, Decision Making, and Collaborating with the Community. These types ofll1vo vement were the basis for the National Standards for Parent/Family Involvement Programs(Na lO al PTA, 1998) and provide a structure for school action teams who desired to implementfamily-mvolvement programs (Epstein, 1995; Epstein et al., 2002). However, as definitions offamiliesand the ways in which families support learning have expanded, paired with an increased focus ont e mes.o-systemic relationship between home and school, so too has attention to other types and lmenslOns f involvement and relationships. For example, it has been recognized that in addi tIOn to uanhty, the quality of contact between home and school must be examined (Christenson& Shendan, 2001); it may also be important to distinguish between school and parent-initiatedcontact (Jordan et aI., 2001; Kohl, Lengua, & McMahon, 2000). Kohl and colleagues (2000) have
Parents as Essential Partners for Fostering Students' Learning Outcomes 261offered an expanded typology that reflects both behavioral and affectivelrelational componentsof family involvement in education: parent involvement at school, parent involvement at home,parent-teacher contact, quality ofthe parent-teacher relationship, teacher perception of the parent,and parent endorsement of school.Congruence in MessagesThe meso-systemic home-school relationship promotes positive outcomes for students when thereis congruence in terms of expectations, interactions, and so forth, and a positive relationship amongthese socializing agents. For example, Hansen (1986) found greater achievement gains for third- andfifth-graders who experienced congruence in rules and interaction styles across home and school.In addition, interventions have been found to be more effective when both home and school com ponents are utilized (e.g., Heller & Fantuzzo, 1993; Ramey & Ramey, 1998; Sheridan, Kratochwill ,&Elliott, 1990) and when joint problem-solving sessions between parents/guardians and educatorsare conducted (Galloway & Sheridan, 1994). Establishing congruence is also a key component inthe delivery of efficacious mental health interventions (Dishion & Stromshak, 2006).The Significance of home-school relationships and congruence between these systems is but tressed by empirical work that suggests analogous home and school predictors of achievementand learning. As noted by Chall (2000), "The processes and characteristics that enhance academicachievement are essentially the same-whether found in the home or in the school" (p. 159).Home predictors of school learning-work habits of the home, academic guidance and support,stimulation to explore and discuss ideas and events, language environment, and academic aspira tions and expectations-are comparable to school factors that enhance achievement (Kellaghan,Sloane, Alvarez, & Bloom, 1993).Similarly, a comprehensive review of more than 200 studies on home, school, and communityinfluences related to student learning revealed a common set of factors that promote learningacross contexts: Standards and Expectations (the level of expected performance held by key adultsfor youth); Structure (overall routine and monitoring provided by key adults); Opportunity to Learn(variety oflearning options and resources available to youth in the home, school, and community);Support (guidance provided by, communication between, and interest shown by adults to facilitatestudent progress in school); Climate and Relationships (amount of warmth, friendliness; praiseand recognition; and degree to which adult-youth relationships are positive and respectful); andModeling (how adults demonstrate desired behaviors and commitment/value toward learning andworking hard). These factors highlight the complementary nature offamily, school, and communityinfluences for student success (Christenson & Peterson, 2006). Data gathered directly from studentssupported the validity of these factors for student learning and success. Students characterizedby their teachers as consistent learners rated the importance of each factor to their learning morehighly than those who were described as inconsistent learners. The home and school influencesrelated to student success were more frequent and systematically present for consistent learners,which suggested a cumulative effect of home and school systems on achievement (Christenson &Anderson, 2002). These components, for families or schools, may be characterized as the extentto which the environment is a learning environment; the curriculum of the home or the school(Walberg, 1984). Other family-school interventions are focused on interventions that connectfamilies to the curriculum at school.Out ofSchool TimeConsideration of the effects that home, school, and the home-school relationship have on studentachievement necessitates consideration of the places in which learning may occur, which are not
262 Amy L. Reschly and Sandra L. Christensonlimited to schools. Indeed, Walberg (1984) estimated that from birth to the age of 18, studentsspend more than 90% of their time outside of schools. Efforts to improve student achievement,and close the achievement gap among various groups of students (e.g., those in poverty, racial/ethnic groups, English learners), must take into account the power of out-of-school time (Weiss,Little, & Bouffard, 2005).How students spend time outside ofschool is related to academic, as well as social and behavioraloutcomes (see Barber, Abbott, Blomfield, & Eccles, chapter 21 , this book). For example, construc tive use of time and participation in structured (supervised) activities are associated with positiveoutcomes, across domains, for students