Research has established that students with involved parents achieve better outcomes1: They are more likely to attend school regularly, perform better in school, develop strong social skills and go on to post‐secondary education. To improve learning in early math and address the performance gaps between racial and socio‐economic groups, parent and family engagement may be especially necessary, since so much learning for young children takes place at home and informal environments, such as in‐home child care.

Thus, as one potentially important approach to improving outcomes for early learners in mathematics, the Heising‐Simons Foundation is especially interested in the role parents and family members can play as partners with educators—and it asked Education First to learn more and offer observations. As part of our work, we reviewed existing efforts and research in California and interviewed leaders at nine organizations with strong reputations for improving parent involvement
in children’s’ learning (plus one school district with an exemplary parent engagement program).

Our research into parent engagement efforts and organizations in California posed these questions:

  1. What are the promising practices in California for successfully engaging parents of younger migrant, dual language/immigrant, black, Latino or Asian/Pacific‐Islander students?
  2. What are examples of California counties, school districts, early childhood education providers, networks and nonprofit organizations with a strong commitment to engaging parents of preschoolers and primary grade students?
  3. What opportunities are there to strengthen family engagement, especially in math, in California counties with the greatest student needs?

We learned:

  • Many see a compelling need for greater family engagement efforts focused on math, but specific math programming is limited in most organizations that focus on boosting parent involvement in California.
  • The nine organizations supporting parent engagement in California that we examined operate primarily in or near the state’s larger cities and not in rural areas. Indeed, considered with a view to the distribution of poverty in California, many of the state’s highest‐need communities lack “highly regarded” or targeted family engagement activities.
  • Three common approaches to effective family engagement (not in mathematics alone) also emerged across the organizations we interviewed: (1) Taking an asset‐based, culturally appropriate approach; (2) Building trust and relationships with families; and (3) Including social activities into engagement efforts.
  • Finally, interviewees told us that tending to language differences is also essential to family engagement, although they typically do not otherwise differentiate activities for various ethnic communities.

Interviewees also identified five opportunities they see today in California to advance family engagement strategically.


1 See California PTA website (2019), and National Association for Family, School and Community Engagement website (2019).