By Dave DeFusco
A Johns Hopkins School of Education researcher will examine the effectiveness of parent-teacher home visits in four major urban school districts as part of a two-year study conducted by the national nonprofit Parent Teacher Home Visits.
Steve Sheldon, an associate professor at the School of Education and a long-time advocate for stronger family and community engagement in schools, will evaluate whether parent-teacher visits in low-income communities are predictive of better academic outcomes in K-12 schools.
Previous research has established consistent and reliable connections between family engagement in student learning with attendance and academic achievement through practices such as shared reading, homework monitoring and volunteering at school.
A study of school reform efforts in 400 Chicago schools revealed that schools with high trust levels among parents, teachers and school leadership are more likely to experience improvement in math and reading achievement than schools where trust levels among these groups are lower.
“Research, policy and practice discussions no longer center on if family engagement matters,” said Sheldon, “but on what types of family engagement matter and how families can be supported to play those roles, particularly in an increasingly diverse public school system.”
Although the link between family engagement and student and school success is well-established, relatively little research has examined whether family engagement, when initiated by teachers, leads to improved outcomes for students.
The study, “Outcome Evaluation of the Parent Teacher Home Visit Program,” will be the first national empirical evaluation of home visits. Sheldon will analyze data collected on achievement test scores, attendance, absenteeism and passing grades of some 10,000 students from school districts in Denver, Reno, Sacramento and Washington, D.C.
School districts often use home visits for remediation. If a student is in trouble, districts will conduct a home visit to appeal for support from parents. The home visits being conducted in the study’s four districts, however, are concentrated on developing relationships with families and having educators get to know the families and students they’re responsible for.
“The model here is that most of the home visits focus on having families talk about hopes and dreams and aspirations for their kids, and have the educator be the one who’s doing the listening,” said Sheldon. “Asking questions and listening to families are a start to building trust in a family-school relationship.”
The theory is that without a good relationship, schools aren’t going to get parents to attend school events or even answer the phone to talk over a problem. The point is to create a collaborative partnership rather than having the school dictate to families when, where and which types of family engagement matter. This is especially important for low-income and immigrant families.
Sheldon conducted a similar study for the Flamboyan Foundation that examined the association between student outcomes at 12 Washington, D.C., public elementary schools and implementation of the Family Engagement Partnership, a schoolwide capacity-building effort to improve educators’ engagement with their students’ families.
“This national study will be a significant opportunity to understand the extent to which home visits can help engage more families, improve student achievement and increase equity in our education system,” he said.
Middle-class and well-educated families, he said, understand the school system, the language and the tricks of the trade in creating advantages for their children.
“Immigrants and low-income, undereducated families don’t necessarily know those tricks,” he said. “They haven’t gotten through the school system in many cases, they haven’t been successful or they don’t feel comfortable in a school setting, and their kids are disadvantaged by it.”