When parents engage with teachers, their children typically graduate at higher rates. Yet some Ohio school districts have only a 70 percent graduation rate. Such districts tend to serve high percentages of students who do not speak English as their first language, are racial minorities, have disabilities or come from under-resourced families.

The U.S. Department of Education has awarded a $4.2 million, five-year Innovation and Improvement grant to the college’s Center on Education and Training for Employment (CETE) to create the Ohio Statewide Family Engagement Center.

Directed by Barbara Boone, PhD, the Statewide Family Engagement Center will partner with the Ohio Department of Education to empower teachers and parents/caregivers to create strong relationships with one another to support the educational success of K-12 students.

“We are thrilled to be stewards of this award because it allows CETE to continue contributing to local and national progress toward strengthening schools and communities,” Boone said.

“Enhancing relationships between families and schools, or what we call ‘building dual capacity of families and schools,’ will directly benefit students. The resources developed will result from families’ voices being heard, which was foremost in our minds when we planned the center.”

The Statewide Family Engagement Center will provide parent education as well as training and technical assistance for educators and organizations about how to engage in family-school partnerships.

“This grant highlights our renewed emphasis as a college on engaging with and serving the community,” said Don Pope-Davis, dean of Ohio State's College of Educaiton and Human Ecology. “We are looking to expand our current collaborations with our partners to more fully support children’s success.”

Existing framework to help reach more than 10,000 families

The partners will roll out the work using the Ohio Department of Education’s 16 State Support Teams already in place in each Ohio region. The structure will connect with 96 schools in 48 school districts.

“We project that over 10,000 families will receive support from the new center over the five years,” said Ana Paula Correia, director of CETE and associate professor of educational technologies in the college’s Department of Educational Studies. “Emphasis will be on first connecting with families in higher need school districts. But the intention is to reach all families and all schools.”

A state-level advisory council will be created and include 20 parents. It will provide families with a voice as they identify the new center’s directions with other key stakeholders.

“Families will be full partners in advocating for their children, as well as have a voice at the school and district level,” said Eric Anderman, a professor and chair of the college’s Department of Educational Studies, an advisor to the project and a member of the council.

“At the same time, the grant will build the capacity of Ohio’s education leaders to effectively partner with families and connect families to needed community resources.”

CETE is one of 11 grantees to receive this award nationwide, and one of only three university grantees. The funding is the first in nearly a decade for this purpose from the U.S. Department of Education.

Building needed evidence of what works

The partners also will conduct experimental research as part of the grant. The goal is to build the nation’s strong evidence base of best practices for designing family engagement programs.

“It seems intuitive that some practices work better than others for family engagement programs, but right now, our country lacks research showing strong testing of what provides the best results,” said Boone. “We expect to lead the way in closing the research gap and providing evidence of best practices.”

The grant will use an evidence-based approach created by Joyce L. Epstein, a professor of urban education at Johns Hopkins University. The partners selected Epstein’s National Network of Partnership Schools model because it relates to K-12 schools and can have wide impact for all families in participating schools.

“We will study how the model helps build Ohio’s capacity to equip schools and families for meaningful partnerships,” Boone said. ”Our research will allow us to further expand the field’s evidence about the importance of family engagement, and will be transformational for our state’s schools and communities.”

The research also is needed because each state must have a family engagement framework if it receives Title I federal funds for engagement between schools and low-income families.

“We will support the Ohio Department of Education in updating Ohio’s framework, ensuring that it is based on evidence of what parents and educators in Ohio find effective,” said Meredith Wellman, PhD, a co-investigator with CETE on the project.

Other partners in the project include the National Association for Family, School and Community Engagement, the Youth Policy Institute and many other state and regional groups.

The portion of total costs of the new engagement center funded with federal money from the U.S. Department of Educations is 89 percent, and zero percent of the total costs are nongovernmental.

CETE currently partners with The Ohio Department of Education and individual schools and communities to improve family engagement and mental health, fight substance use and human trafficking and facilitate teacher preparation and student success. This grant will allow CETE to enhance and extend current research and resources to all 88 counties of Ohio. CETE is a center within the College of Education and Human Ecology at The Ohio State University.

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