Funders Fuel a Bigger Push for Family Engagement in Schools

Researchers and advocates of greater family engagement in K-12 schools have long complained that educators pay lip service to the idea, but seldom put their money where their mouths are. But that is starting to change.

Education Week reported last summer that educators are making a greater effort to better engage parents and incorporate them into schools. A growing number of school districts have created positions and departments that focus on parent involvement, while other districts have expanded existing parent engagement programs and made greater involvement an element of their strategic planning. In another sign of this new attention to parent involvement, some states are including family engagement as an element of teacher evaluation systems and other programs.

Funders also have shown a greater interest in strategies to better engage families and communities in K-12 education. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation has awarded millions in grants to strengthen partnerships between schools and families. Heising-Simons Foundation is another leading funder of parent involvement activities. 

Meanwhile, parental engagement is also part of the collective impact strategy used by Say Yes to Educationwhich is backed by a number of funders, including the Wallace Foundation and the group's long-time benefactor, financier George Weiss. 

We could mention other funders who've also had an eye on parental involvement in learning, such as the Kenneth Rainin Foundation and The San Francisco Foundation.

In 2014, a group of leading advocates for family and community involvement in schools banded together to create the National Association for Family, School, and Community Engagement (NAFSCE) to build greater support around this issue. Now, the Bethesda, Maryland-based group has received a big boost in its efforts, thanks to two leading funders.

Kellogg awarded NAFSCE $400,000 to launch a new planning and stakeholder engagement initiative. An additional $40,000 from the David and Lucille Packard Foundation will further support this initiative. NAFSCE is hiring McKinley Advisors, an association management firm based in the nation’s capital, to create a strategic plan and aligned business plan to support NAFSCE’s mission to make family engagement a universal practice in K-12 education. Early childhood education providers, policymakers, K-12 educators, researchers, and community organizations will be recruited to take part in the NAFSCE initiative.

Research shows that parent and community engagement can have a big impact on student achievement by supporting learning, both in and out of school. Too often, however, such efforts have been “one-shot” programs rather than strategic, long-term efforts. NAFSCE and similar organizations appear to be working to change that, and funders are increasingly getting involved.