CASEL Water Cooler

How Can Federal Law Support Family Engagement in Schools? A New CASEL Brief

December 12, 2023
Aileen Ma
Senior Policy Advisor
How Can Federal Law Support Family Engagement in Schools? A New CASEL Brief

Parents and caregivers play a critical role in supporting students’ academic, social, and emotional development. More and more, schools and districts are recognizing the importance of partnering with families to support students’ academic success and social and emotional well-being.

To help states and districts undertake this important work, CASEL recently released Supporting Parent and Family Engagement to Enhance Students’ Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, – an “easy-to-use guide on how federal K-12 education law requirements for parent and family engagement can be leveraged to support students’ academic, social, and emotional learning.”

We sat down with one of the lead authors, Aileen Ma, CASEL’s Senior Policy Advisor, to learn more about the goals of this brief and her experience writing it.

Q: How does family engagement support students in their academic goals and social and emotional development ?

Studies from the past two decades have consistently demonstrated the positive impact of parent and caregiver engagement on students’ academic achievement and social and emotional development. Not only are effective teacher-parent communication and strong school-family partnerships vital to strong conditions for student learning, we know from research that social, emotional, and academic skill sets are enhanced when they are mutually supported and reinforced at home and at school. 

In other words, when investments in high-quality SEL are paired with efforts to engage and partner with parents and families in an authentic manner, the benefits to student academic, social, and emotional learning are enhanced.

Q: What sparked this brief? Why do education leaders need this information now, in particular?

Over the past few years, parent and teacher relationships have become strained by school closures, remote learning, and current political discourse. We wanted to produce this brief to lift up the critical role parents and caregivers—working together with educators—play in supporting students’ academic, social, and emotional success. It was also important for us to highlight what the data, research, and nationwide surveys consistently tell us—that there is significant parent support for SEL in schools, contrary to what headlines and a vocal minority might indicate. 

In this moment of ongoing pandemic recovery, there is a lot of great work being done, and still more opportunities remain to continue leveraging evidence-based practices such as SEL to meet the needs of students and help them recover from the pandemic’s impact on learning and well-being. We wanted to equip leaders working at the state and district level with an easy-to-use guide on how federal K-12 education law requirements for parent and family engagement can be leveraged to support students’ academic, social, and emotional learning.

Q: What barriers do states and districts face when planning how to partner with families, particularly when it comes to supporting SEL efforts?

One of the most significant barriers is that states and districts often work in a very siloed manner. For example, in many state education agencies, parent and family engagement and SEL efforts are housed in separate departments, with different staff leading the work. This means it can often be challenging to take advantage of opportunities to leverage existing funding sources to better connect and align family engagement and SEL efforts. It also means that where states and districts are engaging in activities to meet family engagement requirements under the law, they may not be leveraging the opportunity to do this work in a more robust, coordinated manner that in turn supports SEL efforts. 

Q: What do you think is the most important learning you’d like readers to take from this brief? 

One of the most important aspects of working on the brief was analyzing the number of family engagement provisions that exist in federal law. It is very important to recognize the policies that exist that support effective family engagement. Parents are children’s first teachers, and they are equal partners with educators in supporting students’ academic, social, and emotional learning, and policies such as the Every Student Succeeds Act are critical to strengthening these relationships. 

Q: What do you hope this brief will achieve for the field? 

I hope this brief will be of use to the field and help more states and districts leverage opportunities and resources in federal law to work closely with parents and caregivers to support students. This work is urgent and crucial, and will require authentic collaboration and creatively using available resources to ensure parent and family engagement is not just a superficial compliance checkmark, but a consistent and thoughtful practice. Likewise, as pandemic relief funds run out, it is crucial that states and districts find ways to continue to prioritize investments in students’ academic learning, mental health, and social and emotional well-being.

Aileen Ma is CASEL’s senior policy advisor. Prior to joining CASEL, Aileen served on the Committee on Education and Labor in the U.S. House of Representatives where she advised on K-12 education policy under the leadership of Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA). Previously, Aileen developed and advanced the policy and advocacy goals of a wide range of national and local stakeholders on federal and state education and workforce policy issues at the bipartisan Penn Hill Group.

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