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REL Midwest Ask A REL Response

September 2018


What research and resources are available about practices to strengthen family and community engagement or activism within preK–12 education, in particular among culturally diverse groups?


Following an established Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest protocol, we conducted a search for research reports, descriptive studies and resources on practices to strengthen family and community engagement or activism within grades preK–12. In particular, we focused on identifying resources focused on culturally diverse groups. For details on the databases and sources, keywords, and selection criteria used to create this response, please see the Methods section at the end of this memo.

Below, we share a sampling of the publicly accessible resources on this topic. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. The search conducted is not comprehensive; other relevant references and resources may exist. For each reference, we provide an abstract, excerpt, or summary written by the study’s author or publisher. We have not evaluated the quality of these references, but provide them for your information only.

Research References

Annie E. Casey Foundation. (2013). Lessons learned. Community change: Lessons from Making Connections. Baltimore, MD: Author. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Making Connections was the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s signature place-based, community-change initiative of the 2000s. It sought to build on previous work and launch an effort focused firmly on the framework of family strengthening. The Foundation started Making Connections in 22 places, focusing eventually on first 10, then seven sites. It invested in the initiative for more than 10 years and spent more than $500 million. This effort led to a range of innovations in the field and both started and strengthened many local initiatives. Making Connections’ positive outcomes are still influencing Casey and the broader field. In many notable cases, the programs and partnerships created during the initiative continue to thrive. Assessments of Making Connections have already produced a variety of lessons on program development, implementation, evaluation and other topics, with valuable implications for practitioners, public policymakers, funders and others involved in community development. This report takes a step back and outlines key findings from the initiative that can provide guidance to those involved with community-change efforts in the future. These principles can serve as guideposts at an exciting time in the community-change field. Many smart and promising initiatives are underway, fueled by foundations, nonprofits and others in the private sector. The federal government is also making important investments at the neighborhood and community levels. And learning communities of local leaders and state and local officials are actively sharing information and hard-won insights. The principles and strategies in this report can help inform and sustain these efforts and those to come in a field with so much to contribute to the strengthening and success of families living in disinvested communities.”

Baquedano-López, P., Alexander, R. A., & Hernández, S. J. (2013). Equity issues in parental and community involvement in schools: What teacher educators need to know. Review of Research in Education, 37(1), 149–182. Retrieved from

From the ERIC 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.”

Cousins, L., & Mickelson, R. A. (2011). Making success in education: What Black parents believe about participation in their children’s education. Current Issues in Education, 14(3). Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This article examines the role of parent involvement—its meaning and effects—among a determined group of African American parents. We focus on some of the characteristics of involvement of a subset of African American parents in a larger program designed to enhance the math and science course selection of middle and high school students. As one of several factors related to school success, our findings confirm the centrality of parent participation and its implications among members of a historically marginalized group.”

Fennimore, B. S. (2017). Permission not required: The power of parents to disrupt educational hypocrisy. Review of Research in Education, 41(1), 159–181. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This review is focused on literature documenting the experiences of nondominant and minoritized parents who challenge injustice and inequity in the public schools attended by their children. It interrogates hegemonic approaches to parent involvement favoring dominant groups and silencing efforts of nondominant parents to confront discriminatory assumptions and unequal opportunities. Research studies generally published between 1995 and 2016 reflecting grassroots parent activism encountering conflict and tension and exposing racism, classism, and discrimination in public school practices and policies were selected. Using the lens of critical race and social justice theories, the review is structured on three major public school hypocrisies: (1) hegemonic traditional school-controlled parent involvement that privileges dominant groups and devalues contributions of nondominant groups, (2) false claims of equity in schools characterized by stratified and differential opportunities, and (3) discriminatory market-based choice and privatization schemes. Ultimately the review calls on researchers to acknowledge ethical issues that arise when their work ‘confirms’ nondominant parent and child inferiority. Further, it calls for observer-activist-participant research paradigms that acknowledge school-based resistance to critical nondominant parent activism and respectfully document the continuing struggle of nondominant parents for equal educational opportunities.”

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: Part 1: Building an understanding of family and community engagement (REL 2016–148). 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 ERIC abstract: “The Toolkit of Resources for Engaging Families and the Community as Partners in Education is a four-part resource that brings together research, promising practices, and useful tools and resources to guide educators in strengthening partnerships with families and community members to support student learning. The toolkit defines family and community engagement as an overarching approach to support family well-being, strong parent-child relationships, and students’ ongoing learning and development. The primary audiences for this toolkit are administrators, teachers, teacher leaders, and trainers in diverse schools and districts. Part I is designed to guide educators into building awareness of how their beliefs and assumptions about family and community engagement influence their interactions with families and the community and how knowledge about the demographic characteristics of the families in their schools can inform educators about what might support or hinder family engagement with schools.”

Green, T. L. (2015). Leading for urban school reform and community development. Educational Administration Quarterly, 51(5), 679–711. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Purpose: Improving urban schools of color and the communities where they are located requires leadership that spans school and community boundaries. The purpose of this study is to understand how principal and community leader actions support urban school reform along with community development at two community schools in the urban Midwest and Southeast. Research Method: Using a cross-case study design, this research draws on interviews, school-community observations, and document analysis. Concepts from community development leadership and cross-boundary leadership are joined to theoretically frame this study and guide the analysis. Data analysis was conducted using the constant comparative method. Findings: Leader actions varied across the two research sites based on the specific school-community tasks that were undertaken. However, cross-case findings suggest that leaders developed a broad vision for school and community, positioned the school as a spatial community asset, championed community causes at the school, and changed school culture. Implications: This approach to educational leadership highlights principals who purposefully work with community leaders toward mutually beneficial school and community outcomes. The study concludes with implications for leadership practice and future research.”

Ishimaru, A. M. (2014). Rewriting the rules of engagement: Elaborating a model of district-community collaboration. Harvard Educational Review, 84(2), 188–216. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “In this ethnographic case study, Ann M. Ishimaru examines how a collaboration emerged and evolved between a low-income Latino parent organizing group and the leadership of a rapidly changing school district. Using civic capacity and community organizing theories, Ishimaru seeks to understand the role of parents, goals, strategies, and change processes that characterize a school district’s collaboration with a community-based organization. Her findings suggest an emergent model of collaboration that engages parents as educational leaders, focuses on shared systemic goals, strategically builds capacity and relationships, and addresses educational change as political process. This emergent model stands in contrast to traditional partnerships between communities and school or district leadership that often reflect deficit conceptions of marginalized parents and families. By rewriting the rules of engagement, parents, families, and community members can contribute critical resources to enable districts and schools to educate all students more equitably.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Ishimaru, A. M. (2017). From family engagement to equitable collaboration. Educational Policy, 0895904817691841. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “Policy makers have long seen parents and families as key levers for improving U.S. student outcomes and success, and new cross-sector collaborative policy and initiatives provide a promising context for innovations in efforts to engage nondominant families in educational equity reform. Drawing on a lens of equitable collaboration, this study examined the strategies in three organizational efforts to improve family engagement in education within a common cross-sector collaboration initiative in a Western region of the United States. Although conventional approaches persisted amid regular exchanges across organizations, we identified more reciprocal, collective, and relational strategies: (a) parent capacity-building, (b) relationship-building, and (c) systemic capacity-building efforts. Despite promising strategies, the dynamics of implementation in the cross-sector collaborative constrained change and mirrored limitations in family engagement practice and policy. The article concludes with next steps for research, practice, and policy in the journey toward more equitable collaboration.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Jordan, D. H., & Wilson, C. M. (2017). Supporting African American student success through prophetic activism: New possibilities for public school–church partnerships. Urban Education, 52(1), 91–119. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This article describes how African American students’ success can be improved via the increased support of Black churches and their partnerships with public schools. Findings and implications from a comparative case study of two North Carolina churches that strive to educationally assist African American public school students are detailed. Both churches have outreach programs in local schools, and their activities indicate the value of faith-based partnerships embodying ‘prophetic activism’ that benefits broader communities and empowers African Americans overall. We draw upon the study’s findings to recommend partnership strategies for church and public educational leaders.”

Kim, Y. (2009). Minority parental involvement and school barriers: Moving the focus away from deficiencies of parents. Educational Research Review, 4(2), 80–102. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “There has been an alarming imbalance in recent research on minority parental involvement because it has focused on parents’ variables to identify groups for effective interventions without searching for broader contextual variables. This literature review provides available research findings on the school barriers that prevent minority parents’ participation in their children’s school in the United States. The following school barriers were identified: (a) teachers’ perception about the efficacy of minority parents, (b) teachers’ perception concerning the capacity of minority parents, (c) teachers’ beliefs in the effectiveness of parental involvement and developmental philosophy, (d) teachers’ self-efficacy in teaching effectiveness, (e) school friendliness and positive communication, (f) diversity of parental involvement programs, (g) school policies, and (h) school leadership. Increased understanding about the nature of minority parental involvement in their children’s school will lead to a more collaborative home-school partnership and ensure the long-term success of parental involvement.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Koonce, D. A., & Harper, W., Jr. (2005). Engaging African American parents in the schools: A community-based consultation model. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 16(1–2), 55–74. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Although it has been well established that parental involvement in school is linked to positive outcomes for children, there are a myriad of issues that make it challenging for some African American families to engage school personnel in collaborative problem solving (e.g., Hill & Craft, 2003). Some of the barriers that decrease involvement include parents’ poor school experiences, intimidation by school personnel, and inconvenient meeting times. When parents’ initial advocacy efforts are not effective, we must seek alternative methods. A recommended method is the collaborative efforts of community-based social service agencies and school consultants to engage African American families in mutually beneficial partnerships with schools to facilitate successful academic careers for their children (Witty, 1982). In this article, we discuss the barriers that African American families face when attempting to collaborate with schools and describe a multiphase model for engaging African American families with school to effectively advocate for their children’s needs. A case study is presented describing the use of this model with a student exhibiting behavior problems in school.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Latunde, Y. (2017). The role of skills-based interventions and settings on the engagement of diverse families. School Community Journal, 27(2), 251–273. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Academic achievement for African American and Latino students is lower than for White and Asian students. To help overcome the achievement gap, policymakers and social scientists have focused on the relationships between student outcomes and family, community, and schools. Family, church, and community have always played significant roles in providing educational opportunities for diverse youth. In this multisite, mixed methods study, a skill building intervention for enhancing parents’ engagement in their children’s education was implemented with 107 families and its effectiveness analyzed using ANOVA and focus groups. Differences were found by setting as well as between parents of students receiving gifted education and parents of special education students.”

Latunde, Y., & Clark-Louque, A. (2016). Untapped resources: Black parent engagement that contributes to learning. The Journal of Negro Education, 85(1), 72–81. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “Conversations around the achievement gap are often centered on what parents and students can do to close it. Overall school leaders have not made the achievement of Black students a priority, but it continues to be a priority for Black parents. Despite the vast research on parental involvement, little is known about the specific contributions of Black families to student learning. This study surveyed 130 parents/guardians of Black K–12 students throughout the United States to identify the strategies and resources they use in engaging with their children’s education. The families exhibited high rates of supporting learning at home, communicating with schools, and providing educational experiences in the community. Participants reported using two types of resources: programs and organizations geared specifically to Black students and their parents and social interactions through friends, parents, and the Internet. School personnel may improve communication and collaboration with Black parents by revisiting policy and restructuring engagement programs to incorporate this information.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

McQuiggan, M., & Megra, M. (2017). Parent and family involvement in education: Results from the National Household Education Surveys Program of 2016 (NCES 2017-102). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This report presents findings from the Parent and Family Involvement in Education Survey of the National Household Education Surveys Program of 2016 (NHES:2016). The Parent and Family Involvement in Education Survey collected data on children enrolled in public or private school for kindergarten through 12th grade or homeschooled for these grades. The survey collected information about various aspects of parent involvement in education, such as help with homework, family activities, and parent involvement at school.”

Morton, C. (2017). Supporting student success through authentic partnerships: Reflection from parents and caregivers. Indianapolis, IN: Equity Assistance Center Region III, Midwest and Plains Equity Assistance Center. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “When schools engage parents and caregivers as authentic partners in children’s learning they begin to break down traditional barriers that have existed between home and school. Parents and caregivers from historically marginalized groups have expressed feeling unwelcome, disrespected, and devalued at school. Although many are involved in the students learning process at home their contributions are rarely acknowledged and, they are forced to either engage in a school-centered form of parent involvement or not at all. Parents and caregivers that feel valued, heard, and respected by schools become part of a strong partnership that benefits everyone especially the students.”

Norris, K. E. L. (2018). Effective parent partnerships between schools and diverse families. In Social Justice and Parent Partnerships in Multicultural Education Contexts (pp. 1–17). Hershey, PA: IGI Global. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “The demographics in the United States are steadily changing. There has been a constant increase in the diverse families in schools. Often, culturally diverse and high-poverty families face more and/or different barriers to home-school partnerships than typical families. With parent involvement being so crucial to school and child success, effective education programs would benefit from learning to create partnerships with all families in authentic and meaningful ways. This chapter gives educators an overview of the challenges and the suggested practices for creating effective partnerships with diverse families.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Renee, M., & McAlister, S. (2011). The strengths and challenges of community organizing as an education reform strategy: What the research says. Quincy, MA: Nellie Mae Education Foundation. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “At the request of the Nellie Mae Foundation (NMEF), AISR staff examined the growing body of literature on community organizing to understand how this strategy fits into systemic education reform. The research shows that community organizing for school reform has the potential to create equitable changes in schools and districts, develop innovative education solutions that reflect the knowledge of under-served communities, and build the long-term social capital of under-served communities both to support schools and districts and to hold them accountable for improving achievement.”

Vega, D., Moore, J. L., III, & Miranda, A. H. (2015). Who really cares? Urban youths’ perceptions of parental and programmatic support. School Community Journal, 25(1), 53–72. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This qualitative study explored the perceptions of parental and programmatic support among 20 urban youth. Existing literature indicates that educators often place blame on parents for their perceived lack of involvement in their children’s schooling. However, the participants identified their family members (e.g., parents, siblings) as providing them with the greatest amount of support throughout their schooling experience. Additionally, more than half of the sample participated in the Upward Bound program and attributed their educational success to the support they received as program participants. These participants defined support in various ways including emotional encouragement, academic assistance, and college preparation help. Schools should examine parental involvement from a broader perspective to encompass the role parents of students from low socioeconomic backgrounds play in their children’s education and tap into these support systems to meet their students’ educational needs. Finally, the role of college preparatory program staff should continue to be assessed as a support system for urban youth.”

Weiss, H. B., Bouffard, S. M., Bridglall, B. L., & Gordon, E. W. (2009). Reframing family involvement in education: Supporting families to support educational equity. Equity Matters (Research Review No. 5). New York, NY: Campaign for Educational Equity, Teachers College, Columbia University. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “One of the most powerful but neglected supports for children’s learning and development is family involvement both in and out of school. Over 40 years of steadily accumulating evidence show that family involvement is one of the strongest predictors of children’s school success, and that families play pivotal roles in their children’s cognitive, social, and emotional development from birth through adolescence. However, resources for and commitments to promoting meaningful family involvement have been few, weak, and inconsistent. To reframe public understanding of the benefits of family involvement in children’s education, this paper lays out a research-based definition and more equitable approach to family involvement and positions it as a key cross-cutting component of broader comprehensive or complementary learning systems in which families, schools, after-school and summer learning programs, school-based health clinics, and others have a shared responsibility for children’s learning. Beginning with a brief historical overview of conceptions of family roles and responsibilities in children’s learning, this paper next offers a review of recent research on the ways in which expectations and support for family involvement have shifted, particularly with respect to economically disadvantaged and racial and ethnic minority families. Research suggests that low-income families have fewer opportunities for involvement and are, indeed, less involved in many ways. The next section lays out a reframed approach to family involvement: Family involvement should be situated within larger complementary learning systems to facilitate continuity of learning across contexts and ages, increase the chances that families and other learning supports will share learning goals and commitments to the child’s school success, and increase the opportunities to surround children with a linked network of supports so that if one area of support falters, others remain. Interventions that have been developed to increase parental involvement among low-income families and other at-risk populations are another important part of the knowledge base. The next section of the paper reviews the family involvement research and intervention literature, coupled with research on the barriers and supports for the involvement of disadvantaged and minority families. The interventions evidence provides much of the warrant for the authors’ proposed reframing of family involvement: Continuous, cross-context family involvement is necessary to meet the goal of educational equity. The recommendations and conclusion to the paper argue for a research-based and broadly shared approach to family involvement to guide policy development and practice. Family involvement within a complementary learning system is necessary to achieve educational equity and close achievement gaps; differences in opportunities for family involvement precipitate or exacerbate unequal educational opportunities and outcomes.”

Welton, A. D., & Freelon, R. (2018). Community organizing as educational leadership: Lessons from Chicago on the politics of racial justice. Journal of Research on Leadership Education, 13(1), 79–104. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The collective power of community members has the potential to shape education reform efforts through activism and community organizing. In this article, we present two cases where community organizers exhibited key leadership strategies designed to influence district decision-making about school closures in Chicago. Employing a mix of interviews, observations, and document analysis, we discuss how community organizing can be used as a framework in which to advocate for racial equity in education. By highlighting the leadership tactics parents and community organizers used to confront the racial injustice of neoliberal reforms, we argue for a broadening of traditional educational leadership paradigms.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Additional Organizations to Consult

Midwest & Plains (MAP) Equity Assistance Center –

From the website: “As of 2016, the Great Lakes Equity Center re-structured as an organizational hub for an array of research, technical assistance, and educational resource development projects, including the Midwest and Plains (MAP) Equity Assistance Center. Collectively, we are committed to school and system transformation toward racial, disability, and other forms of educational justice: the MAP Center provides three-tiers of technical assistance related to race, sex, national origin, and religion desegregation to K-12 public education agencies in a 13-state region free-of-charge; the Great Lakes Equity Center continues to partner with community, non-profit, and private organizations across the U.S. on equity-driven systemic transformation, professional learning, and collaborative inquiry projects.”


Keywords and Search Strings

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

  • descriptor: “African Americans” activism

  • descriptor: “African Americans” descriptor: “parent participation” descriptor: “family involvement”

  • “education activism”

  • descriptor: “minority groups” descriptor: “parent participation” descriptor: “family involvement”

Databases and Search Engines

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

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

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

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published over the last 15 years, from 2002 to present, were included in the search and review.

  • Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations.

  • Methodology: We used the following methodological priorities/considerations in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types—randomized control trials, quasi-experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, and so forth, generally in this order, (b) target population, samples (e.g., representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected), study duration, and so forth, and (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, and so forth.
This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Midwest Region (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL Midwest) at American Institutes for Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Midwest under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0007, administered by American Institutes for 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.