What Makes a Strong Family Engagement Policy?

Ensuring that every child can reach their full potential means investing in meaningful, inclusive and culturally competent family-school partnerships. By prioritizing policies that uplift the priorities outlined in the National Standards for Family-School Partnerships, PTAs can advance transformative family engagement in their local community and beyond.

What makes family engagement policy meaningful, inclusive and culturally competent? Here are some key characteristics of a strong family engagement policy. 

Model family engagement policies are inclusive of diverse cultural and linguistic practices.

Supporting the success of all students means cultivating meaningful family-school partnerships with families from all cultural and linguistic backgrounds.

For example, in Washington, state legislation implemented language access programs in schools so that family engagement resources could be accessible in diverse languages. The commitment to providing inclusive and culturally responsive resources to families in Washington’s statewide policy allows for language barriers to be broken down and increases the capacity for every child to reach their fullest potential.

Model family engagement policies are rooted in evidence-based family engagement research.

Referencing research-based statistics that demonstrate how family engagement practices support the wellbeing of the whole child showcases the validity of family engagement in practice.

The same Washington state legislation provides a powerful basis for policy implementation by referencing how family engagement has been shown to have positive impacts for children: “50 years of research has shown that family engagement has beneficial impacts on student grades, test scores, drop-out rates, students’ sense of competence and beliefs about the importance of education” (Orwall et al., 2021).

Model family engagement policies facilitate active collaboration between families, schools and community leaders in the formulation, implementation and evaluation of family engagement policy.

When school district leaders make important decisions regarding children’s education, families must have a seat at the table. Inclusive approaches to decision-making cultivate a community where all individuals are valued, seen and actively heard.

In Michigan, statewide policy through executive order established a Michigan Parent Council to empower parents from diverse backgrounds across the state to make education and budget policy recommendations to legislators.

Model family engagement policies provide opportunities for families to become leaders in their communities through engagement opportunities at school.

Quality family engagement invests in developing the leadership skills of families so that they can empower their children to do great work.

In Florida, state legislation called the Family and School Partnership for Student Achievement Act directs school districts statewide to provide parents with detailed information regarding their child’s educational opportunities. Through streamlined and effective communication practices between parents and families regarding children’s rigorous academic opportunities, scholarships, test accommodations and course of study choices, Florida is working to support student success by building meaningful family-school partnerships.

Why does this all matter?

Only when all families are respected, included, and given opportunities to shape their children’s education, can we ensure that all children can meet their full potential. PTAs can help break down educational barriers by advocating for policies that support culturally responsive, two-way communication and opportunities for underrepresented communities to share in decision-making and co-creating solutions.

As a member of PTA, you can help by…

  • Learning about the updated National Standards for Family-School Partnerships that will roll out in the fall
  • Encouraging parents in your community to run for a seat on their local family engagement council
  • Enrolling in the National PTA’s School of Excellence Program to strengthen family-school partnerships at your school
  • Scheduling meetings with your school district staff and board of education to share with them the importance of meaningful family engagement

About the Author

Lauren Manning is a senior at Gettsyburg College and was Summer 2022 intern at PTA through the Eisenhower Institute Public Policy Fellowship

New Resource to Support Children’s Learning and School Success!

Over the next few days, thousands of schools across the country will welcome parents, grandparents and other family members through their doors as part of the National PTA’s Take Your Family to School Week. But our organizations wanted to give parents, PTA leaders — and anyone who works in partnership with families—a resource for making family engagement much more than a single event.

“Why Family Engagement Matters for Student and School Success ” is a new tool that we — Global Family Research Project (GFRP) and National PTA’s Center for Family Engagement — have jointly created to share what research says about how families contribute to students’ success. We also hope it will spark new and ongoing conversations about how families, PTA leaders, and schools can work together to support more equitable and effective approaches to family, school, and community partnerships.

For a little background, the Center for Family Engagement is the National PTA’s initiative to create a vision for the future of family engagement that addresses the needs of today’s diverse families in a fast-changing world. The Center for Family Engagement aims to elevate the voice of families as critical partners in family engagement policy and practice, build leadership among PTA leaders to advocate for transformative family engagement policies and practices, and raise awareness about innovative and evidence-based approaches to family, school, and community partnerships.

Leslie Boggs, National PTA’s President-Elect, shares, “We are excited to partner with Global Family Research Project on a tool that enables families to co-create more transformative approaches to family engagement in their homes, schools, and communities. This partnership has enabled us to make the latest research accessible and actionable for families and PTA leaders.”

“Sharing leading edge research and ways families, schools and communities can and are using it is at the center of our work,” says GFRP Director Heather Weiss, “so we jumped at this change to collaborate with the PTA to develop this new resource for their and other’s use.” This resource is based on a recent report commissioned by the Carnegie Corporation of New York which summarizes the many years of powerful research on why family members are so important to children’s learning and lays out all the valuable roles they play in creating schools and access to other learning opportunities so that all students can be successful. The report, and now this resource, lift up five areas where family engagement can have the greatest impact on children’s learning —attendance, sharing information on students’ progress, reinforcing children’s learning in areas such as literacy and STEM, using digital media, and during key transition periods in a child’s life.

“Why Collaborative Partnerships Matter for Student and School Success” presents this critical knowledge in simple, concise language and challenges families, PTAs—and others working with families—to consider what they have already accomplished in those five areas and to ask what more they can do to reach new families or build on existing efforts.

In addition to serving as a clearinghouse of innovative ways to partner with families, the Center for Family Engagement is also working to build local leadership for transformative family engagement through the National PTA Family Engagement Fellowship program. Four fellows from diverse communities across the country were the first to review and give feedback on this new tool, so we feel confident that parents and parent leaders will find it timely and useful.

Heather Losneck, a PTA leader from Berea City School District, Ohio, and a National PTA Family Engagement Fellow shared “My PTA at the middle school will be looking closer at how we can help support and promote a smoother transition into and out of middle school for our families. As a parent, these are great reminders to check myself and give me a chance to re-evaluate, reconnect and reinforce with my kids.”

The resource will also be available in Spanish and Mandarin to reach as many families as possible, and we are excited about the potential it has to spark new, exciting ideas for engaging families in their children’s learning.

We look forward to hearing—and sharing—examples of how families are using the tool to put that “bold vision” into action.