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Families Are The Solution, Not The Problem

August 9, 2019

Schools need to partner with families and communities to help combat systemic violence against immigrants, people of color, and other marginalized groups, researchers concluded in a new policy memo co-authored by Northwestern University professor Megan Bang.

In “Recasting Families and Communities as Co-Designers of Education in Tumultuous Times,” Bang and her co-authors argued that parents and families, particularly from nondominant communities, should be positioned as fellow leaders who can help transform schools.

Instead, they are often ignored or blamed. And by perpetuating the narrative that low-income children need to “escape” their community for education and a better life somewhere else, “many efforts to engage parents and communities in education systems actually further marginalize them,” the researchers wrote.

Bang, professor of learning sciences at the School of Education and Social Policy and Spencer Foundation senior vice president, noted that parents and caregivers are often held responsible for the systemic inequities in education. Moreover, agendas set by schools, funders or policy maker typically take priority over the needs of the family or community.

 “We must refuse family-deficit models as the foundations for educational change — or for any forms of policy,” said Bang, co-principal investigator for the Family Leadership Design Collaborative, a national network of transdisciplinary scholars, practitioners, and family and community leaders working towards racial equity in education.

“Rather, healthy communities rest on healthy families. There is no formula for a healthy family; they can be small or extended, three co-parents, or multi-generational. The way our systems help families thrive matters for who we are and what we can become as a nation.” 

The report, jointly released by the University of Washington’s Family Leadership Design Collaborative and the University of Colorado Boulder’s National Education Policy Center, outlines justice-based approaches which recognize that family and communities possessimportant institutional knowledge and real-life experience when dealing with challenging times.

Drawing on the Family Leadership Design Collaborative’s years of work with a national network of researchers, educators, and family and community leaders, the memo outlines several recommendations, aimed at helping public school leaders and others work with the needs of families and communities.

Rather than implementing programs to change behavior, for example, the guidelines suggest supporting initiatives that build on the wealth of knowledge that families and communities of color already possess.

The researchers also say it’s important to recognize that personal histories and systemic inequalities can shape behavior and participation.

“Policies and funding should aim to strengthen work already happening in communities, rather than impose a new program,” Bang said. Moreover, processes such as hiring, policy development, resource allocation, and school improvement should be redesigned so that those directly impacted by racial inequities have influence, not just token “input.”

In addition to Bang, the policy memo was co-authored by Ann Ishimaru, professor of education at the University of Washington College of Education and principal investigator for the Family Leadership Design Collaborative; Michelle Renée Valladares, associate director of the National Education Policy Center; and the research assistants Charlene Montaño Nolan, Henedina Tavares, Aditi Rajendran, and Katherine Chang of the University of Washington.

To read the full list of recommendations, see the report, Recasting Families and Communities as Co-Designers of Education in Tumultuous Times.