This summary is derived from a book titled Organizing Schools for Improvement. This book is a synthesis of longitudinal research conducted by the Chicago Consortium for School Research (CCSR) and is considered its seminal publication. CCSR has been studying school reform in Chicago for more than 2 decades under a partnership between the University of Chicago and Chicago Public Schools. The results reported in this book reflect data from school surveys conducted in several hundred Chicago schools over a period of seven years. Their results show that schools that in schools where parental engagement was consistently weak (as measured by parent engagement surveys administered over multiple years), not a single school was able to deliver improved student performance in mathematics. In schools where gaps in parental engagement coincided with student reports of weak academic support, there was no improvement in either reading or math and schools were likely to stagnate in terms of students’ academic performance.
Conversely, the researchers found that schools were four times more likely to improve in reading and ten times more likely to improve in mathematics when parent engagement was strong.
From these statistical analyses and additional qualitative analyses, the researchers found that while school reform efforts may proceed along different paths based on baseline circumstances and resources, that organizational strength on all essential systems (including parent engagement) must be present for sustained improvement in student outcomes.
To underscore the significance of these intersecting systems to whole school improvement, the researchers found that schools having strong indicator reports across these subsystems were up to ten times more likely to improve students’ reading and mathematics learning than were schools in which three or more of these indicators were weak. Moreover, a low score in even just one indicator reduced the likelihood of overall school improvement to less than 10 percent.
Finally, the authors note that strong parent engagement is important to school reform efforts not just directly, but also indirectly in terms of generating trust which is a critical element of any organizational change effort. As they observe:
“First and most generally, broad teacher and parent buy-in on reform efforts occurs more readily in schools with strong relational trust. Regardless of which of the essential supports that local leaders might emphasize (enhancing parent outreach, professional capacity building, improving the quality of the student learning environment, or the instructional guidance system), trust facilitates the initiation of these improvement efforts.”
“…Relational trust among the adults in a school community does not directly affect student learning. Rather, it creates the basic social fabric within which school professionals, parents, and community leaders can initiate and sustain efforts forts at building the essential supports for school improvement. In short, trust facilitates core organizational change processes that instrumentally contribute to improving academic productivity.”
CCSR’s research noted that their analyses confirmed the results of prior research on the significance of parent engagement. As the authors write:
“Extensive research testifies to the importance of parent and community involvement in children’s schooling. Of key significance for a school improvement framework, prior research has shown that schools can enhance this involvement through deliberate action. More specifically, research reviews identify three distinct dimensions meriting attention: (1) school efforts to reach out to parents, to engage them directly in the processes of strengthening student learning; (2) teacher efforts to become knowledgeable about student culture and the local community and to draw on this awareness in their lessons; and (3) strengthening the network among community organizations, to expand services for students and their families.”
Additional references that they cite for background research and analyses include:
Bryk, A.S.; Sebring, P.B., Kerbow; D., Rollow, S.; & Easton, J.Q. (1998) Charting Chicago School Reform: Democratic localism as a lever for change. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Bryk, A.S. & Schneider, B. (2002) Trust in schools: a core resource for improvement. New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.
Bryk, A.S.; Sebring, P.B.; Allensworth, E.; Luppescu, S.; & Easton, J.Q. (2010) Organizing Schools for Improvement: Lessons from Chicago. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Epstein, J.L.; Coates, L.; Salinas, K.C.; Sanders, M.G.; and Simon, B.S. (1997) School, family, and community partnerships: Your handbook for action. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press
McLaughlin, M.W.; Merita A.I.; & Langman, J. (1994) Urban sanctuaries: neighborhood organizations in the lives and futures of inner city youth. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.
Riehl, C.J. (2000) The principal’s role in creating inclusive schools for diverse students: A review of normative, empirical, and critical literature on the practice of educational administration. Review of Educational Research 70 (1): 55 – 81.
Steinberg, L. (1996) Beyond the classroom: Why school reform has failed and what parents need to do. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.