Family, School, and Community Partnerships Essay

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The social context in which children learn and develop—their families, schools, and communities— has rapidly changed in only a few decades. Today’s images of the postmodern family differ greatly from the traditional images of the modern family of the 1950s. Correspondingly, as these contextual blueprints have shifted, so have partnerships within the family and between each of these environmental settings. These relational changes bring with them perceptions of self and experiences with others. This entry examines the possible impact of cultural transitions on family, school, and community partnerships.

Schools have a vested interest in children’s families since families serve as the primary agents of socialization. Likewise, schools are adapting to societal change by providing more supportive, familylike atmospheres and collaborating with community partners to form learning communities. As the demographics of schools shift, the need for multistranded partnerships is underscored by issues of poverty, transience, an aging population, and cultural diversity. All of these aspects point toward ways that schools mirror the larger culture.

Effects Of Cultural Transitions On Family Partnerships

Television content in popular culture lends insight into modern and postmodern assumptions on the nature of family and the impact of cultural transitions on family partnerships. During the 1950s, family sitcoms such as the Donna Reed Show, Leave It to Beaver, and Ozzie and Harriet created images of self-perceptions and experiences with others. For example, with regularity each of these families was cast with father as breadwinner, mother as homemaker, two children, and a dog. Families were all Caucasian and lived in middleclass, suburban neighborhoods. Togetherness was valued and, many times, romanticized by scenes of family meals around the dining room table, parents reading bedtime stories to children, and families playing games on a well-groomed lawn. In general, even though this portrayal of a modern family was accurate, it was uncharacteristic of the many ethnically diverse families and even some nuclear families during this same time period.

Cultural shifts from the assumptions of the modern family to the assumptions of the postmodern family are ambiguous. There are no specific timelines between these two Western phenomena. However, the belief that scientific theory can yield absolute truths, the underestimation of technology’s ability to create powerful weapons of mass destruction, and the perpetual destruction of the environment served as the impetus for questioning the given structures and the turn toward postmodern thought.

Family sitcoms such as the George Lopez Show, the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and Roseanne represent the diverse nature of postmodern family partnerships. Overnight, culturally diverse families appeared, with relatives moving in and out to form new family ties. Issues of race, class, and gender projected families as uniquely different from families in earlier versions of modern family life. For example, in the George Lopez Show, a Hispanic man becomes employed in a job that gives him newfound power. His family includes his acerbic mother, working wife, dyslexic son, adolescent daughter, and newly divorced father-in-law. The modern role of “father knows best” has now transitioned to a freewheeling approach to parenthood. Family sitcoms, couched in the framework of modern and postmodern worldviews, convey the impact of cultural transitions on the nature of family life and the renewed interest in strengthening family partnerships.

The Nature Of School And Family Partnership

Schools have a vested interest in children’s families because the initial socialization of the child begins in the home. Schools continue the socializing process begun in the home by means of curricula. In her work on child, family, school, and community, Roberta Berns found that the school’s ability to socialize the child depends greatly upon the nature of the families the schools serve and the ability of the school to develop mutual partnerships. Other longitudinal studies find close-knit partnerships between home and school result in a significant difference in children’s learning and development. As schools reflect society and continue to function as society’s medium for change, relations with family partners have become a critical focus.

However, public schools do not operate in a vacuum, and how to effectively preserve a diverse cultural heritage and yet prepare individuals for the future is a challenge that educators confront daily. Two major underlying societal factors that influence the decision-making process in American public schools are a political ideology that supports the democratic ideal of equal opportunity for all school-age children to gain a free public school education and an economic system that operates on the principle of cost effectiveness and accountability. Both of these factors help shape the partnerships of school, family, and community.

Currently, most public school funding comes from local property taxes and from state revenues from sales tax and income tax. In comparison, direct federal funding to public schools is limited. Most federal resources to public schools are in the form of grants to local educational agencies and entitlements such as Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, which provides support for qualifying low-income families. Nonetheless, the process by which public schools are funded means that families living in lower socioeconomic school districts may have less school funding available to prepare children for the future. Many times these children are members of minority groups, their family’s income is below the poverty line, and they need additional intervention programs with more individualized accommodations in order to meet national testing requirements legislated by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

One determinant of educational revenue distribution is the change in size and distribution of the population. As an increasing population competes for resources, more people need supportive services to live. One reason for the increase in population is the fact that people now live longer. In only a few years, the baby boomers will be eligible for Social Security and Medicare health benefits. The question for schools will be whether or not this sizable group will still be interested in voting for school bond issues in support of other people’s children.

Population distribution is another critical issue influencing partnerships. U.S. Census reports reveal that transience is a form of diversity that can measurably affect school funding and the ability of a school to properly nurture the school-to-family relationship. Harold Hodgkinson, Director for the Center for Demographic Policy, Institute for Educational Leadership, reported that 40 million Americans move each year, while only 3 million babies are born. These facts indicate that a teacher might get to know one group of students in the fall only to find his or her classroom filled with newcomers in the spring. Therefore, mobility becomes a larger issue than birth rate not only in funding but also in the ability of schools to create multistranded partnerships with families.

Another expanding population is homeless families. The U.S. Census has reported that families with children make up more than one third of the nation’s homeless populations. Poverty continues to outpace all other issues as the dividing line in achievement. If a child is a minority but middle class, that child’s chances for success are much greater than those of any other child who is stricken by poverty. The concept of creating caring communities to support the success of low-income children highlights the need for bridging the multiple worlds of families, schools, and communities. “It will take a village” to make a difference in the life of a child who lives in poverty.

The demographic shift in the size of culturally diverse populations is another critical issue influencing the development of partnerships. North Carolina alone has experienced a 394 percent increase in its Hispanic population over the past ten years, making it the nation’s leader in Hispanic population growth. Even so, the percentage of Hispanics in North Carolina’s population is only 4.7 percent, compared to New York at 15.1 percent, Florida at 16.8 percent, Texas at 32 percent, and California at 32.4 percent. Consequently, federal initiatives along with state and local public schools are collaborating with community colleges and four-year colleges to develop licensure programs for in-service and pre-service ESL (English as a Second Language) teachers to accommodate the needs of these culturally diverse learners.

School And Family Involvement

Typically, traditional parent-involvement programs have been composed of family resources flowing into a school for the main purpose of supporting the school’s curriculum, programs, and activities. This unidirectional approach to parent involvement is, by itself, an ineffective way to connect and involve families, as far too many families are missing from this mutual endeavor. Presently, the goal of partnerships is to create learning communities where families, communities, and schools collaborate to provide the best possible educational opportunities and learning environments for children.

Cultural transitions have called our attention to the need for “outreach models” for developing family, school, and community partnerships. In Preparing Educators to Involve Families, Heather Weiss and others suggest that schools and communities use a combination of multiple approaches and strategies adapted to the particular needs of the learning community.

Some of these approaches and strategies developed by educators are (a) creating a familylike atmosphere at school initiated on the premise that family involvement at school is an outgrowth of family involvement at home; (b) using a school improvement model based on family outreach programs with a focus on creating caring communities of mutual trust; (c) collaborating with the “funds of knowledge” model developed by Louis Moll, which focuses on knowledge and skills found in family households as a resource for developing culturally relevant pedagogy; and (d) empowering approaches that serve low-income families, which focus on supporting parents’ development of self-confidence so that they can advocate for better schools and higher expectations for children. Research from these models hypothesizes that if families value education, create home environments that foster learning, maintain positive and reasonable expectations for children, and become involved with schools, then achievement gaps tend to narrow.

Collaborating With Community

When schools function as learning communities, they form networks with various community partners in planning activities that connect school program goals to student opportunities and experiences that would not otherwise be feasible. These partners include volunteers from all sectors of the community. For example, martial arts classes and popular dance are taught by community instructors to help develop student self-esteem and interest in community programs. Community business partners defray costs for field trips, sponsor apprenticeships, serve as guest speakers, and donate computer technology to schools for career training. Health care volunteers provide students and families with wellness information and medical testing. These are only a few of many linkages between the school and the community that support children and families.

Cultural transitions within families and between the environmental settings of family, school, and community influence the nature of partnerships. Some suggestions to help strengthen these important relationships include organizing more inclusive networks for those whose voices previously have been excluded and establishing local neighborhood centers that provide a safe haven and convenient meeting place. Schools of higher education might develop tutoring and mentoring programs, or community service projects that focus on the care of others and the environment. Builders of community could begin to restructure and restore neighborhoods, with families and schools at the center of the planning process. Each of these recommendations points to the influence of cultural transitions on family, school, and community partnerships.


  1. Berns, R. M. (2007). Child, family, school, community, socialization and support. Belmont, CA: Thomson.
  2. Epstein, J. L. (2001). School, family, and community partnerships: Preparing educators and improving schools. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
  3. Hodgkinson, H. (Dec. 2000–Jan. 2001). Educational demographics: What teachers should know. Educational Leadership, 58(4), 6–11.
  4. Huston, P. (2001). Families as we are: Conversations from around the world. New York: Feminist Press.
  5. Taylor, L. S., & Whittaker, C. R. (2003). Bridging multiple worlds: Case studies of diverse educational communities. Boston: Pearson Education.
  6. Weiss, H. B., Kreider, H., Lopez, M. E., & Chatman, C. M. (Eds.). (2005). Preparing educators to involve families: From theory to practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

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