When I was a teacher, I quickly came to appreciate how profoundly my students' experiences outside of school influenced their performance in the classroom. My daily work to support their learning was certainly important, but sometimes my best efforts in the classroom were not enough. On occasion, I would reach out to parents for help and to better understand what students were experiencing outside of school. Through these conversations, I was also able to give parents detailed information about how their child was doing in my class and suggestions on how they could support my efforts in the classroom. In turn, parents gave me new insights into the specific circumstances and learning needs of their children. But because of the daily demands on my time and the lack of schoolwide support, I contacted parents less frequently than would have benefitted me or my students.
As a researcher, I've come to appreciate even more strongly the potential of schools' efforts to engage parents as partners in students' learning. A large body of literature dating back over a half century to the famous Coleman Report in 1966 illustrates how factors outside of school are the dominant influence on students' academic achievement (Altonji & Mansfield, 2011; Nye, Konstantopoulos, & Hedges, 2004;). Simply put, while effective teachers and solid curricula are crucial, the role that parents play in shaping students' educational experiences and supporting their in-school success cannot be overstated. When parents foster positive learning environments at home and are engaged in their students' schooling, kids have much better academic outcomes (Houtenville & Conway, 2008; Todd & Wolpin, 2007).