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November 2019

Ask A REL Question:

What are best practices for community engagement?


Thank you for the question you submitted to our REL Reference Desk regarding best practices for community engagement. We have prepared the following memo with research references to help answer your question. For each reference, we provide an abstract, excerpt, or summary written by the study’s author or publisher. The references are selected from the most commonly used research resources and may not be comprehensive. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. Other relevant studies may exist. We have not evaluated the quality of these references, but provide them for your information only.

Research References

  1. Baquedano-Lopez, P., Alexander, R. A., & Hernandez, S. J. (2013). Equity issues in parental and community involvement in schools: What teachers educators need to know. Review of Research in Education, 37(1), 149-182.
    Retrieved from Full text available at
    From the abstract: “In this article, the authors examine the literature on parental involvement highlighting the equity issues that it raises in educational practice. They begin with a brief historical overview of approaches to parent involvement and the ways in which "neodeficit" discourses on parents permeate current education reform efforts. Next, they address how inequities related to race, class, and immigration shape and are shaped by parent involvement programs, practices, and ideologies. Finally, they discuss empowerment approaches to parental involvement and how these are situated in a broader decolonial struggle for transformative praxis that reframes deficit approaches to parents from nondominant backgrounds.”
  2. Furco, A. (2013). Legitimizing community engagement with K-12 schools. Peabody Journal of Education, 88(5), 622-636.
    Retrieved from: Full text available at
    From the abstract: “This article examines the issue of internal legitimization and its importance in securing high-quality community engagement in K-12 schools. Drawing on the literature from the fields of community engagement, school reform, school-university partnerships, and school-community partnerships, this article describes some of the prevailing challenges and barriers external partners face when conducting reform oriented partnership work in K-12 schools. The discussion focuses on four factors that contribute to enhancing external partners' internal legitimization within K-12 settings. The article offers a set of strategies for working through each of the four components.”
  3. McFerran, K. S., Crooke, A. H. D., & Bolger, L. (2017). Promoting engagement in school through tailored music programs. International Journal of Education & the Arts, 18(3). Retrieved from:
    From the abstract: “Music and arts programs have increasingly been utilized to promote school engagement. Despite the fact that school engagement and music programs can be understood in myriad ways, little attention has been paid to potential distinctions between the types of music programs that underpin engagement. This article describes an investigation of how and when different types of school engagement were promoted through participation in a range of tailored music programs in four diverse school contexts. Four types of engagement were identified, including individuals' engagement in learning, peer engagement, connections with different members of the community, and community engagement. The characteristics of each type of program differed according to leadership approach, expectation of students, degree of student engagement, and structure. The benefits of tailoring each music program to meet the unique needs and interests of each school community are illustrated through these findings. Understandings of the relationship between music and school engagement are articulated.”
  4. Medina, M. A., Cosby, G., & Grim, J. (2019). Community engagement through partnerships: Lessons learned from a decade of full-service community school implementation. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, 24(3), 272-287.
    Retrieved from: Full text available at
    From the abstract: “Improving performance in an environment often tested by intermingled social problems, including poverty, racial isolation, cultural clashes between teachers and students, and school funding disparities requires authentic, committed family, school, and community partnerships. Using Bryk's (2010) model for effective and improving schools, our study describes challenges and achievements experienced over a decade of implementing the full-service community school (FSCS) reform in two neighborhoods in Indianapolis, Indiana. We also share lessons about funding, collaborative structures and processes, and organizational responses to change. The study has broad implications for both FSCSs and urban schools with comparable demographics that are working to build effective partnerships to address social problems in lasting ways.”
  5. Mozolic, J. & Shuster, J. (2016). Community engagement in K-12 tutoring programs: A research-based guide for best practices. Journal of Public Scholarship in Higher Education, 6, 143-160.
    Retrieved from:
    From the abstract: “This report on historical trends and recent findings in the literature on academic tutoring is the first step in a community-based research collaboration between faculty and students at a small liberal arts college, the local public school district, and a nonprofit foundation that supports public K-12 education. Each year, this nonprofit administers a program that pairs over 200 public school students with academic tutors while overcoming limited resources for accessing and synthesizing the research on best practices in the field. Our partnership seeks to provide community members and volunteers with foundational knowledge and practical guidelines for promoting student success through tutoring. In subsequent phases of the research we will use these guidelines to implement and evaluate changes in the tutoring program. Here, we present accumulated evidence from researchers across disciplines, synthesizing a set of best practices in tutoring for use by community engagement practitioners. Additionally, we incorporate recent findings suggesting that factors beyond typical academic outcomes, so-called noncognitive skills like motivation, perseverance, and mindset, could be important components of tutoring for more broadly defined student success.”
  6. Oberg De La Garza, T. & Moreno Kuri, L. (2014). Building strong community partnerships: Equal voice and mutual benefits. Journal of Latinos and Education, 13(2), 120-133.
    Retrieved from: Full text available at
    From the abstract: “This article explores an urban partnership and service-learning project deliberately created to improve literacy and strengthen learning communities in an urban, Latino neighborhood of Chicago. The project aligns activities and objectives with resources and needs of university participants, a Latino community organization, and local public schools. The needs addressed include (a) improving literacy achievement in Latino students, (b) improving literacy instruction, (c) expanding students' awareness and engagement with social injustices, and (d) exploring barriers to literacy access in students' homes and community. This project serves as a model for developing partnerships and outreach between higher education institutions and the community.”
  7. Preston, J. P. (2013). Community involvement in school: Social relationships in a bedroom community. Canadian Journal of Education, 36(3), 413-437.
    Retrieved from:
    From the abstract: “The purpose of this qualitative case study was to describe how community involvement in school is associated with the social relationships existing/lacking within a bedroom community. Thirty-five interviews with school council members, teachers, and community members highlighted that traditional forms of community involvement in school generate connections between educators and community members, while the proximity of the city negatively affected the community's social cohesion. Theoretically, bonding and bridging social capital fosters trust, which enables community involvement. Implications are that traditional forms of community involvement in school are catalytic springboards for developing additional forms of community involvement in school.”
  8. Wang, J., Lai, S., & Wang, C. (2016). Beyond the classroom wall: Community engagement instruction. World Journal of Education, 6(6), 31-41.
    Retrieved from:
    From the abstract: “This study (n = 11) examined active community-school collaborative classes using sociocultural constructivist approaches over an academic year in an early childhood institute. A semi-formal interview was conducted to describing how the early childhood teachers and community members worked collaboratively to develop community engagement activities in a constructivist manner for an early childhood instruction. The guiding research questions sought to explore both teachers and community members' perspectives regarding integrating community activities within the early childhood curriculum. Results from the qualitative data of perspectives of past experiences, collaboration between the school and its community, interaction with the school teachers/community officials, and attitudes toward into collaborative community/school activities, were examined and analyzed based on grounded theory. Both school and community emphasized school-community collaborative engagement to enhance and extend existing classroom practice. Findings suggest teachers' positive teaching impacts resulted from involvement, instant feedback, and productive teaching resources with the community engagement. Findings also suggest community's positive impacts resulted from active engagement, community-school relationship, and contribution in community activities. By providing collaborative community engagement activities and embedding community contribution in instruction, young children may be better to maximize their learning development and optimize their levels of competency. Activities for community integration in the early childhood learning are discussed.”

Additional Organizations to Consult

  • National Association for Family, School, and Community Engagement:
    From the website: “NAFSCE is the first membership association focused solely on advancing family, school, and community engagement (FSCE). Our Mission: Advancing high-impact policies and practices for family, school, and community engagement to promote child development and improve student achievement. Our Vision: A world where family engagement is universally practiced as an essential strategy for improving children’s learning and advancing equity.”
  • U.S. Department of Education, Family & Community Engagement:
    From the website: “Raising the next generation is a shared responsibility. When families, communities and schools work together, students are more successful and the entire community benefits. For schools and districts across the U.S., family engagement is becoming an integral part of education reform efforts. The Family Engagement Team is an interoffice group dedicated to strengthening the voice of families, by bringing focus to the needs of students so as to allow every student to reach full potential. Learn more about the Team, its inception, and role and activities at the Department.”


Search Strings. Community engagement OR improving community engagement OR improving community engagement in school OR community engagement in school OR best practices community engagement OR school and community OR best practices community involvement OR community involvement in school

Searched Databases and Resources.

  • ERIC
  • Academic Databases (e.g., EBSCO databases, JSTOR database, ProQuest, Google Scholar)
  • Commercial search engines (e.g., Google)
  • Institute of Education Sciences Resources

Reference Search and Selection Criteria. The following factors are considered when selecting references:

  • Date of Publication: Priority is given to references published in the past 10 years.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: ERIC, other academic databases, Institute of Education Sciences Resources, and other resources including general internet searches
  • Methodology: Priority is given to the most rigorous study types, such as randomized controlled trials and quasi-experimental designs, as well as to correlational designs, descriptive analyses, mixed methods and literature reviews. Other considerations include the target population and sample, including their relevance to the question, generalizability, and general quality.

REL Mid-Atlantic serves the education needs of Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

This Ask A REL was prepared under Contract ED-IES-17-C-0006 by Regional Educational Laboratory Mid-Atlantic administered by Mathematica Policy Research. The 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.