Research published by Johns Hopkins University suggests that home visits can increase participation in parent-teacher conferences, reduce absenteeism, and improve academic achievement.

“When parents demand change and better options for their children, they become the real accountability backstop for the educational system,” explained former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan during his closing remarks to the Mom Congress in May 2010. “I want all parents to be real partners in education with their children’s teacher, from cradle to career.”

As Duncan intimated, engaging students’ families (or non-related caretakers) is one of the most powerful levers school districts have at their disposal. Simply put, when their caretakers get involved in their education, students tend to achieve better outcomes.

This is something we’ve seen play out right before our eyes in Ohio. As I’ve written about before, the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) managed to reduce its rate of chronic absenteeism by 20 percent in just 24 months simply by making a concerted effort to secure parent support for a variety of school attendance initiatives.

Success stories like CMSD’s have generated a great deal of optimism among industry insiders like Harvard Graduate School of Education Senior Lecturer Karen Mapp. “I’m seeing quite a few school districts realizing that family engagement — and I’m describing that as real, respectful partnerships between families and school staff — [is] an absolutely essential ingredient to not only student improvement, but school improvement.”

Mapp’s enthusiasm is backed up by research published by the Center on School, Family, and Community Partnerships at Johns Hopkins University that found that direct engagement of students’ caretakers improves not only attendance (as it did in Cleveland), but academic achievement, as well.

Driving Outcomes with Home Visits

As part of the Johns Hopkins study, the Flamboyan Foundation created a Family Engagement Partnership (FEP) program that the researchers described as “an intensive, school-wide intervention designed to support student success by transforming the ways in which teachers and families collaborate with one another.” The program was piloted in five schools in the Washington, D.C., area during the 2011-2012 academic year, and was eventually expanded to 27 schools in and around the capital by the 2014-2015 academic year.

The program placed a particularly strong emphasis on home visits, as the researchers hypothesized that face-to-face interactions would help establish the kind of “real, respectful partnerships” to which Mapp referred. According to at least one parent, this is exactly what happened.

“For the teachers to take the initiative…to sit in my living room, and ask about me and my child, that really meant something to me,” says Katrina Grant, whose child attended Stanton Elementary School in southeast D.C. during the FEP pilot period. “It meant that this person is going to be my partner, and we were going to work together, and she cares for my child.”

Thanks to the tireless work of the Stanton Elementary staff — teachers conducted over 450 home visits during the 2011-2012 academic year alone — Grant’s reaction was anything but unusual. In fact, while only 12 percent of Stanton families attended parent-teacher conferences in the 2010-2011 academic year, during the first year of FEP implementation, participation in parent-teacher conferences jumped to 55 percent. What’s more, the average standardized test scores achieved by Stanton students in reading and math increased by 9 percent and 18 percent, respectively, from 2010-2011 to 2011-2012.

This success was by no means limited to Stanton Elementary. Across all 27 FEP schools, students whose caretakers received a home visit missed 2.7 fewer days of school, amounting to a 24 percent drop in absenteeism. Further, these students were 1.55 times more likely to demonstrate reading comprehension proficiency on standardized tests than students whose caretakers did not receive a home visit, ceteris paribus.

Supporting Family Engagement

As promising as these results may be, executing FEP-like family engagement programs at scale will require a substantial injection of resources. For one, not all teachers enter the workforce with the skill-set necessary to effectively handle the nuances of a home visit, and developing these skills takes time, practice, and most of all, training.

For many districts, adopting a tool like Vinson’s CheckPoint EMIS Platform is the easiest way to ensure they have access to the resources they need to finance such training. CheckPoint streamlines a district’s data gathering, organizing, and validating processes, helping it maximize the funding it receives from state and federal sources.

Ultimately, building meaningful caretaker/educator relationships is key to driving positive student outcomes, and at Vinson, our goal is to help districts help parents become the accountability backstop for the educational system of which Duncan dreamed.