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Immigrant Family Engagement in Schools

Posted By Laura Gardner , Wednesday, March 13, 2019

On the February 5, 2019, I facilitated NAFSCE’s virtual Community of Practice meeting on the topic of immigrant family engagement in schools. We had approximately 22 individuals on the call from a wide variety of districts and organizations from various locations across the United States. One large school district from the South had their entire family engagement team join. Other participants included a parent engagement coordinator from the Midwest, a family engagement specialist from a State Department of Education, and a representative from an organization in the Northeast that provides technical assistance on family engagement in special education. Furthermore, we had a civil rights lawyer who trains immigrant parents on their educational rights, a retired school counselor/author, and even the founder of Academic Parent Teacher Teams, Dr. Maria Paredes! At least two participants happened to be immigrants themselves, which contributed greatly to the discussion.


After we all introduced ourselves, our discussion was framed around 3 main questions:


  1. What are the main immigrant and refugee populations in your districts or communities?
  2. What are some of the barriers immigrant families face in engaging in their children’s education in your district or community?
  3. What is your district or organization doing to overcome those barriers?


When discussing the immigrant populations in our respective communities, some participants primarily described their Spanish-speaking/Latino population, while others described working with immigrants and refugees from all over the globe. One school district talked about how a huge percentage of their non-English speaking parents are refugees because their community is a large refugee resettlement hub.


Not long into the conversation, we launched into discussing some of the barriers immigrant families face in engaging in their children’s education. One crucial barrier mentioned is the welcoming climate in schools and communities, particularly with so much anti-immigrant rhetoric these days. One participant mentioned families in her community being harassed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and how that fear in her community extends to schools.


The second topic brought up was language barriers and the challenges related to providing interpretation and translation services. Most participants were already aware that school districts are responsible for providing parents with information in a language they understand, but it’s a huge challenge to do so. Furthermore, many are working with populations who are not literate in their native language, which necessitates a unique approach for conveying information.


The usual poverty-related barriers were also discussed, such as transportation and access to technology (and all the platforms schools use these days), but we quickly moved on to the most important barrier of all – cultural misunderstandings and expectations. Participants commented on how “parent involvement” and “family engagement” are thought of differently in many countries around the world. In so many countries, home and school are very separate and it can actually be considered rude or disrespectful if a parent visits their child’s school to ask a question.


Next, Dr. Maria Paredes, who is an immigrant from Venezuela herself, and has worked with hundreds if not thousands of immigrant families, expanded upon this idea. She described how in many countries, the accountability for a student’s success is primarily on the student and they “carry the torch.” Whereas in the United States, much of the accountability falls on the parents and teachers. So, in many cases, the “script has been flipped” and yet, rarely does anyone explain that to parents when they move to the United States! 


In our short hour together, we were not able to get too much into “solutions,” though we had Dr. Maria Paredes provide an overview of her model, Academic Parent Teacher Teams (APTT). APTT is a high-impact model that gives families concrete information on their children’s academic progress and provides them with skills, strategies, and resources to use at home with their children to reinforce targeted grade-level learning goals. APTT takes a more focused and academically oriented approach than most traditional family engagement events and initiatives.


After the official end of the virtual meeting, some of us stayed online to continue to pick Dr. Paredes’ brain. We talked about one of the biggest challenges in family engagement work is shifting hearts and minds. Sometimes it is hard to get educators to see that parents DO have the capacity to help their children and they DO care about their children’s education. The capacity-building aspect of this work is huge and involves a lot of “heavy lifting.” Dr. Paredes also talked about the importance of training educators on building relationships – how do we actually do that and what does it look like.


Other resources mentioned on the call included:

Information for Limited English Proficient (LEP) Parents and Guardians and for Schools and School Districts that Communicate with Them
Colorin Colorado’s new guide: How to Support Immigrant Students and Families: Strategies for Schools and Early Childhood Programs
EdCoaching Case Study: Engaging Immigrant Families by Family Friendly Schools
Church World Service’s work with refugees (and note:  the other national refugee resettlement agencies are located on the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement’s website here and one can also use their map to find the local affiliates in their area)
Laura Gardner’s website and email newsletter: 

It was such a great conversation on a crucial topic that we may continue the same topic next month!



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Making Family Engagement a Real Partnership for Boosting Student Achievement and Improving Schools

Posted By Vito Borrello and Reyna Hernandez, Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The importance of well-designed family, school, and community engagement in supporting children’s learning from cradle to career is well documented by a growing body of research. Beyond the research, it is reasonable — and some would say commonsensical — to conclude that parents, as their child’s first and primary teachers, offer the most expertise on their child.

However, what may seem like common sense has not been common practice. Historically, school reform efforts have disregarded the importance of engaging families and community. Professionals responsible for this important work are frequently isolated and relegated to low-status positions. Teachers, who bear the primary responsibility for contact with families, reveal that doing so is their No. 1 challenge and the area in which they feel least prepared. State education agencies, which have the responsibility of building the capacity of school districts and holding them accountable for effective engagement, often lack the capacity and expertise to support their success. Finally, from principals to secretaries of education, those with the greatest influence over policy often view engagement as good public relations instead of an authentic partnership to support student achievement and school improvement.

But there is good news. While there is much to be accomplished in addressing the systemic obstacles to advancing engagement, there also has been significant progress over the past several years.

For many years, educators viewed family engagement as fixing parents and rarely considered the role parents can play in a mutually beneficial relationship. The release of Head Start’s Parent, Family, and Community Engagement Framework in 2011 and the U.S. Department of Education’s Dual Capacity-Building Framework in 2012 communicated the importance of educators having the necessary capabilities, connections, cognition, and confidence to effectively engage families.

Statewide efforts in advancing family, school, and community engagement have historically been less than satisfactory. In 2011, the Education Department defunded the 16-year-old, $40 million Parental Information and Resource Centers initiative, the primary statewide capacity-building engine for advancing high-impact engagement in Title I schools and the communities most in need. However, effective advocacy around the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, now called the Every Student Succeeds Act, enabled the creation of what are now called Statewide Family Engagement Centers. Although woefully underfunded at $10 million, the first awards were released in September 2018. ESSA also opens the door for families to be more involved in shared decision-making within schools. There is potential for modest progress in practice through ESSA.

Perhaps more significantly, other national associations have joined our organization, the National Association for Family, School and Community Engagement, in prioritizing advancement of engagement practice in states. The Council of Chief State School Officers engaged NAFSCE last year for help in establishing its State Consortium on Family Engagement. The consortium’s goal is to build the capacity of state education agencies to develop family engagement frameworks from birth through grade 12, which can serve as a road map for standards and pathways to advance engagement. The 19 states participating in this initiative, serving more than one-third of our nation’s students, demonstrate significant interest in engagement and are establishing diverse statewide stakeholder coalitions to co-develop and advance the framework. This is significant and potentially transformational progress.

The National Education Association is examining teacher preparation in response to 2011 research that suggests that teachers’ primary fear about why they may fail in their profession and ultimately leave it is their lack of preparation to engage families. (This suspicion among educators is reinforced by 2008 research that suggests that only 33 percent of teachers believe they have a satisfactory relationship with parents. Imagine the percentage in low-income communities where poverty and other complexities minimize effective family engagement. Is that number 10 percent — or even lower?)

NAFSCE and the NEA, with the support of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, are conducting a national landscape assessment of state-teacher licensure requirements, identifying best practices in engagement training within institutions of higher education and recruiting states, colleges, and universities to develop a framework for providing that training. When teachers are prepared to engage families before they enter the classroom, we believe, engagement at all levels of education will be prioritized as the essential strategy we know it is to support child development, student achievement, and school improvement.

High-impact and systemic family, school, and community engagement is in its infancy. But we finally are moving the needle for policy and practice through federal legislation, statewide capacity-building efforts, and educator preparation. Our nation’s students will be more successful because of these efforts.

Vito Borrello is executive director of the National Association for Family, School and Community Engagement and former president of the New York-based Every Person Influences Children and the New York State EPIC Parent Information Resource Center. Reyna Hernandez is director of research and policy development at NAFSCE. She is a former school district community engagement parent facilitator and assistant superintendent at the Illinois State Board of Education.

This essay was originally posted on The 74. It was produced in partnership with Carnegie Corporation of New York, which provides financial support to The 74.

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Building Family Partnerships with the Help of Housing Authorities

Posted By Roy Chan, Anita Koyier-Mwamba, and Kathlyn Paananen, Friday, October 5, 2018
By Roy Chan (Seattle Housing Authority), Anita Koyier-Mwamba, and Kathlyn Paananen (Seattle Public Schools)

More than three years ago, Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) and Seattle Public Schools (SPS) formally partnered to improve attendance among the 5,000+ students we jointly serve. After agreeing to focus on attendance, we set out to action—implementing pilots, launching messaging campaigns, and planning with schools. Initially, we held listening sessions with students and families, attempting to better understand their perspectives and thoughts around attendance. Throughout the last year, our family engagement practices grew into working alongside families to generate solutions. Only by communicating with families, working with them, and creating alongside them could we achieve our shared goals of raising attendance and improving educational outcomes of our students.

In our efforts to more deeply engage with families, we discovered longstanding complex root causes of absenteeism, and the myriad ways families support and wish to be supported in their children’s education. Below are examples of some of our collaborations; we hope these will spark additional ways that public schools and public housing authorities can collaborate to strengthen relationships with families and to support their leadership.

Communicating with Families – Increasing Educators’ Presence in Communities
Too often, families tell us that, “the school only contacts me when something is wrong.” Our partnership set out to change this dynamic in several ways. School leaders and educators started attending community events at SHA communities to meet families, answering questions and sharing a friendly face in the neighborhood. Last spring, over 40 educators and SHA staff participated in a two-day Equity-based Family Visits training, aimed at visiting with families solely for the sake of strengthening relationships with them. Training topics ranged from understanding our own biases, the compounded impacts of institutional and systemic racism, and steps towards building authentic relationships with families. Building off our commitment to improving relationships, this school year, SHA staff will participate in a series of trainings on trauma-informed care; these trainings will be similar to professional development that over 60 SPS schools have received.

Working with Families – Family Co-Design
When families are valued as equal partners at the decision-making table, we generate solutions that are more responsive and relevant to the needs of families. From winter to summer 2018, approximately two dozen SHA families met with SPS and SHA staff to identify educational issues in the community and co-designed a solution, funded by a small community grant. Through these meetings, families decided to dedicate funds to supplement a community-based mentoring program, including a family engagement component. Families not only attended these meetings; they also took turns creating agendas, facilitating meetings, determining next steps. As the mentoring program kicks off this year, families will have opportunities and funding to support their engagement and ideas.

Creating with Families – Culturally Responsive Learning Materials
For many families of color, supporting their children’s educational success necessitates navigating differences in race and culture. In better meeting this challenge, families expressed a desire for more culturally relevant teaching materials in schools and in libraries. Through the support of key partners, such as the Somali Family Safety Taskforce and Seattle Public Library, we collaborated with Somali families to create children’s books, envisioned and designed by families. Today, these Somali families and are now authors and artists of two children’s board books teaching children the alphabet and numbers in Somali. These books are now available in SHA community spaces, every Seattle public library, and elementary school library.
Without families, none of the work described above would be possible. We are thankful for their time, their expertise, and their insights. And our work, and the reason we engage with families in this work, is appropriately best summed up by a parent, who told us, “The school cannot teach a child alone and the parent cannot teach a child alone. We need each other.” In order to achieve this vision, we—those working in schools and communities—must continue to seek ways to strengthen our partnerships with parents as well as to one another.

To learn more about the Seattle Housing Authority and Seattle Public School partnership, please contact Kathlyn Paananen, SPS Housing and Education Manager, Anita Koyier-Mwamba, Manager of Family Partnerships, and/or Roy Chan, SHA Strategic Advisor for Education. Please visit and for further information.

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3 Foundational Practices for Effective Linked to Learning Family Engagement

Posted By Jessie B. Lavorgna, Tuesday, October 2, 2018

3 Foundational Practices for Effective Linked to Learning Family Engagement

We know that when families are engaged in their children’s learning, they do better academically and socially. We also know that if families promote and encourage science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) learning, their children will be more interested in and more likely to pursue such areas of study. As STEM continues to expand as an academic area of study as well as a career field, it’s increasingly important to help cultivate children’s interests in STEM fields, such as science, during the earliest years. However, families report that when it comes to supporting their children’s science learning, they lack the confidence to do so. As increasing access to early science gains momentum, how can we intentionally and effectively link families to their children’s science learning?


For the past three school years (2015 to 2018), I have been part of an i3-funded project called LASErS (Literacy and Academic Success for English Learners through Science), in which we (a team from the Education Development Center) worked with three separate cohorts of teachers (preschool, kindergarten, and 1st grade) in a large urban school district in Connecticut. Using science as a vehicle for language learning and literacy development for all students, and especially those in the process of acquiring English as a new language, the LASErS team worked to assist teachers in refining their proficiencies with inquiry-based teaching and learning methods as well as with the practice of linked to learning family engagement. Identifying that families are often under-utilized resources in their children’s academic learning, we designed and delivered professional development and on-going assistance that sought to strengthen teachers’ practices with linked to learning family engagement, specifically as it related to children’s science learning.


Partners in Education: A Dual Capacity-Building Framework for Family Engagement identifies five process conditions needed for effective family engagement; one of those process conditions is “linked to learning”. Linked to learning family engagement allows families to not only know what’s going on at school, but also to actively take part in that learning, equipping them to support their children’s academic formation beyond the classroom. In order to effectively link student’s families to the science experiences and learning in the classroom, we assisted teachers in implementing two approaches: (1) family science activities, a series of (English/Spanish) bilingual, family-friendly documents that extended the science learning from to classroom to students’ homes, and (2) family science events, twice-a-year, hands-on, in-classroom science experiences that were teacher coordinated and student-led. In both of these approaches, the goals were to encourage curiosity and conversation between students and their families and to increase family confidence around supporting their children’s science learning.


Having had the honor and pleasure of working hand-in-hand with teachers for three years now, we’ve discovered that there are three fundamental practices that need to be in place in order for linked to learning family engagement to be effective. Without these three practices in place, linking families to learning never quite seemed to take off. Below are illustrations of those essential practices. While these examples are connected to the family science activities coordinated through the LASErS project, the practices can be applied to any linked to learning family engagement strategy.


1.     Develop relationships.

Warm and welcoming, Ms. Erickson* greets every family with a smile and a story about their child every day at drop-off and pick-up. Ms. Erickson’s classroom is bathed in love for each student and the joy of teaching and learning. This palpable sense of belonging and love of learning don’t stop when a student leaves the classroom; by taking the time and making the effort to connect with her students’ families on a daily basis, Ms. Erickson has ensured that each student and family feels that they belong and are valued and necessary members of the learning community that is her classroom.


In a school where low family attendance at events was the norm, Ms. Erickson’s classroom was an anomaly when it overflowed during her family science events. Knowing that science can be intimidating to many, Ms. Erickson made sure that her students’ families knew that these events were designed to let them have fun while interacting with and learning about the science that students have been engaging with in class. Ms. Erickson also felt that it was important to stress that these events were student-led and not teacher-driven. When inviting families to these events, she made it explicitly clear to each family, that they were necessary members of their learning community and that the event wouldn’t be as meaningful if they weren’t there.  


Relationships are foundational. Family engagement efforts that are based in and on relationships that have been founded primarily to support and sustain the child’s well-being (academic and social) are more likely to succeed. The time and effort that Ms. Erickson puts forth in cultivating and sustaining genuine relationships with all of her students’ families always pays off.



2.     Believe that everyone is capable.

Ms. Kaplan* is a deep believer in and proponent of the idea that, no matter one’s age or status, we are all learners and all capable of doing anything, even the seemingly impossible. Persistent in her efforts to create and maintain an inclusive learning community, her classroom welcomes, engages with, and challenges all who enter. No matter how you regard yourself as a learner before you enter her classroom, she will quickly convince you that you are the most capable person on the planet and that you can learn and/or do anything.


As “the guide on the side” (not “the sage on the stage”), Ms. Kaplan has a keen ability to craft an environment in which all are learners and teachers. This ability worked wonders during her family science events. During these events, where little-to-no instruction was given to students and their families other than to enjoy exploring the different stations, Ms. Kaplan wandered around the classroom listening to conversations students and families were having. When someone discovered something new (to them), she would encourage that person (student and family members alike) to call the attention of the rest of the attendees and share their finding with the group and then to wonder together. Ms. Kaplan never gave answers, but simply provided the platform from which learners were able to make claims, share with others, and then gain a better understanding together. These actions produced a learning community where everyone’s voice (no matter its age) had a valued place. At the end of each of her family science events, Ms. Kaplan facilitated whole group reflections. These gave both students and family members alike to reflect on their experiences aloud with the group; again, making it such that, no matter one’s age, all experiences and voices mattered equally and that all are capable.


It is vital that every family engagement initiative begin with viewing all families from an asset-based mindset. When educators give themselves the gift of viewing all families as wholly capable of engaging with academic material in order to support and advance their children’s learning, the remarkable happens – families rise to the occasion.



3.     Communicate expectations clearly and leave room for questions.

As a veteran teacher, Ms. Russo* knows that trying to connect families to their children’s academic learning can invoke a range of emotions, depending on a parent’s own schooling experience. She acknowledges that being invited to engage with academic material can be intimidating and uncomfortable for some, seen as unnecessary and burdensome for others, or as entirely foreign depending on the culture in which one was raised. In order to assuage these various emotions, Ms. Russo makes it clear to families that both she and their children want them to be part of the classroom learning community and that she expects all families to have questions about learning content and processes. By leaving the door open to questions, Ms. Russo allows students and families to take risks and dig into the learning process, as they know that there is a trustworthy safety net there to catch and help them along the way.


Taking full advantage of drop-off and pick-up, Ms. Russo and her students’ families use these times to check in with one another about the family science activities and other at-home learning opportunities. Ms. Russo never asks families if they had questions about the activities; instead, she asks about their experiences with the activities, which naturally allows for a conversation to take place and opens a space for families to ask questions (if they have them). Setting out clear expectations for engagement in the beginning of the year, and continuing to reinforce those expectations by intentionally drawing families into conversation, allows Ms. Russo’s classroom to be a vibrant learning community that reaches beyond the walls of the classroom.


With the responsibility of holding all students and their families to high expectations comes the duty of clearly communicating what those expectations entail. We cannot expect families to do that which is not communicated. However, when we combine clearly communicated high expectations with open, two-way dialogue, students and families will meet the set goals.


Through observations of these three teachers, their students, and families, it became fully evident that these three practices are indispensable in the creation and continuation of effective linked to learning family engagement efforts. When all three were put into practice, we saw all families engaging with the science, language, and literacy learning taking place in their children’s academic lives.


As the school year begins, give yourself the gift of establishing relationships, viewing everyone as capable, and defining and communicating expectations clearly. Inevitably, you’ll have great success with linking your students’ families to their children’s learning.

* All names have been changed in order to maintain anonymity and confidentiality.




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Family Engagement Road Trip

Posted By Vito Borrello, Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The last few weeks have been exhausting and yet exhilarating at the same time. For 13 of the last 16 days I’ve been on the road, connecting with state educational leaders, family engagement advocates and a host of other professionals – all focused on the advancement of family engagement at every level of our educational system.

Several months ago NAFSCE began an important partnership with the Council for Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) to support eight states in the development of birth through grade 12 family engagement frameworks. Think of these frameworks as roadmaps for family engagement, providing every professional and parent with a clear path to the adoption of evidence-based, relational and sustainable family engagement at all levels of child development. This would not have been possible without the vision of the Maryland Department of Education who, through a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, developed a similar framework in their state. That effort was followed by this collaboration with CCSSO and its partners to support the development of such frameworks in other states.

NAFSCE’s role includes providing online programming, a state repository, and a communication platform to support the consortium of states, but my favorite aspect of our work is the opportunity to provide technical assistance (TA) to each of the participating states. We are doing this in collaboration with the Policy Equity Group. What a wonderful opportunity to transform policy and practice and to work closely with these talented and dedicated state teams which include, among others, representatives from the state’s education department and their office for early childhood. As part of this effort, we are working with each state to implement NAFSCE’s Opportunity Canvas, which engages state stakeholders in assessing the state’s strengths and weaknesses in advancing high-impact family engagement.

What particularly excites me about this project is the way states are intentionally engaging internal and external stakeholders in framework development efforts. We don’t want to push these plans on families and community organizations at the final stage and expect a rubber stamp approval. We know that developing these transformational frameworks or roadmaps is just the beginning, and taking them to implementation is where the rubber meets the road. These state stakeholders will not only be involved in the development efforts, but they will co-own these plans and become ambassadors for their advancement.

So, at the invitation of our state teams, I’ve taken to the road to support their efforts, and to present to their stakeholders. In February I traveled to Pennsylvania, and over the past two weeks to Massachusetts and South Carolina. The Pennsylvania event, led by Sue Polojac and her talented team was held in Harrisburg the morning after the Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl. A little celebrating the night before didn’t prevent more than fifty stakeholders from coming together to discuss their definition for family engagement, learn about national frameworks that support this work, and consider how their framework would meet their state’s unique needs.

In early May, I traveled to Massachusetts, where an impressive team led by Donna Traynum (Mass DoE) conducted three stakeholder events in different regions of the state, with more than 160 diverse stakeholders attending! From the minute the meetings began there was an energy in the rooms that was inspiring. In fact, that was true for all three states I visited.  Participants understood and embraced that this project was different than others, and they truly were going to be part of the solution.  They talked about the importance of “meeting families where they are” and really understanding how that plays out in planning.

Last week I traveled to South Carolina, and my meetings there exceeded my expectations on many fronts. I learned that South Carolina’s state Superintendent, Molly Spearman, has ingeniously engaged state religious leaders to work in partnership with the SC Department of Education to advance education statewide.  More than 1,500 churches across the state provide resources and a unified message in advancing education priorities. She reinstituted an Office for Family Engagement with two full-time staff, led by Yolande Anderson. The office coordinates and orchestrates efforts with staff of several other departments in an exemplary approach to advancing policy and practice for this work. More than 70 people attended their successful stakeholder engagement event with additional meetings planned over the next few months. The next day I was pleased to join representatives from several departments within the Department of Education to debrief the feedback of external stakeholders and to begin discussing the development of their “roadmap” for family engagement in ways that would include the entire agency. I was thrilled to see a model for teamwork among all of the departments and a collective passion for advancing this work.

As CCSSO partners in this State Consortium for Family Engagement, we are all committed to “meeting states where they are.”  While some states may have stronger infrastructure, others without the infrastructure may have more expertise. But everyone is moving forward, all involved are incredibly committed, and there is a common belief that developing a roadmap and supporting coalitions will maximize opportunities for sustained impact. We hope this work will inform the State Chiefs across the country to consider how they, too, can have the kind of model infrastructures of South Carolina, and a diverse state coalition that NAFSCE has interest in supporting to turn these plans into action.

Nine additional states will represent cohort-2 as this project continues to grow and evolve.  It’s hard to imagine, but over one-third of our country will have birth through grade 12 Family Engagement Frameworks by December 2019. Progress to be sure!

Vito Borrello
Executive Director


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NAFSCE Comments to U.S. Dept. of Education regarding Statewide Family Engagement Centers. Your participation is encouraged.

Posted By Vito Borrello, Tuesday, May 8, 2018

NAFSCE Members, Partners and Stakeholders,

Last week we let you know that the U.S. Department of Education is encouraging feedback pertaining to the Statewide Family Engagement Center program, which will fund statewide organizations to build capacity for and advance high-impact family engagement.

NAFSCE's response to the Department's request is below.

We strongly encourage each of you to take just a few minutes to provide comments to the Department. A strong response from the family engagement community will demonstrate our committed support for the advancement of effective, evidence-based, sustainable family engagement programming. If the Department sees a clear direction provided through like-minded feedback, it will be more likely to embrace the suggestions provided.

Please feel free to copy any language from the NAFSCE response that resonates with you, or responds to an area that is particularly important to you. We hope to make it as easy as possible for you to participate in this very important exercise of our democracy.

 Thank you again for your commitment to advancing family engagement as an essential strategy for improving children's learning and advancing equity. 

Best regards,

Vito Borrello
NAFSCE Executive Director

NAFSCE Response to the U.S. Department of Education Request for Comments on Statewide Family Engagement Center Program
Submitted May 7, 2018

The National Association for Family, School, and Community Engagement (NAFSCE) is appreciative of the opportunity to provide feedback on the implementation planning for Statewide Family Engagement Centers (SFECs). Securing feedback from the field for this important program is an essential step in the future success of these centers. NAFSCE was established in 2014 as the only professional association solely focused on advancing high-impact, culturally responsive family, school and community engagement (FSCE) to promote child development, improve student achievement and support school improvement. We envision a world where FSCE is universally practiced as an essential strategy for improving children's learning and advancing equity.

NAFSCE believes that well-defined and specific requirements, priorities, selection criteria, and definitions are essential to ensuring that funded applications will effectively advance high-impact family, school, and community engagement in the greatest number of communities possible. Therefore, our comments focus on suggestions for specific criteria to be demonstrated by applicants, as well as the definitions that should be used to evaluate the applicant's ability to meet such criteria.

We strongly recommend that the Department rely on and provide applicants reference to NAFSCE's established definition of high-impact family engagement as well as the U.S. Department of Education's evidence-based Dual Capacity Framework for Family-School Partnerships.

Specific suggestions based on the legislation are provided below:

SEC. 4502 (1) NAFSCE suggests that language be used to clarify that funding is for SFECs to (1) build capacity for high-impact family and community engagement that is linked to learning and supports child development, student achievement, and school improvement. As stated, the language leaves too much ambiguity as to the purpose of the program. To guide design and program development, a definition or guidelines for what constitutes high-impact family engagement should be provided to grant seekers. We recommend that funded programs should be required to support family engagement that is systemic, incorporating family engagement strategies across all learning goals, and integrated into the fabric of school operations and culture including educator professional development and evaluation.

SEC. 4502 (b) MINIMUM AWARD: NAFSCE suggests a cap of $1,000,000 per grant to ensure that a minimum of ten grant awards will be made (with the maximum awards being 20). We also suggest that higher amounts of funding not to exceed the proposed cap be considered for proposals that include multiple states. This encourages organizations with capacity in multiple states to implement services within their geographic region, increasing the total number of states that may receive services, and supporting efficiency in administration to maximize programmatic impact.

SEC. 4502 (c) MATCHING FUNDS FOR GRANT RENEWAL: In order to better determine an organization's capacity to effectively implement the grant and execute a program of sufficient size, scope, and quality to be effective, we suggest specifying a minimum level of expected matching funds and/or in-kind support at 15%. Such a requirement would support awards to applicants with established family engagement organizational capacity. These experienced applicants are more likely to successfully achieve desired programmatic outcomes and enable grant initiatives totaling a minimum of $575,000 ($500,000 award and $75,000, matching).

SEC. 4503 (2): NAFSCE believes that committed and demonstrated support from State Education Agency (SEA) leadership will be crucial to the success of the SFECs. Therefore, we suggest that this language be strengthened to require evidence of that SEA commitment, including past progress made in advancing family engagement policy and practice, demonstrated SEA involvement in program planning, and a sign-off requirement of the SEA Chief directly to the US Department of Education as evidence of SEA commitment to advance this grant initiative.

SEC. 4503 (B) (4): Being more deliberate in defining what "effective" experience includes could strengthen this language. We suggest requiring applicants to demonstrate their experience in providing training, support and implementation expertise addressing high-impact family engagement. This specificity is more likely to ensure family engagement programs and services are linked to learning, measured by child development milestones, student achievement and/or school improvement and foster equitable educational outcomes. To ensure that programs will include a focus on advancing equity, applicants should demonstrate their experience working in urban and rural Title I communities with culturally, racially and linguistically diverse students and families. We also suggest that priority is given to not-for-profit family engagement organizations that already have a demonstrated statewide or multi-state presence.

SEC. 4503 (G): In order to ensure that family engagement is addressed at all stages of child development, we suggest adding language that clarifies the need for the program to have a birth through grade 12 approach to family engagement. To clarify the specific types of educational programs being addressed, we suggest changing "evidence-based parent education programs" to "evidence-based parenting education programs and family engagement in education programs." The term "parenting education programs" speaks to education focusing on the activity of parenting versus generalized education for parents. Adding "family engagement in education programs" maintains the focus on family engagement.

SEC. 4503 (J): Applicants should demonstrate their ability to reach and engage families not previously engaged with their child's school. "Sufficient outreach" is not effective if it does not result in more vulnerable families becoming more engaged as educational partners in supporting improved learning.

SEC. 4503 (K): This language can be strengthened to specify that the applicant should be able to demonstrate experience in implementing culturally responsive family engagement. There cannot be a commitment to advancing equity and opportunity for all students otherwise. This will define the expected outcome of such outreach.

 Evaluation: We believe that specific program evaluation requirements should focus on outcomes versus solely outputs to ensure that programs are proven to be effective in advancing high-impact family, school, and community engagement. Outcome-based evaluation will also improve opportunities for these programs to be sustainable and scalable, greatly expanding the potential impact of this funding. Therefore we suggest that a minimum of 5% of funds granted should be dedicated to evaluation. Additionally, we suggest that grant applicants submit a theory of change and logic model to show the ultimate impact of this work in advancing statewide family engagement policy and practice.


Provide your comments to the Department of Education here.

Tags:  education  family engagement  FSCE 

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The promise of Statewide Family Engagement Centers

Posted By Vito Borrello, Friday, April 6, 2018
We are thrilled that Statewide Family Engagement Centers (SFECs) were included in the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2018 which was signed by the President on Friday. Approximately $10 million of funds will enable a crucial opportunity to advance high-impact policies and practices for family, school, and community engagement in up to 20 states nationally. NAFSCE applauds congressional leaders including Congressman Mark DeSaulnier and Congressman Glen Thompson for their tireless, bipartisan work to include SFEC funding in this spending bill, as well as the National PTA and others who have advocated for the appropriation of funds to advance this effort. The concept for SFECs was created by NAFSCE's predecessor, the National Family, School, and Community Engagement Working Group, which included prominent researchers, practitioners, as well as the Harvard Family Research Project (now the Global Family Research Project), National PTA, and others. SFECs were first advanced as part of the Family Engagement in Education Act of 2010 (HR5211), as an evolution of the Parent Information Resource Centers (PIRCs), which were defunded in 2011. SFECs were finally passed by Congress as part of the federal education legislation, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which was approved in December 2016. The challenge since then has been to secure appropriated funds to make these centers a reality. With this funding, statewide organizations in up to 20 states will receive at least $500,000 to build capacity for and advance high-impact family engagement in partnership with their State Education Agencies (SEAs). NAFSCE anticipates that the Department of Education will release proposed regulations and offer an opportunity for public comment in the coming months, followed by a Request for Proposals. We look forward to engaging our members in the implementation of this effort and we will keep you all apprised of its progress. NAFSCE is already working closely with the Council of Chief State School Officers and others on the creation of birth through grade 12 family engagement frameworks in 16 states, and we look forward to building on this effort. This is great news for all of us and all of you, who work so tirelessly to promote family engagement as a vital strategy for improving children's learning and advancing equity.

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Don’t Be Scared of Data – How it Can Guide Family Engagement and Attendance Interventions

Posted By Administration, Friday, August 4, 2017

Don’t Be Scared of Data – How it Can Guide Family Engagement and Attendance Interventions

            Amanda Klein, NAFSCE Member

August 4, 2017

When I was a teacher, conversations around instructional data were baffling to me. Fresh out of policy school, I was eager to use what I had learned about data analysis to monitor how my students were performing, but as a social studies teacher, this task was more difficult than I had anticipated. I was required to keep a data binder, and administrators would periodically check to confirm that, well, it existed. However, I struggled to figure out what to put inside of it. My administrators did not help me understand how – absent standardized test data – I could track progress on specific standards outside of my grade book. It often felt like the conversation ended after the word “data” was uttered.


As I have focused my career on family engagement efforts, I have seen how conversations about using data to improve engagement are often greeted by the same blank stares I encountered as a teacher of a non-tested subject. On other days, talking about data elicits looks of panic or skepticism. At one particularly memorable training, community school coordinators were led in a debate about the utility of data. Sitting from my seat on the pro-data side of the room, I was amazed by arguments from the anti-data group. What resonated most is that these capable and talented colleagues understood data to simply be numbers on which their performance review was based, not as a tool to discover context and unlock insights about the families being served.


I think this belief system exists for a number of reasons. First, many educators are tired of increasing demands for data without sufficient training. Professionals need to understand how data can be collected, ways in which it should be analyzed, and how it can actually make their work easier. I have found that on-the-ground staff are often the last to receive the proper supports and professional development around understanding and using data. It becomes a symbol for all of the things we don’t like about accountability instead of the asset that it truly can be.


Perhaps more importantly, the work of engaging families – understanding needs, forming trusting relationships, and helping people when they are vulnerable – is incredibly difficult to quantify. Often, we know we have made progress or achieved results – not because of a spreadsheet or heat map – but because a family had enough food for the weekend or because a child stopped acting out as much in class. How do we tell those stories? How do we show our value as professionals when these important markers seem impossible to put into a spreadsheet? These are the critical questions we need to answer.


For these reasons, it is my mission to help educators realize that data does not have to be scary or intimidating. It does not require complex coding skills or mathematical know-how to track how families are being served. If you would have been sitting across from me in the data debate, here are some tips to get you started:


·      Start with what you have. If you are trying to get more parents involved at the school, it’s helpful to know exactly who is already coming to events. Try making a spreadsheet of the information from your event sign-in sheets and see what patterns you find. For example, comparing the names on this list to a whole-school roster can help you figure out which kids have had little to no in-person parental involvement. Use this approach for other measures that you can track from the information and documents already sitting in your office.

·      Leverage the expertise around you. Everyone knows who the go-to person is at their workplace when they have a technology question. Maybe that person (or someone else) also has some knowledge of Excel or other tools. Anyone can fill in a template. See if a colleague can help you design the tracking tool you know you need but do not know how to create.

·      Do not be afraid to play around and make mistakes! The best way to learn how to manipulate and analyze data is to get your hands dirty and play around with it. Try different buttons, Google how to do things, and ask what colleagues at other schools and organizations are doing. This is why there is an “Undo” button! Of course, if you are unsure, you can always make a copy of your file so the original data is safe. 


Using your school’s qualitative and quantitative data can give you amazing insight into both the ongoing needs and continuing growth of your students and families. With a little less reticence towards this approach, we can make a lot more progress in engaging families to help their children succeed.






Tags:  data  family engagement  FSCE 

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Call to Action

Posted By Georgia Decker, Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Call To Action

By Evelyn English


By age 3, a child’s brain has already grown to 85 percent of its adult size.

That fact is old news among longtime educators. There’s no question that early experiences carve learning pathways in the brain. We know family engagement is one of the strongest predictors of a child’s future success. We feel it intuitively. Lots of us have seen it the classroom.

Even when household incomes are modest, or when a school is less than gold star what families do in the ordinary course of living— and how they speak with small children — is powerful. Lack of access and low incomes can make it difficult for kids to enter school ready to learn. But family engagement can bridge those gaps and smooth down those edges.

We know that. Now what?

It’s time to teach families the skills they need to prepare their young children for lifelong learning.

I call it the Gift of Literacy.

My fire to share that ‘gift’ was kindled in Red Bird — the small rural community in Oklahoma where I grew up. My parents and other “elders in the community” created nurturing and rigorous places for children to learn. Unadorned auditoriums and classrooms were transformed by the hard work and hopes of the adults who had big dreams for their children. And when we succeeded, we were rewarded.

I still have a recognition pin I earned in fourth (4th) grade for giving a ‘timely topic’ speech for 4-H Club.

How does the Gift of Literacy get shared? In little ways: Through play — and through schoolyard diplomacy that happens when play turns to tussling. At celebrations — and during the shared cleanup that happens when the party is over.

Literacy gets passed from generation to generation in small everyday moments.

But educators can’t take it for granted that the adults in a child’s life have the skills to pass on that inheritance. It only happens when caring adults decide to turn quiet, wonderful — often frustrating — moments into an opportunity.

Some dads have an instinct for counting out the cookies when he hands them to his baby girl. Some dads don’t have those instincts.

It takes a little longer for a mother to answer the question ‘How come?’—and gently correct grammar. Other moms feel too overwhelmed to create a teaching moment.

When a toddler babbles incomprehensibly, some nanas just naturally respond with questions and full sentences instead of baby talk. Other grandmothers — perhaps raised in an era when kids were seen and not heard — don’t understand the value of encouraging conversation.

When a preschooler accidently knocks over his juice, some baby sitters huff and snatch the offending drink away. Other caretakers offer a paper towel and demonstrate how even a 2-year-old can ‘help’ clean up.

Listening to children. Problem solving with them. Responding mindfully. Those are skills that can be taught. As educators, we have those skills, and we can share them.

This is a call to action.


Evelyn English wrote “Gift of Literacy,” she’s a NHSA Literacy Mentor and NAFSCE member. Next time, the “Gift of Literacy” blog explores the magic in the words: “Tell me more.”

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America has the right to a great public education

Posted By Lisa Aramony, Tuesday, April 4, 2017
Friends, I want to share the last address from Secretary of Education, John King. This address is inspiring to say the least, and entirely aligned with the mission of NAFSCE. I'm not thrilled that he didn't have more of a focus on families, but his perspective on equity is right on target. The address is long but worth the read! Best regards, Vito Borrello A Dispatch From the Outgoing U.S. Education Secretary America has the right to a great public education By John B. King Jr.-January 17, 2017 Education is a ladder. Rung by rung, it helps people reach places that would otherwise be an impossible climb. It is not enough for those already prosperous to prosper. All Americans must have the opportunity to meaningfully participate in our nation's growth, if it is to succeed. That has always been so but is even truer today, at a time when the fastest-growing occupations require education beyond high school. And that is why now is the time for champions of public education to set aside the policy differences that have divided us over the past two decades and move forward, together, to defend and extend this fundamental American institution. We don't have to agree on every strategy or tactic. We won't. But we can stop wasting energy on false dichotomies and disparaging rhetoric. We can stop questioning our natural allies' intentions and fight side by side for the belief that every student in America has the right to a great public education. The passage just over a year ago of the bipartisan Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, provides us an opportunity to begin our work together. The top-down, one-size-fits-all approach of the No Child Left Behind law was a blunt tool, ill-suited to a task that called for nuance. ESSA, on the other hand, empowers local leaders to develop strategies that address their unique needs. But that doesn't mean every district should go it alone without guardrails for protecting students' civil rights, guidelines for implementing the law, or the good ideas forged and shown to work by others. ESSA also calls for states to continue making college-and-career readiness their goal. We must be united in fighting efforts to water down those expectations and undercut progress when the work gets hard. Just as important, we must invest in schools and teachers so they can help students meet those standards. Even successful strategies will fail without the funds to back them up—especially in schools and neighborhoods where change is most needed. Money is never the only answer, but it pays for science labs and school counselors, repairs leaky roofs, and makes high-quality preschool possible. Yet, in districts all across the country, students who need the most get the least. Federal funds can help, so we must put in place rules to ensure that those most in need get the help they deserve. However, even a modest proposal to do so has faced fierce opposition inside the beltway from many who ostensibly share the same values about education and equity. "It’s not liberty when the happenstance of birth binds a child to a life of limited possibilities." We also must have the courage to hold ourselves accountable for students' success. Without accountability, standards are meaningless and equity is a charade. But accountability doesn't force us to embrace "test and punish" policies based on redundant or poor-quality assessments; nor does it require us to simply "wish and hope," with no tests and little insight into how, or whether, our children are learning. We should make sure tests are better, fairer, and fewer, as President Barack Obama has called for. And we should help states develop accountability systems that are rich and varied—including measures such as chronic absenteeism, access to and success in advanced courses, and approaches to discipline that help students improve their behavior and achievement. Let's also set aside the false debate between allowing public charter schools and supporting traditional public schools. Our primary concern shouldn't be the management structure of schools; it should be whether they serve all students well. We must demand that charter authorizers set a high bar for granting a charter, rigorously monitor academic and operational performance, and close charter schools that fail their students. At the same time, we must insist that district schools also provide a high-quality, well-rounded education for all their students. And we must get beyond either exalting teachers as heroes who can single-handedly solve all education problems or castigating them for failing to do so. We should instead recognize that teaching is an incredibly difficult job, requiring dozens of decisions every hour. We can invest in teachers' preparation and development at the same time that we welcome their expertise and leadership on the challenges they face and the issues that affect their students. Teachers need more resources and the higher pay they surely deserve, particularly those serving the highest-need students. They also need the space and opportunity—the clinically rich preparation, the collaboration time, and the career pathways—to do what they joined the profession to do: help all children reach their full potential. Finally, we must recognize that the growing diversity of our people is an asset, not a liability, and support diverse schools. Diversity helps more children succeed, broadens their perspectives, and prepares them for the global workforce. I am convinced the growing conflicts in this country over race, religion, and language would be profoundly reduced if our children learned and played alongside classmates who are different from themselves and if they encountered diverse teachers and leaders in their schools. The light of opportunity shines more brightly and more widely today than it did eight years ago. Thanks to the hard work of teachers, leaders, students, families, policymakers, and advocates, the high school graduation rate is 83 percent, an all-time high; achievement gaps are closing; and the most recent college graduating class was the largest and most diverse in history. But, too many students still don't finish high school, and when they do, too many aren't ready for college. The relationship between poverty and educational achievement in the United States is among the strongest in the world. This destroys hope. But we can restore hope by working to ensure all young people are well-prepared to complete a postsecondary degree or training program. Some will argue equity conflicts with liberty. But it's not liberty when the happenstance of birth binds a child to a life of limited possibilities. True liberty is being able to take our lives as far as our drive and talent allow. The Pledge of Allegiance affirms that liberty and justice for all is an enduring and dual birthright. Preserving that birthright requires advocates of public education—including teachers, parents, business leaders, elected officials, and union leaders—to all be a part of the solution. We must all press ahead, firm in the knowledge that when we pull others up, they do not pull us down. When the light of opportunity shines on those who lack it, it does not dim for those already in its glow.

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