ESEA Reauthorization Needs Stronger Family Engagement Provisions

More than 40 years of research shows - no matter a family's income or socioeconomic background - family engagement in education is essential for student success. Students whose families are involved attend school more regularly, earn better grades, enroll in higher-level programs and have higher graduation rates. Research also shows that family engagement is critical for school improvement as well as plays a key role in helping communities grow strong and thrive.

Despite strong evidence of the important role families play in student achievement, the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act/No Child Left Behind (ESEA/NCLB) does not include critical improvements that prioritize family engagement.

ESEA/NCLB has been up for reauthorization since 2007. Currently, the U.S. Senate has a bipartisan reauthorization bill, the Every Child Achieves Act (S. 1177), that is expected to be debated and voted on in the next few weeks. At this time, the bill does not incorporate stronger family engagement provisions.

Recent reports have found that states and districts across the country are increasingly prioritizing family engagement and adopting systemic and sustained efforts to integrate families into the fabric of their schools - recognizing the important impact of family engagement on student learning.

California, for example, has developed a Family Engagement Framework to help districts meet requirements in the state's new school funding law to include families in the school budget decision-making process. Districts such as Washoe County School District in Reno, Nev. and Springfield, Mass. School District have created positions and departments specifically geared toward implementing long-term, integrated and high-impact strategies to bolster family engagement.

At the federal level, the U.S. Department of Education released the Dual Capacity-Building Framework for Family-School Partnerships in 2014 to encourage schools to link student learning to family engagement through meaningful activities that are tied directly to curriculum or student achievement efforts.

While progress is being made, all states and school districts need additional capacity and resources to scale up best practices that have been proven to impact student success.

As a parent and the leader of the nation's oldest and largest child advocacy association, I have seen firsthand the positive impact of family engagement on school improvement and students' academic achievement. I also have witnessed the ability of engaged families and schools to come together and make true, meaningful improvement at the local level. It is essential that the reauthorization of the ESEA/NCLB provide for family engagement as it is proven to make a difference for children, schools and communities.

I call on the Senate to include provisions in the Every Child Achieves Act that would provide states and districts the capacity and necessary resources to support effective family engagement strategies in every school to help every child succeed academically and reach his or her full potential.

Otha Thornton is president of National PTA, a nonprofit association dedicated to being a powerful voice for all children, a relevant resource for families and communities and a strong advocate for public education. In addition to leading National PTA, Thornton is a senior operations analyst with General Dynamics and a retired United States Army Lieutenant Colonel.