"It is my conviction," Ernest L. Boyer once wrote, "that you cannot have an island of academic excellence in a sea of community indifference."
Many school leaders wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments of Boyer, the late, highly respected president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. And that agreement is borne out in a proliferation of school partnerships -- with parents, with businesses, with local service agencies, and with colleges and universities.
Educators' determination to create a large network of active school allies is based on hard evidence that such collaboration works. Studies show that partnerships produce a host of positive outcomes -- and not just for the students. Students achieve more, are often better prepared and better behaved, and parents, businesses, communities, and schools also benefit.
Many studies conducted over decades have found that when parents are involved in an encouraging, watchful manner, students of all socio-economic levels and races achieve more, demonstrate positive attitudes and behavior, are absent less, and do a more thoughtful, complete job on homework assignments.
The extent to which parents encourage or discourage absenteeism, television time, and reading are particularly important. An analysis of results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress test showed that absenteeism, the variety of reading materials found in the home, and amount of time spent in front of the television accounted for 90 percent of the difference in the average state-by-state eighth-grade math scores.
Other studies found that students whose parents kept close watch over their children's studies and established daily routines that included regular times set aside for study completed more homework -- a key factor in maintaining good grades. Parents' economic status and educational background were less important for student success than consistent parent interest, encouragement, and help.
The success of parent involvement does not rest solely with parents, however. School programs that actively involve parents outperform identical programs without parent and family involvement. But to achieve long-lasting student gains, parent involvement activities of the school must be well-planned, inclusive, and comprehensive.
Addressing the non-academic needs of students also helps. The Yale University Bush Center in Child Development and Social Policy has gathered substantial evidence that community schools, which typically offer year-round services for students and families, benefit children, parents, and the school as a whole.
Students at community school models known as Schools of the Twenty-first Century were more prepared for kindergarten, posted higher math and reading test scores, and had received better diagnosis of special educational needs than students at other schools. The schools reported less vandalism, increased parental involvement, and a better community image. Parents also reported less stress, fewer missed workdays, and a more positive relationship with the school, which ultimately also benefits the students.
In a summary of studies on business/school partnerships for the U.S. Department of Education, one researcher found that what is good for schools is good for business. The researcher noted that schools with business relationships had increased access to new technology, greater opportunities for professional development for teachers and other staff, and reduced student violence, truancy, suspension, and dropout rates.
Many businesses are now tackling major educational problems that will have measurable results over the long term rather than write a check here or support a one-time program there.
The important thing, the experts say, is that schools get support. "Developing strong partnerships among schools, families, businesses, and community and religious groups is the best way to make our educational system thrive," according to the U.S. Department of Education.