Improving Learning and Development Outcomes: The Importance of Family Involvement

Three decades of research has demonstrated that quality family involvement coupled with high expectations improves student learning, behavioral and developmental outcomes. Dr. Ronald Ferguson found that families of color are most successful at promoting school success when they encourage reading at home, review materials with their children in a way that inspires a love for learning, and search for opportunities to help their children apply knowledge learned in the classroom in other environments.  These findings were further substantiated in a study on high achieving black male students. Dr. Shaun Harper and affiliates conducted four hundred interviews and highlighted trends in students’ explanations for their success. According to Harper, the vast majority of interviewed students recalled “family members conveying to them at a young age powerful messages about the value of schooling.  One student reported, “It’s hard growing up in the ghetto, so my parents keep telling me that school s my way out.”

Researchers emphasize, however, that many factors can hinder families from providing quality involvement and having high expectations. Some families are wrestling with outside stressors, time and resources constraints, or unfamiliarity with what role they might play in their child’s education. Therefore, family involvement differs based on each families unique set of circumstances.

Case studies from the Atlanta and New York City may demonstrate ways to promote quality family involvement at the local and organizational level for low income families of color. In Demonstrating Results, scholars from the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill “tracked program quality and child and family outcomes” at the Dunbar Learning Complex and other Educare Schools. These early learning centers collaborate with employment and community development non-profit organizations to support early learning success. They offer caregivers career-focused courses and programs on parenting, nutrition, and financial literacy. These programs are unique and innovative because they aim to meet the needs of children, teachers, and parents to secure positive outcomes for early learners.

Findings from Demonstrating Results indicate that the programs prepared low-income families to help their children develop pre-literacy and early math skills such as letter and number recognition, problem solving, and counting, develop social-emotional skills: the ability to focus on a task, persistence, impulse control and cooperation with peers, and strengthen parents’ abilities to serve as champions for their children and inspire a commitment to having high expectations for children.

Do you think that training and consultation programs for families can promote effective engagement? Can heightened family involvement improve learning and developmental outcomes for students?

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