Actions and Efforts Described in The Family: America's Smallest School

The principal purpose of this report is to take stock of the family's performance in its critical role as our children's first school and its effect as they go through formal schooling. While the report makes no attempt to prescribe a comprehensive national policy to buttress the family as an education institution, it includes many existing efforts as examples, recommends approaches and refers the reader to the proposals of others that it believes have merit.* These are briefly summarized below:

The research findings point to the need for reading to young children.

  • Reading to young children is about the simplest thing that can be done to help them achieve, and it is a critical step in raising achievement and closing the achievement gap. For this reason, if for no other, teaching non-reading parents to read needs to be a high priority for communities, states and the nation as a key element of an education policy for children (p. 20).
  • Making sure all families have access to books and other suitable reading materials for their children must also become a key part of this effort. Library bookmobiles in poor areas, for example, could become as ubiquitous as the once-famous Good Humor® man (p. 20).

Center-based child care needs to be expanded and, in many places, needs to be improved — and it should reach down to earlier ages.

  • We recommend consulting a recent Brookings Institution paper by Hans Ludwig and Isabel Sawhilll on early intervention and continued enrichment of learning and development through age 10 (p. 40).
  • This Brookings proposal is based on findings from evaluations. The authors have carried out an extensive cost-benefit analysis, concluding that the returns will be greater than the cost (p. 40).
  • The paper "Success by Ten" calls for a major expansion of Head Start and Early Head Start, and continued efforts through age 10 (p. 41).

Although quality care in centers is a goal, 6.5 million children are in home-based care and improvement is needed there.

The Casey Foundation is quoted as saying that home care "will represent the most common type of child care for low-income children under age six whose parents are working ..." (p. 23).

After showing that much of the home-based care is found to be of low quality, the report cites examples of some efforts to improve it at the local level (p. 23).

  • The Leveling the Sandbox program in Boston, Mass.
  • The Arizona Kith and Kin Project
  • Hawaii's Good Beginnings Alliance
  • The Family Support Center in Ashe County, N.C.
  • Infant Toddler Family Day Care, Inc., in Fairfax, Va.

The home, as a small school, needs resources as does any large school, and in all homes, parents have roles to play.

  • "Many families are hampered by incomes so low that simply paying the rent and putting food on the table takes precedence" (p. 30).
  • Families need to do their best "by encouraging their children to read and study, monitoring the time ... in front of the television ..." Children need somewhere to study without distraction — which may be hard for some families to arrange (p. 31).
  • "Of all the important things parents can do to help their children succeed with school ... making sure they get there heads the list ... One in five fourth- and eighth-grade students ... miss more than five weeks of school a year" (p. 32).

Government agencies can act to address the problems of truancy.

  • The U.S. Office of Justice began a project in 1998 to reduce truancy, cutting the unexcused absence rate in half (p. 34).
  • The Buffalo (New York) Board of Education is addressing its truancy problem by basing 10 percent of students' grades on their attendance but not penalizing students for excused absence (p. 34).

Improving parent involvement with their children's teachers and schools is the objective of many local efforts and several organizations.

  • Several years ago, New York City assigned a school-parent coordinator in every school (p. 34).
  • In Lake County, Florida, "Teachers will soon put students' test scores, homework scores, attendance records and progress reports on a secure website so that parents can access them." They will also provide parents with help on a variety of their learning concerns (p. 35).
  • The Center for Parent Involvement has trained 1,200 Kentucky parent leaders to work at the local level, and now markets its services nationwide (p. 35).
  • The report reproduces the six types of cooperation between parents and schools that Joyce Epstein includes in her model approach (p. 36).
  • The Home and School Institute, founded by Dorothy Rich, has been leading the way toward better home involvement for many years (p. 36).
  • Anne Henderson's book, Beyond the Bake Sale: The Essential Guide to Family/School Partnerships, offers practical advice (p. 36).

Responsibility for promoting constructive efforts to address the issues raised in the report needs to be accepted and shared by a wide range of leaders and decision makers.

  • Presidents, governors and chief state school officers can use their offices to change behaviors, including parental behavior, and to create legislation and programs (p. 41).
  • Elected officials at all levels can work with local institutions and community leaders to find ways to compensate for families' resource shortages and shortcomings in the training of child care providers (p. 41).
  • School systems can extend into the community, in collaboration with other community agencies, to supplement family efforts in a variety of ways, such as providing health care for children with conditions that interfere with learning (p. 41).

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It is essential that parents, educators and policy leaders fully understand that raising student achievement involves much more than improving what goes on in classrooms. Leaders and policymakers must establish community, state and national programs to improve schools and enhance the home and family conditions that give all students a better chance to reach high platforms from which to start school (p. 41).


*The Policy Information Center did not, however, undertake evaluations of the effectiveness of particular interventions.