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How Harvard Family Research Project informs policy

Harvard Family Research Project (HFRP) offers policymakers and education advocates the research base to develop effective policies that promote family engagement as a strategy to achieve student success. HFRP catalyzes new ideas to create pathways for families to promote the cognitive, social-emotional, and healthy development of children from cradle to career.

It is HFRP’s belief that a clear and commonly shared framework and definition of family engagement can—and will—inspire policy investments in family engagement, which will, in turn, contribute to school improvement and student success. To this end, HFRP informs policy based on an expanded definition of family engagement —one which focuses on the multiple contexts in which children grow and learn, from birth through adulthood.

This expanded definition of family engagement contains three core principles. First, family engagement is a shared responsibility in which schools and other community agencies and organizations are committed to reaching out to engage families in meaningful ways and in which families are committed to actively supporting their children’s learning and development. Family engagement is also continuous across a child’s life and entails enduring commitment but changing parent roles as children mature into young adulthood. Finally, effective family engagement cuts across and reinforces learning in the multiple settings where children learn—at home, in prekindergarten programs, in school, afterschool programs, faith-based institutions, and the community.

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Harvard Family Research Project’s policy work

Building on its research, evaluation, and technical assistance activities, HFRP’s policy work includes the following:

  • Founding membership in the National Family, School, and Community Engagement Working Group, a leadership collaborative whose purpose is to inform the development and implementation of federal policy.
  • Serving with Southwest Education Development Laboratory as the National Coordination Center for the Parental Information and Resource Centers, which help schools and families understand and implement federal policies and spur statewide innovations for family engagement. 
  • Creating research-based policy reports that promote best practices and contribute to strengthening family involvement provisions in education policies.

Through these activities, HFRP helps foster collaborations among key stakeholders and promote partnerships among families, schools, and communities to enhance student academic achievement.

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The National Coordination Center for the Parental Information and Resource Centers (PIRC)
HFRP collaborates with Southwest Education Development Laboratory (SEDL) to serve as the National Coordination Center for the PIRC program. The program provides federal funds to 62 organizations working to promote successful parental involvement policies and programs throughout the United States and its territories. HFRP provides technical assistance and support to PIRCs, with a focus on evaluation approaches, strategic planning and leadership, and policy development and implementation.

With a mission to help schools and families understand and implement federal parent involvement policies and spur statewide innovations for family engagement, PIRCs are positioned at the nexus of the nation’s family, school, and community engagement infrastructure. As part of our technical assistance strategy for PIRCs, HFRP, in collaboration with SEDL, leverages lessons learned from PIRCs to help inform legislative and administrative priorities for family engagement.

Learn more about our work with PIRCs.

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The National Family, School, and Community Engagement Working Group
The National Family, School, and Community Engagement Working Group, a collaborative of leaders in the family engagement field including HFRP’s Heather Weiss, informs the development and implementation of federal policy related to family, school, and community engagement in education. It is dedicated to mobilizing partnerships to promote kindergarten readiness, improve schools, and increase student achievement.

Given the unique opportunity to transform education through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act and the pending reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the National Family, School, and Community Engagement Working Group serves to catalyze bold, innovative national policies and programs for effective family engagement and school-community partnerships that will ensure excellent educational opportunities from birth through young adulthood. It reaches out to partners to advance its policy vision, and forges alliances for sustaining meaningful change and building grassroots demand for quality early childhood education programs and effective public schools.

Learn more about the National Family, School, and Community Engagement Working Group

Read more about the Working Group’s involvement with family engagement policy on the U.S. Department of Education’s website, Ed.gov.

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National Policy Forum on Family, School, and Community Engagement
This forum—hosted by the U.S. Department of Education on November 9, 2010 in Washington, DC—brought together education thought leaders to help inform the Department’s family, school, and community engagement strategy. Harvard Family Research Project and SEDL helped to facilitate the event, and brought together over two dozen experts to engage in discussions about the role of family, school, and community engagement in education reform. Attendees included stakeholders from federal and state agencies, national education organizations, advocacy organizations, philanthropic organizations, and parent representatives.

Featured speakers from the U.S. Department of Education included:

  • James H. Shelton III, Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement
  • Jacqueline Jones, Senior Advisor to the Secretary for Early Learning
  • Joan Lombardi, Deputy Assistant Secretary and Inter-Departmental Liaison for Early Childhood Development, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
  • Alexa Posny, Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services
  • Carl Harris, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and State Technical Assistance, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education
  • John Q. Easton, Director, Institute of Education Sciences
  • Carmel Martin, Assistant Secretary for Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development

The policy forum sought to serve as a catalyst for reframing what family and community engagement should look like in the twenty-first century, and repositioning this engagement as a major contributor to twenty-first century learning and school turnaround efforts. HFRP authored the paper, Beyond Random Acts: Family, School, and Community Engagement as an Integral Part of Education Reform, to lay the foundation for conversations at the forum by offering a research-based framework of family engagement. The paper examines the policy levers that can drive change in promoting systemic family engagement, and focuses on data systems as a powerful tool to engage families for twenty-first century student learning. Because education reform will succeed only when all students are prepared for the demands of the twenty-first century, the paper also examines the role of families in transforming low-performing schools.

By sparking an ongoing conversation among leaders and policymakers, the forum helped reframe family involvement in education as a systemic and integrated approach to family engagement and an innovative strategy in education reform. Additional reports will highlight the major themes and recommendations that emerged from the panels at the forum.

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Policy recommendations

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Harvard Family Research Project's accomplishments to inform policy include:

Harvard Family Research Project, as an individual contributor and as part of the National Family, School, and Community Engagement Working Group, has been successful in informing federal and state policies. For example:

  • Our report commissioned by the Center on Education Policy (CEP), The Federal Role in Out-of-School Learning, called for federal provision of out-of-school complementary learning supports from birth through high school, particularly for poor children, so that all students gain the skills that economists, educators, and employers agree are necessary for success in the 21st century. The CEP incorporated this proposal in their 10 recommendations for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Read more >  
  • Commentary provided by the Working Group on the Race to the Top Program contributed to changes in the program's final guidelines. Read more >

  • In addition to informing federal policy, Working Group members actively assist states with their family engagement policies. For example, Connecticut used the Working Group's position paper, "Recommendations for Federal Policy," to craft a new definition of family engagement and to buttress its larger policy statement. This statement will guide local boards of education, district and school administrators, as well as the Connecticut Department of Education in implementing family, school, and community engagement policies. Read the Recommendations for Federal Policy document  >

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Policy briefs and publications

HFRP’s policy briefs and research papers draw attention to the vital contribution of family engagement to children’s healthy development and school success. They offer new frameworks for family engagement, promote dialogue in the field, and inform the development of policy.

Federal Role in OST Learning Cover

The Federal Role in Out-of-School Learning: After-School, Summer Learning, and Family Involvement as Critical Learning Supports

Heather B. Weiss, Priscilla M. D. Little, Suzanne M. Bouffard, Sarah N. Deschenes, Helen Janc Malone

What, in conjunction with good schools, is necessary to increase the chances that all children, especially disadvantaged ones, will enter and leave school with the skills they need for 21st-century success?

Four decades of research demonstrate it is necessary to redefine learning—both where and when it takes place—if the country is to achieve its national goal of educating all children. Commissioned by the Center on Education Policy, this report from HFRP makes a research-based case for federal provision of out-of-school complementary learning supports from birth through high school, particularly for poor children, so that all students gain the skills that economists, educators, and employers agree are necessary for success in the 21st century.

Download now

Federal Role in OST Learning Cover

From Periphery to Center: A New Vision for Family, School, and Community Partnerships

Heather B. Weiss, Naomi Stephen

This chapter—which will appear in the Handbook of School–Family Partnerships—presents a comprehensive, integrated family, school, and community partnership framework that can help level the playing field for disadvantaged children and ensure that they have access to the parental involvement and community engagement practices of their more advantaged peers in order to enhance their learning.

Download now
 Seeing is Believing Cover

Seeing is Believing: Promising Practices for How School Districts Promote Family Engagement

Helen Westmoreland, Heidi M. Rosenberg, M. Elena Lopez, Heather Weiss

HFRP and the National Parent-Teacher Association have teamed up to bring you a ground-breaking policy brief that examines the role of school districts in promoting family engagement. Seeing is Believing: Promising Practices for How School Districts Promote Family Engagement spotlights how six school districts across the country have used innovative strategies to create and sustain family engagement “systems at work.”

Download now

 

Breaking New Ground: Data Systems Transform Family Engagement in Education

Heather B. Weiss, M. Elena Lopez, Deborah R. Stark

HFRP and the National PTA® have teamed up for the second issue in our series of ground-breaking policy briefs. Breaking New Ground cites six case studies from across the country that reveal innovative efforts by early childhood programs and school districts to use student data systems to improve family engagement. Each profile illustrates a segment of a data pathway beginning in early childhood and continuing through students' academic careers. The brief also includes a set of policy recommendations to help support the current trends in education that focus on twenty-first century learning and the vital role of technology.

Download now

 

 

Beyond Random Acts: Family, School, and Community Engagement as an Integral Part of Education Reform

Heather Weiss, M. Elena Lopez, and Heidi Rosenberg

This paper, authored by Harvard Family Research Project, served as the foundation for panelists’ discussions at the National Policy Forum for Family, School, and Community Engagement. Beyond Random Acts provides a research-based framing of family engagement; examines the policy levers that can drive change in promoting systemic family, school, and community engagement; and focuses on data systems as a powerful tool to engage families for twenty-first century student learning.

Download now

 

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© 2014 Presidents and Fellows of Harvard College
Published by Harvard Family Research Project