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Home visits by teachers may seem impractical, but more districts are undertaking them, and a new report says they build partnerships between parents and the school, change parent beliefs about the classroom and raise student performance.

Anne Henderson, a senior consultant at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform who has studied the issue of family engagement for years and authored a leading book on the topic, believes that home visits are the most effective ways to make a school-family connection.

“They provide so much information to each side and create bonds that are valuable throughout the year,” she says. “It is hard for schools to commit the time and energy, but it pays off many times over.”

A variety of research has supported her thoughts about those benefits, and the National Education Association has reported that they have been proven effective in several school districts:

  • A study of home visits by Sacramento schools showed that they helped raise reading test scores 6.5 percent and math 9.8, plus improved graduation rates.
  • In Mason County, KY, where the district required home visits for all schools, researchers found the district had moved from 126th to 30th on statewide tests, while discipline referrals had gone down dramatically.
  • Maplewood Richmond Heights schools in Missouri saw discipline referrals drop by 45 percent and parent involvement improved by 20 percent when it implemented home visits – and achievement improved.

A new report from Johns Hopkins University, one of four underway to study the home visits, is focused on how parent teacher home visits (PTHV) can improve the mindset on both sides. It notes that research has shown that home visits can “help close the achievement gap by fostering a better understanding between teachers and families”.

 “The achievement gap can be at least partially explained by educators’ implicit biases, which impact their expectations and behaviors toward students, which, in turn, affects student performance through mechanisms such as stereotype threat and self-fulfilling prophecy.

Fortunately, implicit biases are not un-changeable,” the report says.

It goes on to report that in interviews with PTHV participants, researchers found families realized interactions with educators could be positive and useful. They said they then had much better relations with school staff.

“Instead of assuming that many parents did not care about their children’s education, the school staff members recognized that many families cared, but demonstrated their care differently from expected. Educators reported similar shifts in perceptions about students’ behaviors, moving from thinking students lack motivation or interest in school to recognizing students’ capabilities.”

There is a lot more information at the PTHV web site, and its model for the visits, which recommends the following:

  • Visits are always voluntary for educators and families, and arranged in advance.
  • Teachers are trained, and compensated for visits outside their school day.
  • Focus of the first visit is relationship-building; we discuss hopes and dreams.
  • No targeting – visit all or a cross-section of students so there is no stigma.
  • Educators conduct visits in pairs, and after the visit, reflect with their partner.

 

Written by Jim Paterson

Jim Paterson has been a newspaper and magazine editor and an award-winning writer for The Washington Post, USA Today Weekend, the Christian Science Monitor, Parents magazine, and a number of national and regional publications. During a break from writing he worked as a school counselor for seven years and quickly became head of a counseling department and "Counselor of the Year" in Montgomery County, Md.