Category Voices

When Joyce Epstein founded the National Network of Partnership Schools (NNPS), the notion that schools and families must work together to help students learn was itself a bold idea. Fast-forward 25 years and we find an NNPS that has assisted more than 5,000 schools—and several hundred districts and educational organizations—plan, implement, and continually improve their partnership programs.

Never have those partnerships proven more valuable than during the two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. In their latest research, Epstein and colleagues found that the schools and districts that were already implementing research-based partnership programs before the pandemic were able to accomplish more than those that began their programs after the onset of COVID-19—but that’s not a reason never to start. Any partnership is better than no partnership at all.

Epstein’s mission is to spread the “truism” that family and community engagement matters more than ever—especially during times of crisis. She asserts that when districts and schools use research-based tools and approaches to strengthen programs and practices, they are more likely to implement policies that engage all families as partners in improving their children’s education.

To do that, schools and policy makers must lift research out of the journals, develop programs based on solid evidence, and get those programs into the schools with purpose. That rising tide will lift all boats. The strong will get stronger, and even those less strong will gain in strength.

Epstein’s boldest idea of all, however, is to never give up. Progress may be incremental, but it can and should be continuous—one year’s work strengthens the next, she promises.

COVID put family engagement on the front burner. The digital divide—students with and without computers—remains a monumental challenge. Students with engaged families do better.

Joyce L. Epstein, PhD Professor, Director, National Network of Partnership Schools (NNPS)

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