Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Growing Federal Interest on Family and Community Engagement as a Policy Priority by Oscar E. Cruz

Growing Federal Interest on Family and Community Engagement as a Policy Priority

Oscar E. Cruz

President & CEO at Families In Schools, Los Angeles, CA
The U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Education (ED) recently released a draft statement entitled Draft Policy Statement on Family Engagement from the early Years to the Early Grades. The document highlights a growing interest by the Federal Government to elevate family and community engagement as a key policy priority.  This is a positive sign that the federal government is paying attention to factors beyond test scores as fundamental  components of quality education. However, more will need to be done to clarify the specific role the federal government can play on improving the way education institutions reach-out and partner with families to support child development and student achievement and provide opportunities for families to be involved in decision-making.
HHS and ED invited the public to submit edits/recommendations in order to improve the draft. An abstract from the recommendations submitted by Families In Schools is included below.
"................To start, FIS would like to offer a broad recommendation regarding the focus of the document. While we recognize the importance of providing recommendations to state and local agencies, we also see it equally as important to include recommendation to US federal departments on how to embed authentic family engagement within their policies and programs. Thus, FIS recommends adding a specific section to the draft document that provides recommendations to US Federal Departments, including HHS and ED, on how to promote authentic family engagement in their policies and programs. For example, the new section should address:
  • Ensure federal programs that seeks to impact child development (families with children 0-5) and/or academic outcomes (K-12 grades) include a priority to engage families as a key strategy to reaching goals.
  • Allocate adequate financial resources to support family engagement strategies as part of the federal programs mentioned above; encouraging a minimum of 1% of the total program budget to be allocated for family engagement practices (as done by ESSA Title I).
  • Ensure federal grant programs include family engagement as a "competitive advantage" in the application process.
The following are specific recommendations to the current sections included in the draft document:
  • Expand Grade Range. Expand the scope of the document to address “early years to high school” and not just early grades. The responsibility of public educational institutions to engage families is not limited to early years/grades, but along the educational pipeline from pre-k to high school. Keeping a narrow focus may send the wrong message to intuitions that their responsibility to engage families decreases after 3rd grade. Furthermore, The Dual Capacity Building Framework for Family-School Partnerships released by ED encompasses grades K-12. Thus, the research references included in the draft document should also address family engagement related to middle and high school years. In particular, include research from Organizing Schools for Improvement:
  • Shared Leadership. Under the "Principles for Effective Family Engagement Practices" section, FIS recommends that an additional principle be added to highlight the importance of engaging families in decision-making. The important role families play can range from supporting learning at home to participating in decision-making in policy and budget decisions.
  • Budget Allocation. Under the "Recommendations for State Action" section, the document should recommend that States allocate a minimum of 1% of early education and state school improvement initiative budgets for family engagement practices (as done by ESSA Title I).
  • Credentialing. Under the "Recommendations for State Action" section, the document should recommend that States incorporate family/community engagement as core competency in teacher credentialing programs.
  • Vision for Authentic Family Engagement: FIS recommends including the Vision for Authentic Family Engagement infographic/report as part of the "Family Engagement Resources" section. FIS, in collaboration with dozens of organizations from across California, developed a set of family engagement indicators that can be used by the state and school districts to better track family engagement activities. We believe these indicators will help change the culture at every school site and in every district across the state, moving boldly from a culture of compliance (Family Engagement 1.0) to a culture of real, meaningful authentic engagement (Family Engagement 2.0), yielding powerful educational outcomes for all students and for California. Learn more about the indicators:"

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