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REL Central Ask A REL Response

Beating the Odds

November 2018


What are effective, research-based family engagement strategies?


Following an established REL Central research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports as well as descriptive study articles to help answer the question. The sources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic research databases, and general Internet search engines. (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response, and we offer them only for your reference. Also, we compiled the references in the response from the most commonly used resources of research, but they are not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist.

Research References

Cunningham, S. D., Kreider, H., & Ocón, J. (2012). Influence of a parent leadership program on participants’ leadership capacity and actions. School Community Journal, 22(1), 111–124. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“This article investigates the influence of Parent Services Project’s Vision and Voice Family Leadership Institute (VVFLI; formerly known as Parent Leadership Institute) on parent leadership capacity and action. Pre- and post-test data were collected from new VVFLI attendees during their first (N = 83) and last (N = 85) session, respectively. T-tests were used to test for significant differences between the pre- and post-test survey responses. Survey data were also collected from a subset of alumni (N = 100) who had completed at least one VVFLI between 2005 and 2008. Results indicate that VVFLI may positively influence parents– identities as leaders, general leadership and communication skills, and skills specific to school- and community-based settings, as well as promote increased parental involvement in a variety of school-based, advocacy, and wider constituency leadership activities. Schools and community-based organizations interested in strengthening the leadership capacity of parents should consider implementing parent leadership programs, such as VVFLI, with their constituents.”

Epstein, J. L., & Sheldon, S. B. (2016). Necessary but not sufficient: The role of policy for advancing programs of school, family, and community partnerships. Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences, 2(5), 202–219. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“Since the release of Equality of Educational Opportunity, researchers have emphasized the importance of applying the results of research to policies for school improvement. Policies tell educators to do something, but not how to enact specific laws. This study analyzes data from 347 schools in 21 districts to identify variables that support the enactment of policies for parental engagement. We address research questions on how school and district practices affect the quality of school-based partnership programs. Our results indicate that a policy on parental involvement may be a good first step, but other factors–principals’ support for family and community engagement and active facilitation of research-based structures and processes by district leaders–are important for establishing a basic partnership program. These factors promote programs that engage all students’ families. Schools that take these steps have higher percentages of engaged families and report higher rates of average daily attendance among their students.”

Kraft, M. A., & Rogers, T. (2015). The underutilized potential of teacher-to-parent communication: Evidence from a field experiment. Economics of Education Review, 47, 49–63. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“Parental involvement is correlated with student performance, though the causal relationship is less well established. This experiment examined an intervention that delivered weekly one-sentence individualized messages from teachers to the parents of high school students in a credit recovery program. Messages decreased the percentage of students who failed to earn course credit from 15.8% to 9.3%–a 41% reduction. This reduction resulted primarily from preventing drop-outs, rather than from reducing failure or dismissal rates. The intervention shaped the content of parent–child conversations with messages emphasizing what students could improve, versus what students were doing well, producing the largest effects. We estimate the cost of this intervention per additional student credit earned to be less than one-tenth the typical cost per credit earned for the district. These findings underscore the value of educational policies that encourage and facilitate teacher-to-parent communication to empower parental involvement in their children’s education.”

McKnight, K., Venkateswaran, N., Laird, J., Robles, J., & Shalev, T. (2017). Mindset shifts and parent teacher home visits. Berkeley, CA: RTI International. Retrieved from

From the ResearchGate abstract:

“The report shows how the PTHV model and process of relational home visits builds understanding and trust, reduces anxiety and stress, and fosters positive cross-group interactions between educators and families. Moreover, these relational capacities are critical for identifying and reducing educators’ and families’ implicit biases that too often lead to disconnects, missed opportunities, and discriminatory behaviors in and beyond the classroom. The findings indicate that when educators and families build mutually respectful and trusting relationships they become more aware of stereotypes and biases and work toward leaving them behind. As a result, they are both better equipped to support the students’ education. With the help of relational home visits, their common interest–the child’s success–wins out over unconscious assumptions. The report also offers valuable recommendations for strengthening and deepening the impact of relational home visits. How can we create more opportunities for educators and parents to identify and reflect on their implicit biases? How can we offer greater support to parents? How can we intentionally link home visits with a systems approach to decreasing implicit bias? We look forward to answering these questions together.”

Sheldon, S. B., & Jung, S. B. (2015). The family engagement partnerships: Student outcome evaluation. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University, School of Education, Center on School, Family and Community Partnerships. Retrieved from

From the ResearchGate abstract:

“This report presents findings from an Evaluation of Flamboyan Foundations’s Family Engagement Partnership. The study included 12 public elementary schools in Washington, D.C., and more than 4,000 students in the 2013–2014 school year. It found that students whose families received a home visit, one of the core strategies in the Family Engage Partnership program, had 24 percent fewer absences and were more likely to read at or above grade level compared to similar students who did not receive a home visit. Also, students attending schools implementing the program more widely were associated with a greater likelihood of reading at or above grade level.”

Van Voorhis, F. L., Maier, M. F., Epstein, J. L., & Lloyd, C. M. (with Leung, T.). (2013). The impact of family involvement on the education of children ages 3 to 8: A focus on literacy and math achievement outcomes and social-emotional skills. New York, NY: MDRC. Retrieved from

From the overview:

“This report summarizes research conducted primarily over the past 10 years on how families’ involvement in children’s learning and development through activities at home and at school affects the literacy, mathematics, and social-emotional skills of children ages 3 to 8. A total of 95 studies of family involvement are reviewed. These include both descriptive, nonintervention studies of the actions families take at home and at school and intervention studies of practices that guide families to conduct activities that strengthen young children’s literacy and math learning. The family involvement research studies are divided into four categories:

  • Learning activities at home, including those that parents engage in to promote their child’s literacy and/or math skills outside school
  • Family involvement at school, including the actions and interactions that families have while in the school building
  • School outreach to engage families, including the strategies that schools and teachers use to engage families and make them feel welcome
  • Supportive parenting activities, including the nature and quality of the parent-child relationship and home environment, rule-setting, and caring behaviors.

Key Findings

  • Family involvement is important for young children’s literacy and math skills. The majority of studies, including some randomized control trials (RCTs), demonstrate this positive link. A few studies show positive relations with social-emotional skills. The weakest association was between family involvement at school and children’s outcomes.
  • Parents from diverse backgrounds, when given direction, can become more engaged with their children. And when parents are more engaged, children tend to do better.
  • This review also provides recommendations for additional lines of inquiry and implications to guide next steps in both research and practice. While there is still more to learn about how to connect with and support caretakers’ efforts to promote children’s learning, what we already know from extant research can help guide this process.”

Wilder, S. (2014). Effects of parental involvement on academic achievement: A meta-synthesis. Educational Review, 66(3), 377–397. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“The impact of parental involvement on student academic achievement has been recognized by teachers, administrators, and policy-makers who consider parental involvement to be one of the integral parts of new educational reforms and initiatives. This study synthesized the results of nine meta-analyses that examined this impact and it identified generalizable findings across these studies. The results indicated that the relationship between parental involvement and academic achievement was positive, regardless of a definition of parental involvement or measure of achievement. Furthermore, the findings revealed that this relationship was strongest if parental involvement was defined as parental expectations for academic achievement of their children. However, the impact of parental involvement on student academic achievement was weakest if parental involvement was defined as homework assistance. Finally, the relationship between parental involvement and academic achievement was found to be consistent across different grade levels and ethnic groups. However, the strength of that relationship varied based on the type of assessment used to measure student achievement.”

Additional Resources to Consult

Garcia, M. E., Frunzi, K., Dean, C. B., Flores, N., & Miller, K. B. (2016). Toolkit of resources for engaging families and the community as partners in education. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Pacific. Retrieved from

From the description:

“The Toolkit of Resources for Engaging Families and Community as Partners in Education provides resources for school staff to build relationships with families and community members and to support family well-being, strong parent-child relationships, and students’ ongoing learning and development. Originally developed for the Guam Alliance for Family and Community Engagement in Education, the Toolkit is based on information from a variety of sources that address engagement in diverse communities. As a result, the Toolkit is applicable in a variety of contexts–and wherever school staff are interested in enhancing engagement of families and community members. The Toolkit is divided into four parts, and each includes a series of activities that can be used with family and community members, as well as other diverse cross-stakeholder groups. The Toolkit offers an integrated approach that helps school staff understand how their own cultural experiences and backgrounds influence their beliefs and assumptions about families and community members, and consequently influences their efforts to engage others in support of student learning. It also addresses how to build a cultural bridge through cross-cultural communication and how to use strategies that build trust between families, community members, and schools. In addition, the Toolkit helps school staff understand how to use two-way communication with families to gather and share data about student interests, progress, and outcomes.”

Additional Organizations to Consult

Family Engagement Community of Practice:

From the website:

“Welcome to the Community of Practice (CoP) page for Family Engagement. This CoP is a central location for professionals interested in and working on issues related to family engagement to come together to share ideas, strategies, experiences, and resources. Members will identify the specific areas for focus as the CoP becomes established. Suggested topics for focus may include ideas such as including parents as partners in systems-building; two generational programs; pre-k to K–12 family connections; engaging higher education in preparing the workforce for family engagement; home-school connections; or identifying the barriers for families’ involvement.

The CoP will feature a variety of strategies to support the topic including webinars, opportunities for discussions between members and TA partners, and the use of a central workspace. Resources will be highlighted and CoP members may pose questions in the discussion board while others may respond with recommendations and suggestions. The Family Engagement CoP is open to all interested early childhood professionals.”

Global Family Research Project:

From the website:

“We work across boundaries–with early childhood and afterschool organizations, schools, digital media, libraries, museums, and others working on behalf of children and families–to ensure that families are empowered in children’s learning, from early childhood to young adulthood.”


Keywords and Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • “Family engagement strategies” AND “ESSA evidence tiers”
  • “Family engagement”
  • “Family engagement” AND school

Databases and Resources

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences. Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and Google.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the Publication: References and resources published between 2008 and 2018 were included in the search and review.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority was given to ERIC, followed by Google Scholar and Google.
  • Methodology: The following methodological priorities/considerations were used in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types–randomized control trials, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive analyses, literature reviews; and (b) target population and sample.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Central Region (Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory Central at Marzano Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Central under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0005, administered by Marzano Research. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.