School, Family, and Community Partnerships: Preparing Educators and Improving Schools
reviewed by Joyce Taylor Gibson & Maury Frieman - 2002
Title: School, Family, and Community Partnerships: Preparing Educators and Improving Schools
Author(s): Joyce L. Epstein
Publisher: Westview Press, Boulder, CO
ISBN: 0813387558, Pages: 620, Year: 2001
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Dr. Joyce Epstein, an educator and researcher at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, has been a leader in examining parent involvement in schools for over twenty-five years. This prolific author has published a wide body of articles on this topic, enabling her to share an unmatched knowledge of family, school and community involvement with a wide audience. Her revolutionary, research-based idea that the adults most responsible for children’s learning have overlapping spheres of influence in helping children reach their educational goals, has steadily begun to impact the educational community’s resistance to working collaboratively with those outside their area of expertise. The author broadens the scope of family involvement in schools by stressing the reciprocal partnership that she feels must exist between the school, family, and the community in order maximize the educational process.
This six hundred and five page book integrates theory, research (mostly the result of survey research), teaching practice, and social policy. It is a comprehensive book directed towards, educators, policy makers, school administrators, and teachers in training. Yet it also has great appeal for early childhood educators, school psychologists, social workers, and professionals who work with families.
The strengths of this book are: 1) its extensive research on parents and their perceptions of school involvement; teacher perception and understanding of parent involvement; and students’ thinking about family involvement, 2) its combination of research and application, and policy initiatives in one text, (One of my colleagues who is using the book this term with doctoral students in a Sociology course says he is thrilled to have a book with original research and application in the same text!), 3) the clear, mater-of-fact writing style, which draws the reader into the work, and 4) the detailed history of the theories and practices of the family-school relationship in children’s learning.
In the first half of the book, Dr Epstein discusses ways communities, educators, and parents and students can work together to build the optimum environment to encourage learning. She stresses how the curriculum in teacher education programs must be overhauled to reflect the need for strong school –family-community partnerships. She does this by using a clear, structured format: Presentation of information; published research articles which support the information presented; summary, discussion and activities section, and a comment or fieldwork section. Many readers interested in this topic might find the discussion and activity sections too busy, clumsy, and burdensome. However, for the right audience, it can be helpful, and a welcome addition to this book, since it provokes reflection about the research, and pushes the reader beyond the author’s findings.
It is in this section that Dr. Epstein and her colleagues describe the theory of the overlapping spheres of influence and how the common responsibilities for children’s learning evolved. In contrast to the historical and more traditional approaches to family involvement that either separate the roles of families and schools, views involvement of the two groups in sequential patterns, or invites limited shared responsibility for families and schools, she proposes how the overlapping responsibilities offer a more lasting, and significant contribution to children’s educational goals. It is here, too, that she provides details on how her dynamic, theoretical model works. The model seems simple enough, however, it is heavily influenced by children’s development issues—their physical and emotional maturity, as well as their intellectual development, measured to a large degree by grade level in schools. Changes in families and how they function, in the demographics, traditions and norms of a community, all influence the model. Commitment and leadership are required from all involved parties for the model to work effectively.
Most appealing in this first section are the chapters on Research, and the one on the Frameworks. The research section is by far the largest, (202 pages), has 9 separate, research studies described in detail, and is particularly instructive for students new to reading and interpreting survey research. There are studies with families, and practitioners in areas that foster ways to collaborate; studies on families hard to reach, single-family homes, in urban and rural communities. The material is rich and very informative.
The Framework chapter offers a set of approaches for using the model, which provides examples for practice for any professional group wishing to work more closely with families, communities and schools. This chapter also defines the six types of involvement, and how they can be used in various settings. The six types on involvement include: 1) Parenting, 2) Communicating, 3) Volunteering, 4) Learning at Home, 5) Decision making, and 6) Collaborating with the Community. The challenge for families, educators and community people is the redefinition and change in the roles they may have to play to meet the challenges of a changing world, where involvement now means new and different things than it did in the. I have been using the Epstein approaches to involvement in a multicultural, multilingual community for the past five years, and have learned that some approaches are more appealing to families than others, and that school personnel also have preferences, especially initially. Our experience is that once a school community commits to their most comfortable approaches, they tend to gravitate toward adding others, as their comfort level rises with each other, and they see results of their efforts.
The second part of the book attempts to discuss the need for policy on a statewide level to change in order to achieve the goal of increasing parent, community, school partnerships, which Dr Epstein argues will improve education. Using examples from her research, Dr Epstein illustrates how some urban communities across the United States have made policy decisions, and have had the courage to change existing school structure, in order to maximize school, family, and community partnerships. Her examples serve as a model other communities can use to achieve this goal. However, when it comes to generalizing results, it must be pointed out that a majority of her research has been conducted in urban public schools.
Finally, this book is a tribute to Dr. Epstein’s research and the research contributed by her colleagues and other professionals who have been influenced by her work since 1981. They have been supported by substantial grants from various private and public resources over the years, and this book demonstrates her vast knowledge on how to put the research into practice. To date, her publications and presentations at major national and international conferences enabled her and her colleagues to create a National Network of Partnership Schools, which consists of 1,200 schools, and over 140 school districts who are committed to the idea that partnerships for children’s learning can be realized through the collective efforts of families, educators, community personnel. This important book extends an invitation to others to do likewise.