Building Capacity for Family Engagement

Karen Mapp describes the origins and goals of the new framework adopted by the U.S. Department of Education

November 10, 2014
Professor Karen Mapp

When Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visited the Harvard Graduate School of Education in February 2010, Senior Lecturer Karen Mapp asked him about federal support for family and community engagement. She came away with a new assignment: Help the U.S. Department of Education find a new approach that would do a better job.

For the next several years, Mapp and colleagues consulted with USDOE to develop what came to be called the Dual Capacity-Building Framework for Family-School Partnerships, now released by the government as a downloadable, shareable model that schools and districts can use to build the kind of effective, mutually rewarding engagement that will make schools the center of their communities.

The framework lays out a process to guide school and district staff to engage parents and to help parents work successfully with the schools to increase student achievement. “The main problem in terms of developing effective family-school partnerships is that none of the stakeholders have really had any good guidance in how to do that,” Mapp says. “There has been limited capacity there.” Although many districts have started to offer parent workshops or parent academies, “they’re not providing that same type of development and support for their staff,” she says.

The framework defines that and other challenges and then goes on to describe both the process of implementing effective interventions and the organizational structures that must be in place to do so. Finally, it talks about the program and policy goals of effective interventions, and how capacity develops in staff and families as a result.

Among the outcomes, Mapp says: Staff who can honor and recognize the wealth of knowledge that families possess, which can in turn assist schools with pedagogical priorities; and families that can negotiate multiple roles — as supporters, monitors, advocates, and decision makers for their children.

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