Community Engagement = Student Achievement?

Shonagh MacRae Engagement 2 Comments

In our latest Leadership Engagement, Thoughtexchange partnered with leading education research organization NCERT to host a conversation about leadership excellence, communication challenges, and legislated engagement.

A key topic coming out of the engagement conversation was about purpose.

Does community and parent engagement impact student achievement?

Dr. David Faltys’ Factors Influencing the Successful Passage of a School Bond Referendum (2006) establishes that very connection. Supported by Meeting needs? A survey of school facilities in the State of Texas (2005) by Taylor et al. and West Orange-Cove Consolidated ISD v. Neeley (2004), Faltys shows that meaningful engagement that leads to successful bonds has a quantifiable impact on student achievement — as much as a 5% – 17% improvement for students whose school facilities are upgraded to meet standard building conditions. What’s more, this was found to hold true even after controlling for the socioeconomic status of students.

However, one thought that resonated with 14 leaders challenged the value of engagement:

“There is much research done about parental engagement and it really has no significant impact on ACHIEVEMENT. We put a lot of effort into getting parents involved in school with little results.”

These different perspectives raise important questions. Are there ways to engage that will lead to higher levels of achievement? Do other factors need to be in place before engagement can be effective?

For 33 leaders authenticity was a key factor in successfully establishing the engagement-achievement link.

“Community engagement that is not authentic is worse than no engagement. The public has a heightened sense that decisions have already been made and engagement is just for show. Others believe that a school district is only listening if it does exactly what the individual requests. Past experiences of ‘fake’ engagement have left participants leery of the process.”

“Community engagement is key to sustained successful implementation. Without authentic and significant engagement, lasting change does not happen. Engaging folks before a decision is made leads to better decisions and reduced community push back. Different perspectives are understood and can many times can be addressed as part of the solution.”

In our experience, painting an accurate picture of the process – both the boundaries and the possibilities – is one way to begin building authenticity into your community relationships.

Another engagement consideration supported by 13 leaders was:

“Focused engagement makes for improved chances for success. Community entities frequently want to be involved, but if the district/school does not have clear strategic goals, that engagement can pull the work away from important goals. Engagement for its own sake is not purposeful and becomes a distraction.”

Before heading into an engagement process, or better yet while crafting your engagement strategy, think about the why and connect your messaging with this focus. How can parents impact student achievement and what are the barriers to doing so are two questions that could be impactful points of conversation for student achievement specifically.

A final consideration supported by 12 leaders is that

“Parent/family constituencies must be addressed to foster student achievement. Unique strategies and approaches may be required for each group, but developing trust, improving communication, and assuring dialogue are needed if schools are to successfully educate students from a wide variety of cultures and backgrounds. This task is often difficult and time-consuming.”

Setting aside the time to develop this type of targeted engagement strategy might be a challenge and, according to this participant and those who assigned stars to this thought, it is a requirement for successful engagement.

Authenticity, focus and targeted communication strategies came out as important considerations when engaging with the community and could potentially help districts link engagement with achievement. What do you think? Are there other factors that could support this link? Do you see the potential for engagement to improve the achievement of students?


What are your thoughts?

Share your perspectives by commenting below, or email us with your ideas for blog posts that could further this discussion.

About the Author

Shonagh MacRae

Shonagh is our Lead Facilitator and describes herself as continually curious about people. This curiosity led her to a Master’s in Organizational Psychology where she learned a whole lot about how humans interact in groups and how to support them. Shonagh has also spent a lot of time in her community supporting at-risk populations. This work further honed her ability to connect with a broad range of personalities. When she’s not working with Thoughtexchange, Shonagh is most often found out in the garden with her hands in the soil.

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Comments 2

  1. Kagreen@charter.net'

    Community engagement is interesting.  In education if “engagement” means the same for both parties educators/parents then great student achievement may take place.  Not so much if there are different objectives.  I am first and foremost a parent,  then a school board member, state school board director soon to be President Elect for the Mn School Boards Association.  I have experienced both sides of the table.  Same page – result based action is taken; political and ideological agenda and  good intentions not too often.  Respect for parent relationship is essential.

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