By Anne T. Henderson, Karen L. Mapp, Vivian R. Johnson, and Don Davies
One of American School Board Journal's editors top education books of 2007 is Beyond the Bake Sale: The Essential Guide to Family-School Partnerships!! It is recommended as one of the must-reads of the year.
By Rebecca C. Jones
Beyond the Bake Sale
The Essential Guide to Family-School Partnerships
By Anne T. Henderson, Karen L. Mapp, Vivian R. Johnson, and Don Davies. New Press.
It's well known in education research circles that family involvement is closely linked to better test scores, higher graduation rates, and better-adjusted students. In fact, some research indicates family involvement might even be more important than socioeconomic status in predicting a child's success in school.
Knowing this, several researchers collaborated on Beyond the Bake Sale, a guide full of suggestions for schools interested in beefing up family-involvement programs and policies. As might be expected, most of the book's suggestions and activities are aimed at teachers and principals. But a healthy section of the book focuses on what needs to be done at the district level, beginning with a written policy and a supportive superintendent.
"Leadership is key," the researchers write. "When a superintendent demonstrates a serious, consistent commitment to parent and community engagement, everyone in the district gets the message".
Beyond the Bake Sale: The Essential Guide to Family-School Partnerships
Anne Henderson, Karen Mapp, Vivian Johnson and Don Davies
2006 (352 pp./paperback)
The New Press
Reviewed by Amy Bailey, NBCT
Curriculum and Testing Coordinator
RJ Reynolds High School
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County (NC) Schools
Anne Henderson, Karen Mapp, Vivian Johnson and Don Davies have created an outstanding hands-on, how-to manual for those seeking to improve their schools' partnerships with families and communities.
The book begins with a rationale for building effective partnerships that summarizes much of the latest research on the effects of strong school, family, and community connections and also includes numerous sidebars such as "Research Briefs" that give details of specific research studies. These are interspersed throughout the text at appropriate places, creating a text-within-the–text format that is convenient for those skimming the book looking for specific resources.
The book goes on to lay out the characteristics of four levels or types of school partnerships: the Partnership School, the Open-Door School, the Come-if-We-Call School and the Fortress School. There is a simple and direct rubric that defines the characteristics of each of these schools, followed by four core beliefs that are essential if schools are to be successful in developing productive relationships with parents and communities. In discussing each core belief, the authors offer ways for us to analyze the degree of whole-school "buy-in" and suggest next steps to move from lopsided relationships to balanced partnerships.
There are dozens of specific examples and tips for following through on the general suggestions. For example, in the section on making parents feel welcome, the topic is divided into five subsections: The Welcome Mat Is Out, The Whole Family Enrolls in the School, The School Feels Warm and Friendly, People are Accessible, and Smaller is Better. Each of these subsections includes very specific how-to strategies that can help schools reach the particular goal. For example, the Smaller is Better section includes five suggestions including things like spreading back-to-school nights over a week (with a different grade each night), and creating special programs for ESL parents in their own language.
The sidebar format is also used effectively to present tips from principals whose schools have built successful partnerships, and to display comparison/contrast charts with titles like "Do More: Do Less" and "Bright Ideas" that describe specific tools used effectively by real schools. But perhaps the most useful tool is the series of six detailed checklists that give schools effective methods for analyzing each component of their school's efforts to create meaningful partnerships. These provide a systematic analysis of sometimes difficult-to-ask questions like "How Well is Your School Bridging Racial, Class and Cultural Differences?" and "How Well is Your School Sharing Power and Practicing Democracy?"
There is even a chapter and checklist to analyze how well the school system as a whole supports family and community engagement. In creating the analysis, the topic is logically divided and subdivided with concrete statements that clearly state what pieces must be in place to achieve the desired goal, such as creating a family-friendly school or bridging racial, class and cultural difference. Then each is evaluated on four levels: already doing this, could easily do this, this will take time, and this will be hard. These checklists can serve a number of purposes from beginning a dialogue about the school's progress toward meeting the goal, to providing a well-defined road map for success.
The final section of the book provides additional tools and resources, including checklists for conferences, parent surveys and questionnaires; and a sample job description for a family improvement coordinator. There is also a recommended reading list and a collection of dozens more helpful resources available from other sources.
I believe this book is destined to become a key resource for those schools who find themselves asking, "How do we get parents more involved in their children's education?" The authors' credentials are impeccable as theorists in the field of school and parent/community partnerships, but this book is much more than a theory and research based list of principles for developing school partnerships. It allows any school, even those "fortress schools" that are farthest from reaching the goal of becoming a partnership school, to take the beginning steps. Theory takes a backseat to concrete suggestions for analyzing a school's current attitudes and core beliefs in relationship to building partnerships – and then taking specific steps toward changing those attitudes and creating the support pieces that moves schools from fortresses to true open partnerships that involve all stakeholders.
The book also takes on thorny issues of race and culture in a sensitive and pragmatic way and seeks solutions that work for all parties. While setting forth an idealized vision of the true partnership school, the rubrics and checklists also validate the steady and sometimes difficult progress that can be made as more challenged schools attempt to remove the obstacles to partnerships with families and communities.