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Family Engagement Road Trip

Posted By Vito Borrello, Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The last few weeks have been exhausting and yet exhilarating at the same time. For 13 of the last 16 days I’ve been on the road, connecting with state educational leaders, family engagement advocates and a host of other professionals – all focused on the advancement of family engagement at every level of our educational system.

Several months ago NAFSCE began an important partnership with the Council for Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) to support eight states in the development of birth through grade 12 family engagement frameworks. Think of these frameworks as roadmaps for family engagement, providing every professional and parent with a clear path to the adoption of evidence-based, relational and sustainable family engagement at all levels of child development. This would not have been possible without the vision of the Maryland Department of Education who, through a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, developed a similar framework in their state. That effort was followed by this collaboration with CCSSO and its partners to support the development of such frameworks in other states.

NAFSCE’s role includes providing online programming, a state repository, and a communication platform to support the consortium of states, but my favorite aspect of our work is the opportunity to provide technical assistance (TA) to each of the participating states. We are doing this in collaboration with the Policy Equity Group. What a wonderful opportunity to transform policy and practice and to work closely with these talented and dedicated state teams which include, among others, representatives from the state’s education department and their office for early childhood. As part of this effort, we are working with each state to implement NAFSCE’s Opportunity Canvas, which engages state stakeholders in assessing the state’s strengths and weaknesses in advancing high-impact family engagement.

What particularly excites me about this project is the way states are intentionally engaging internal and external stakeholders in framework development efforts. We don’t want to push these plans on families and community organizations at the final stage and expect a rubber stamp approval. We know that developing these transformational frameworks or roadmaps is just the beginning, and taking them to implementation is where the rubber meets the road. These state stakeholders will not only be involved in the development efforts, but they will co-own these plans and become ambassadors for their advancement.

So, at the invitation of our state teams, I’ve taken to the road to support their efforts, and to present to their stakeholders. In February I traveled to Pennsylvania, and over the past two weeks to Massachusetts and South Carolina. The Pennsylvania event, led by Sue Polojac and her talented team was held in Harrisburg the morning after the Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl. A little celebrating the night before didn’t prevent more than fifty stakeholders from coming together to discuss their definition for family engagement, learn about national frameworks that support this work, and consider how their framework would meet their state’s unique needs.

In early May, I traveled to Massachusetts, where an impressive team led by Donna Traynum (Mass DoE) conducted three stakeholder events in different regions of the state, with more than 160 diverse stakeholders attending! From the minute the meetings began there was an energy in the rooms that was inspiring. In fact, that was true for all three states I visited.  Participants understood and embraced that this project was different than others, and they truly were going to be part of the solution.  They talked about the importance of “meeting families where they are” and really understanding how that plays out in planning.

Last week I traveled to South Carolina, and my meetings there exceeded my expectations on many fronts. I learned that South Carolina’s state Superintendent, Molly Spearman, has ingeniously engaged state religious leaders to work in partnership with the SC Department of Education to advance education statewide.  More than 1,500 churches across the state provide resources and a unified message in advancing education priorities. She reinstituted an Office for Family Engagement with two full-time staff, led by Yolande Anderson. The office coordinates and orchestrates efforts with staff of several other departments in an exemplary approach to advancing policy and practice for this work. More than 70 people attended their successful stakeholder engagement event with additional meetings planned over the next few months. The next day I was pleased to join representatives from several departments within the Department of Education to debrief the feedback of external stakeholders and to begin discussing the development of their “roadmap” for family engagement in ways that would include the entire agency. I was thrilled to see a model for teamwork among all of the departments and a collective passion for advancing this work.

As CCSSO partners in this State Consortium for Family Engagement, we are all committed to “meeting states where they are.”  While some states may have stronger infrastructure, others without the infrastructure may have more expertise. But everyone is moving forward, all involved are incredibly committed, and there is a common belief that developing a roadmap and supporting coalitions will maximize opportunities for sustained impact. We hope this work will inform the State Chiefs across the country to consider how they, too, can have the kind of model infrastructures of South Carolina, and a diverse state coalition that NAFSCE has interest in supporting to turn these plans into action.

Nine additional states will represent cohort-2 as this project continues to grow and evolve.  It’s hard to imagine, but over one-third of our country will have birth through grade 12 Family Engagement Frameworks by December 2019. Progress to be sure!

Vito Borrello
Executive Director


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NAFSCE Comments to U.S. Dept. of Education regarding Statewide Family Engagement Centers. Your participation is encouraged.

Posted By Vito Borrello, Tuesday, May 8, 2018

NAFSCE Members, Partners and Stakeholders,

Last week we let you know that the U.S. Department of Education is encouraging feedback pertaining to the Statewide Family Engagement Center program, which will fund statewide organizations to build capacity for and advance high-impact family engagement.

NAFSCE's response to the Department's request is below.

We strongly encourage each of you to take just a few minutes to provide comments to the Department. A strong response from the family engagement community will demonstrate our committed support for the advancement of effective, evidence-based, sustainable family engagement programming. If the Department sees a clear direction provided through like-minded feedback, it will be more likely to embrace the suggestions provided.

Please feel free to copy any language from the NAFSCE response that resonates with you, or responds to an area that is particularly important to you. We hope to make it as easy as possible for you to participate in this very important exercise of our democracy.

 Thank you again for your commitment to advancing family engagement as an essential strategy for improving children's learning and advancing equity. 

Best regards,

Vito Borrello
NAFSCE Executive Director

NAFSCE Response to the U.S. Department of Education Request for Comments on Statewide Family Engagement Center Program
Submitted May 7, 2018

The National Association for Family, School, and Community Engagement (NAFSCE) is appreciative of the opportunity to provide feedback on the implementation planning for Statewide Family Engagement Centers (SFECs). Securing feedback from the field for this important program is an essential step in the future success of these centers. NAFSCE was established in 2014 as the only professional association solely focused on advancing high-impact, culturally responsive family, school and community engagement (FSCE) to promote child development, improve student achievement and support school improvement. We envision a world where FSCE is universally practiced as an essential strategy for improving children's learning and advancing equity.

NAFSCE believes that well-defined and specific requirements, priorities, selection criteria, and definitions are essential to ensuring that funded applications will effectively advance high-impact family, school, and community engagement in the greatest number of communities possible. Therefore, our comments focus on suggestions for specific criteria to be demonstrated by applicants, as well as the definitions that should be used to evaluate the applicant's ability to meet such criteria.

We strongly recommend that the Department rely on and provide applicants reference to NAFSCE's established definition of high-impact family engagement as well as the U.S. Department of Education's evidence-based Dual Capacity Framework for Family-School Partnerships.

Specific suggestions based on the legislation are provided below:

SEC. 4502 (1) NAFSCE suggests that language be used to clarify that funding is for SFECs to (1) build capacity for high-impact family and community engagement that is linked to learning and supports child development, student achievement, and school improvement. As stated, the language leaves too much ambiguity as to the purpose of the program. To guide design and program development, a definition or guidelines for what constitutes high-impact family engagement should be provided to grant seekers. We recommend that funded programs should be required to support family engagement that is systemic, incorporating family engagement strategies across all learning goals, and integrated into the fabric of school operations and culture including educator professional development and evaluation.

SEC. 4502 (b) MINIMUM AWARD: NAFSCE suggests a cap of $1,000,000 per grant to ensure that a minimum of ten grant awards will be made (with the maximum awards being 20). We also suggest that higher amounts of funding not to exceed the proposed cap be considered for proposals that include multiple states. This encourages organizations with capacity in multiple states to implement services within their geographic region, increasing the total number of states that may receive services, and supporting efficiency in administration to maximize programmatic impact.

SEC. 4502 (c) MATCHING FUNDS FOR GRANT RENEWAL: In order to better determine an organization's capacity to effectively implement the grant and execute a program of sufficient size, scope, and quality to be effective, we suggest specifying a minimum level of expected matching funds and/or in-kind support at 15%. Such a requirement would support awards to applicants with established family engagement organizational capacity. These experienced applicants are more likely to successfully achieve desired programmatic outcomes and enable grant initiatives totaling a minimum of $575,000 ($500,000 award and $75,000, matching).

SEC. 4503 (2): NAFSCE believes that committed and demonstrated support from State Education Agency (SEA) leadership will be crucial to the success of the SFECs. Therefore, we suggest that this language be strengthened to require evidence of that SEA commitment, including past progress made in advancing family engagement policy and practice, demonstrated SEA involvement in program planning, and a sign-off requirement of the SEA Chief directly to the US Department of Education as evidence of SEA commitment to advance this grant initiative.

SEC. 4503 (B) (4): Being more deliberate in defining what "effective" experience includes could strengthen this language. We suggest requiring applicants to demonstrate their experience in providing training, support and implementation expertise addressing high-impact family engagement. This specificity is more likely to ensure family engagement programs and services are linked to learning, measured by child development milestones, student achievement and/or school improvement and foster equitable educational outcomes. To ensure that programs will include a focus on advancing equity, applicants should demonstrate their experience working in urban and rural Title I communities with culturally, racially and linguistically diverse students and families. We also suggest that priority is given to not-for-profit family engagement organizations that already have a demonstrated statewide or multi-state presence.

SEC. 4503 (G): In order to ensure that family engagement is addressed at all stages of child development, we suggest adding language that clarifies the need for the program to have a birth through grade 12 approach to family engagement. To clarify the specific types of educational programs being addressed, we suggest changing "evidence-based parent education programs" to "evidence-based parenting education programs and family engagement in education programs." The term "parenting education programs" speaks to education focusing on the activity of parenting versus generalized education for parents. Adding "family engagement in education programs" maintains the focus on family engagement.

SEC. 4503 (J): Applicants should demonstrate their ability to reach and engage families not previously engaged with their child's school. "Sufficient outreach" is not effective if it does not result in more vulnerable families becoming more engaged as educational partners in supporting improved learning.

SEC. 4503 (K): This language can be strengthened to specify that the applicant should be able to demonstrate experience in implementing culturally responsive family engagement. There cannot be a commitment to advancing equity and opportunity for all students otherwise. This will define the expected outcome of such outreach.

 Evaluation: We believe that specific program evaluation requirements should focus on outcomes versus solely outputs to ensure that programs are proven to be effective in advancing high-impact family, school, and community engagement. Outcome-based evaluation will also improve opportunities for these programs to be sustainable and scalable, greatly expanding the potential impact of this funding. Therefore we suggest that a minimum of 5% of funds granted should be dedicated to evaluation. Additionally, we suggest that grant applicants submit a theory of change and logic model to show the ultimate impact of this work in advancing statewide family engagement policy and practice.


Provide your comments to the Department of Education here.

Tags:  education  family engagement  FSCE 

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The promise of Statewide Family Engagement Centers

Posted By Vito Borrello, Friday, April 6, 2018
We are thrilled that Statewide Family Engagement Centers (SFECs) were included in the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2018 which was signed by the President on Friday. Approximately $10 million of funds will enable a crucial opportunity to advance high-impact policies and practices for family, school, and community engagement in up to 20 states nationally. NAFSCE applauds congressional leaders including Congressman Mark DeSaulnier and Congressman Glen Thompson for their tireless, bipartisan work to include SFEC funding in this spending bill, as well as the National PTA and others who have advocated for the appropriation of funds to advance this effort. The concept for SFECs was created by NAFSCE's predecessor, the National Family, School, and Community Engagement Working Group, which included prominent researchers, practitioners, as well as the Harvard Family Research Project (now the Global Family Research Project), National PTA, and others. SFECs were first advanced as part of the Family Engagement in Education Act of 2010 (HR5211), as an evolution of the Parent Information Resource Centers (PIRCs), which were defunded in 2011. SFECs were finally passed by Congress as part of the federal education legislation, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which was approved in December 2016. The challenge since then has been to secure appropriated funds to make these centers a reality. With this funding, statewide organizations in up to 20 states will receive at least $500,000 to build capacity for and advance high-impact family engagement in partnership with their State Education Agencies (SEAs). NAFSCE anticipates that the Department of Education will release proposed regulations and offer an opportunity for public comment in the coming months, followed by a Request for Proposals. We look forward to engaging our members in the implementation of this effort and we will keep you all apprised of its progress. NAFSCE is already working closely with the Council of Chief State School Officers and others on the creation of birth through grade 12 family engagement frameworks in 16 states, and we look forward to building on this effort. This is great news for all of us and all of you, who work so tirelessly to promote family engagement as a vital strategy for improving children's learning and advancing equity.

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Don’t Be Scared of Data – How it Can Guide Family Engagement and Attendance Interventions

Posted By Administration, Friday, August 4, 2017

Don’t Be Scared of Data – How it Can Guide Family Engagement and Attendance Interventions

            Amanda Klein, NAFSCE Member

August 4, 2017

When I was a teacher, conversations around instructional data were baffling to me. Fresh out of policy school, I was eager to use what I had learned about data analysis to monitor how my students were performing, but as a social studies teacher, this task was more difficult than I had anticipated. I was required to keep a data binder, and administrators would periodically check to confirm that, well, it existed. However, I struggled to figure out what to put inside of it. My administrators did not help me understand how – absent standardized test data – I could track progress on specific standards outside of my grade book. It often felt like the conversation ended after the word “data” was uttered.


As I have focused my career on family engagement efforts, I have seen how conversations about using data to improve engagement are often greeted by the same blank stares I encountered as a teacher of a non-tested subject. On other days, talking about data elicits looks of panic or skepticism. At one particularly memorable training, community school coordinators were led in a debate about the utility of data. Sitting from my seat on the pro-data side of the room, I was amazed by arguments from the anti-data group. What resonated most is that these capable and talented colleagues understood data to simply be numbers on which their performance review was based, not as a tool to discover context and unlock insights about the families being served.


I think this belief system exists for a number of reasons. First, many educators are tired of increasing demands for data without sufficient training. Professionals need to understand how data can be collected, ways in which it should be analyzed, and how it can actually make their work easier. I have found that on-the-ground staff are often the last to receive the proper supports and professional development around understanding and using data. It becomes a symbol for all of the things we don’t like about accountability instead of the asset that it truly can be.


Perhaps more importantly, the work of engaging families – understanding needs, forming trusting relationships, and helping people when they are vulnerable – is incredibly difficult to quantify. Often, we know we have made progress or achieved results – not because of a spreadsheet or heat map – but because a family had enough food for the weekend or because a child stopped acting out as much in class. How do we tell those stories? How do we show our value as professionals when these important markers seem impossible to put into a spreadsheet? These are the critical questions we need to answer.


For these reasons, it is my mission to help educators realize that data does not have to be scary or intimidating. It does not require complex coding skills or mathematical know-how to track how families are being served. If you would have been sitting across from me in the data debate, here are some tips to get you started:


·      Start with what you have. If you are trying to get more parents involved at the school, it’s helpful to know exactly who is already coming to events. Try making a spreadsheet of the information from your event sign-in sheets and see what patterns you find. For example, comparing the names on this list to a whole-school roster can help you figure out which kids have had little to no in-person parental involvement. Use this approach for other measures that you can track from the information and documents already sitting in your office.

·      Leverage the expertise around you. Everyone knows who the go-to person is at their workplace when they have a technology question. Maybe that person (or someone else) also has some knowledge of Excel or other tools. Anyone can fill in a template. See if a colleague can help you design the tracking tool you know you need but do not know how to create.

·      Do not be afraid to play around and make mistakes! The best way to learn how to manipulate and analyze data is to get your hands dirty and play around with it. Try different buttons, Google how to do things, and ask what colleagues at other schools and organizations are doing. This is why there is an “Undo” button! Of course, if you are unsure, you can always make a copy of your file so the original data is safe. 


Using your school’s qualitative and quantitative data can give you amazing insight into both the ongoing needs and continuing growth of your students and families. With a little less reticence towards this approach, we can make a lot more progress in engaging families to help their children succeed.






Tags:  data  family engagement  FSCE 

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Call to Action

Posted By Georgia Decker, Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Call To Action

By Evelyn English


By age 3, a child’s brain has already grown to 85 percent of its adult size.

That fact is old news among longtime educators. There’s no question that early experiences carve learning pathways in the brain. We know family engagement is one of the strongest predictors of a child’s future success. We feel it intuitively. Lots of us have seen it the classroom.

Even when household incomes are modest, or when a school is less than gold star what families do in the ordinary course of living— and how they speak with small children — is powerful. Lack of access and low incomes can make it difficult for kids to enter school ready to learn. But family engagement can bridge those gaps and smooth down those edges.

We know that. Now what?

It’s time to teach families the skills they need to prepare their young children for lifelong learning.

I call it the Gift of Literacy.

My fire to share that ‘gift’ was kindled in Red Bird — the small rural community in Oklahoma where I grew up. My parents and other “elders in the community” created nurturing and rigorous places for children to learn. Unadorned auditoriums and classrooms were transformed by the hard work and hopes of the adults who had big dreams for their children. And when we succeeded, we were rewarded.

I still have a recognition pin I earned in fourth (4th) grade for giving a ‘timely topic’ speech for 4-H Club.

How does the Gift of Literacy get shared? In little ways: Through play — and through schoolyard diplomacy that happens when play turns to tussling. At celebrations — and during the shared cleanup that happens when the party is over.

Literacy gets passed from generation to generation in small everyday moments.

But educators can’t take it for granted that the adults in a child’s life have the skills to pass on that inheritance. It only happens when caring adults decide to turn quiet, wonderful — often frustrating — moments into an opportunity.

Some dads have an instinct for counting out the cookies when he hands them to his baby girl. Some dads don’t have those instincts.

It takes a little longer for a mother to answer the question ‘How come?’—and gently correct grammar. Other moms feel too overwhelmed to create a teaching moment.

When a toddler babbles incomprehensibly, some nanas just naturally respond with questions and full sentences instead of baby talk. Other grandmothers — perhaps raised in an era when kids were seen and not heard — don’t understand the value of encouraging conversation.

When a preschooler accidently knocks over his juice, some baby sitters huff and snatch the offending drink away. Other caretakers offer a paper towel and demonstrate how even a 2-year-old can ‘help’ clean up.

Listening to children. Problem solving with them. Responding mindfully. Those are skills that can be taught. As educators, we have those skills, and we can share them.

This is a call to action.


Evelyn English wrote “Gift of Literacy,” she’s a NHSA Literacy Mentor and NAFSCE member. Next time, the “Gift of Literacy” blog explores the magic in the words: “Tell me more.”

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America has the right to a great public education

Posted By Lisa Aramony, Tuesday, April 4, 2017
Friends, I want to share the last address from Secretary of Education, John King. This address is inspiring to say the least, and entirely aligned with the mission of NAFSCE. I'm not thrilled that he didn't have more of a focus on families, but his perspective on equity is right on target. The address is long but worth the read! Best regards, Vito Borrello A Dispatch From the Outgoing U.S. Education Secretary America has the right to a great public education By John B. King Jr.-January 17, 2017 Education is a ladder. Rung by rung, it helps people reach places that would otherwise be an impossible climb. It is not enough for those already prosperous to prosper. All Americans must have the opportunity to meaningfully participate in our nation's growth, if it is to succeed. That has always been so but is even truer today, at a time when the fastest-growing occupations require education beyond high school. And that is why now is the time for champions of public education to set aside the policy differences that have divided us over the past two decades and move forward, together, to defend and extend this fundamental American institution. We don't have to agree on every strategy or tactic. We won't. But we can stop wasting energy on false dichotomies and disparaging rhetoric. We can stop questioning our natural allies' intentions and fight side by side for the belief that every student in America has the right to a great public education. The passage just over a year ago of the bipartisan Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, provides us an opportunity to begin our work together. The top-down, one-size-fits-all approach of the No Child Left Behind law was a blunt tool, ill-suited to a task that called for nuance. ESSA, on the other hand, empowers local leaders to develop strategies that address their unique needs. But that doesn't mean every district should go it alone without guardrails for protecting students' civil rights, guidelines for implementing the law, or the good ideas forged and shown to work by others. ESSA also calls for states to continue making college-and-career readiness their goal. We must be united in fighting efforts to water down those expectations and undercut progress when the work gets hard. Just as important, we must invest in schools and teachers so they can help students meet those standards. Even successful strategies will fail without the funds to back them up—especially in schools and neighborhoods where change is most needed. Money is never the only answer, but it pays for science labs and school counselors, repairs leaky roofs, and makes high-quality preschool possible. Yet, in districts all across the country, students who need the most get the least. Federal funds can help, so we must put in place rules to ensure that those most in need get the help they deserve. However, even a modest proposal to do so has faced fierce opposition inside the beltway from many who ostensibly share the same values about education and equity. "It’s not liberty when the happenstance of birth binds a child to a life of limited possibilities." We also must have the courage to hold ourselves accountable for students' success. Without accountability, standards are meaningless and equity is a charade. But accountability doesn't force us to embrace "test and punish" policies based on redundant or poor-quality assessments; nor does it require us to simply "wish and hope," with no tests and little insight into how, or whether, our children are learning. We should make sure tests are better, fairer, and fewer, as President Barack Obama has called for. And we should help states develop accountability systems that are rich and varied—including measures such as chronic absenteeism, access to and success in advanced courses, and approaches to discipline that help students improve their behavior and achievement. Let's also set aside the false debate between allowing public charter schools and supporting traditional public schools. Our primary concern shouldn't be the management structure of schools; it should be whether they serve all students well. We must demand that charter authorizers set a high bar for granting a charter, rigorously monitor academic and operational performance, and close charter schools that fail their students. At the same time, we must insist that district schools also provide a high-quality, well-rounded education for all their students. And we must get beyond either exalting teachers as heroes who can single-handedly solve all education problems or castigating them for failing to do so. We should instead recognize that teaching is an incredibly difficult job, requiring dozens of decisions every hour. We can invest in teachers' preparation and development at the same time that we welcome their expertise and leadership on the challenges they face and the issues that affect their students. Teachers need more resources and the higher pay they surely deserve, particularly those serving the highest-need students. They also need the space and opportunity—the clinically rich preparation, the collaboration time, and the career pathways—to do what they joined the profession to do: help all children reach their full potential. Finally, we must recognize that the growing diversity of our people is an asset, not a liability, and support diverse schools. Diversity helps more children succeed, broadens their perspectives, and prepares them for the global workforce. I am convinced the growing conflicts in this country over race, religion, and language would be profoundly reduced if our children learned and played alongside classmates who are different from themselves and if they encountered diverse teachers and leaders in their schools. The light of opportunity shines more brightly and more widely today than it did eight years ago. Thanks to the hard work of teachers, leaders, students, families, policymakers, and advocates, the high school graduation rate is 83 percent, an all-time high; achievement gaps are closing; and the most recent college graduating class was the largest and most diverse in history. But, too many students still don't finish high school, and when they do, too many aren't ready for college. The relationship between poverty and educational achievement in the United States is among the strongest in the world. This destroys hope. But we can restore hope by working to ensure all young people are well-prepared to complete a postsecondary degree or training program. Some will argue equity conflicts with liberty. But it's not liberty when the happenstance of birth binds a child to a life of limited possibilities. True liberty is being able to take our lives as far as our drive and talent allow. The Pledge of Allegiance affirms that liberty and justice for all is an enduring and dual birthright. Preserving that birthright requires advocates of public education—including teachers, parents, business leaders, elected officials, and union leaders—to all be a part of the solution. We must all press ahead, firm in the knowledge that when we pull others up, they do not pull us down. When the light of opportunity shines on those who lack it, it does not dim for those already in its glow.

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