• by Frances M. Guzmán, M.Ed. • IDRA Newsletter • June-July 2011 •

Frances GuzmanEveryone who insists on students’ academic success fully understands in their head and their heart that family engagement is a key element in the equation for education for all children, along with quality instruction, equitable funding, developmentally appropriate curriculum and access. The current research on family engagement and active partnerships between the home, school and community contributes to this understanding by demonstrating the positive relationship between parent involvement and student achievement (Harvard Family Research Project, 2011; Henderson & Mapp, 2002; U.S. Department of Education, 2007).

Specifically, active and continuous involvement appears to account for better grades, higher test scores, better attendance, enhanced self esteem and motivation, lower rates of suspension, and improved behavior (Henderson & Mapp, 2002).

The most effective forms of involvement are those in which parents work directly with their children on learning activities in the home (Henderson & Mapp, 2002) and the earlier in the student’s academic career, the better (Kagitcibasi, et al., 2001). In particular, early childhood programs with a strong family engagement component have been shown to be effective (Jordan, et al., 2000).

The current federal law requires schools to engage families and sets aside a percentage of funding for this. For example, with everyone agreeing in principle to the role that parents play in the education of their children, one large urban school district brought in the Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY) using Title I funding at 12 elementary schools. They were assisted by the national and state HIPPY offices and received training and technical assistance from the IDRA Texas Parent Information and Resource Center (PIRC).

HIPPY is a home-based instructional program targeting the families of 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds before these children enter a public school setting. It was developed in Israel in 1969 at the National Council of Jewish Women Research Institute for Innovation in Education at the Hebrew University. And it was introduced to the United States in 1984.

In Texas, the HIPPY program is in seven public school districts. The program consists of a highly structured, 30-week curriculum in English or Spanish. A typical lesson for parents and their children includes such things as reading stories together, answering questions, predicting what will come next, learning sounds, increasing vocabulary, counting, grouping and identifying opposites. It teaches parents ways to teach their own children particular skills, concepts and experiences needed for school success by valuing and building on what families already bring to the table from both formal and informal learning. In turn, participating parents work with their children on a daily basis on school readiness, literacy, math and socialization skills. Also, the program helps parents know and understand the public school system.

The training is given by HIPPY home instructors who are active parents themselves and live in the community they are serving. These instructors visit the homes of the HIPPY parents weekly, provide them with educational materials, review and role-play a typical 20-minute lesson, provide support and encouragement, and teach other skills as identified by the receiving parents. Also, the parent educators, who are based in the elementary schools where the families will send their children, organize a monthly group meeting where all of the HIPPY parents from that school, can meet and share ideas and experiences.

These home instructors are part-time employees of the district and are supervised by a full-time district employee who provides weekly staff development activities to the home instructors. Each home instructor provides services to 30 families.

If the proof is in the pudding, then the evaluation results from this sample district and related support from the IDRA Texas PIRC indicate that parent engagement in curriculum activities increased from monthly to weekly. Once their children were in a public school setting, HIPPY families had more frequent and positive interactions with their schools and classroom teachers via written, telephone and face-to-face methods. The classroom teachers reported that over 83 percent of the HIPPY children were ready for school, specifically in classroom adaptability and classroom behavior. The analysis for 2008-09 show that HIPPY children are doing better in reading, and that progress is cumulative over time. In other words, they continue to get better scores as they progress in their academic careers.

An integral part of the HIPPY program is the IDRA Parent Leadership in Education Model as described in many IDRA publications on partnership, including Courage to Connect – A Quality Schools Action Framework (Robledo Monecel & Goodman, 2010), and as highlighted the U.S. Department of Education (2007). IDRA partners with HIPPY statewide and in this school district in particular because both entities have an advocacy for bilingual early childhood education and the continued development of leadership in all families, not just those typically chosen by schools.

The four core dimensions of the IDRA Parent Leadership in Education Model that are in tandem with the HIPPY program are the valuing of parents as first teachers, the information sharing of the many traditional and non-traditional ways that families can be equal and important resources to schools, assisting families to obtain actionable knowledge to become shared decision makers and advocates not only for their own child but for all children, and creating opportunities for parents and parent educators to share with and teach other parents and educators.

Is the HIPPY program the only family-school partnership that works? Of course not, but it is one that is having notable impact. Parents, in particular, grow in their ability to teach their children academic and social skills. They learn that school districts are partners in the same goal of student achievement. Both school and home become equal partners and consequently advocates for each other. Our children are the ones who profit the most from this partnership.

School districts would be wise to research and implement programs that assist children and families who will be their constituency in a few short years now rather than later when they get to their school doors. Funding is always an issue, but, in addition to Title I funds, foundations and the private sector are often interested in funding something in the educational realm that works, is asset-based and is pro-active rather than reactionary and deficit in nature. Partnerships make sense, but in this endeavor that we call education, it is a must and definitely a big part of the equation.


Harvard Family Research Project. Family Involvement News (May 2011).

Henderson, A.T. & K. Mapp. A New Wave of Evidence: The Impact of School, Family and Community Connections on Student Achievement (Austin, Texas: National Center for Family & Community Connections with Schools, 2002).

Jordan, E.E., & C.E. Snow, M.V. Porche. “Project EASE: The Effects of a Family Literacy Project on Kindergarten Students’ Early Literacy Skills,” Reading Research Quarterly (2000). 35 (4), 524-546.

Kagitcibasi, C., & D. Sunar, S. Beckman. “Long-Term Effects of Early Interventions: Turkish Low-Income Mothers and Children,” Applied Developmental Psychology (2001) 22, 333-361.

Robledo Montecel, M., & Goodman, C.L. (eds). Courage to Connect – A Quality Schools Action Framework (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 2010).

U.S. Department of Education. Engaging Parents in Education: Lessons from Five Parental Information and Resource Centers (Washington, D.C.: Office of Innovation and Improvement, 2007).

Frances M. Guzmán, M.Ed., is an education associate in IDRA Field Services. Comments and questions may be directed to her via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©2011, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the June-July 2011 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]