Parents as Partners
Moments after the birth of her first child 23 years ago, Aurelia Zoretich had a terrifying realization: Nothing had prepared her for the daunting responsibility of nurturing a new life.
A nurse, sensing her panic, slipped a piece of paper into her hand bearing the words, "La Leche League," the name of an international organization that offers women support and guidance on breastfeeding.
"Call this number when you get home," the nurse whispered.
"It was like the underground," recalls Ms. Zoretich, the coordinator of a comprehensive parenting and child-development program in Canton, Ohio--inspired in part, she says, by her own unsettling experience.
Like many new parents, she recalls, "I was terrified to death for lack of information--simply for lack of knowing the right questions to ask."
Helping parents formulate those questions, experts agree, is one of the keys to raising a child who is not only physically and emotionally healthy, but also equipped to become a successful learner.
Traditionally, new parents have turned to family members and neighbors for help and advice in raising their children. Today, however, such networks of support have become unraveled.
For the typical parent, "you have the child, you bring the child home, you may or may not read some of the literature," says Robert A. Patterson, assistant superintendent of administration for the East Providence, R.I., school district, the first in that state to launch a parenting program. "There's really no training for this."
To bridge the gap, public and private organizations have launched parent-education programs and opened family-resource centers to bring such training out of the "underground" and into classrooms and homes from a child's earliest days.
Increasingly, policymakers and educators recognize that parents need a broad store of resources and knowledge to stimulate their child's development and to foster an appetite for learning critical to school success.
At the same time, an increasing research base on child development and the popularization of parenting issues in the media have fueled the demand for more formalized sources of support and information on how to negotiate the complexities of parenthood.
Some of the programs serve targeted populations--teenage parents, parents of children with special needs, or low-income families, for instance; others operate under the premise that all parents, no matter what their circumstances or backgrounds, want to do their jobs better and sometimes need guidance.
Parent-education programs, "in an informal way, are building on something we've all known for a long time--that the most important source of education for the young child is the family," says Sally A. Provence, professor emeritus of child development and pediatrics and a senior research scientist at the Yale University Child Study Center. "We're just making it more conscious and systematic, and making sure people who need the support have the techniques and methods."
For many years, contends Edward F. Zigler, the Sterling Professor of Psychology at Yale University and the director of the Bush Center in Child Development and Social Policy, birth to age 5 was "an empty period in the child's life" as far as the formal education system was concerned.
"From the day you left the hospital with the new baby to the time you showed up for school," Mr. Zigler recalls, "parents took care of that."
Today, he notes, "there is an absolute growing recognition that if we want to optimize the development of children, we have to get in there even before they are born with prenatal care--and then do everything we can to see that the environment and learning experience of the child is optimal for the period from 0 to 5."
Adds Otis Baker, assistant commissioner of education in Missouri, the only state to mandate that all school districts offer such services: Parent education "may well be the best shot available in the country right now to deal with a variety of issues confronting us."
'One of Those Programs That Please Everyone'
Experts estimate that thousands of parenting programs--sponsored by groups ranging from local y.m.c.a.'s and health clinics, to churches and child-care centers--are in operation today.
And interest in linking such efforts to schools has increased dramatically in the past few years.
In preparation for a study to be published this summer, the Harvard Family Research Project identified more than 200 local school-based programs.
In a 1988 study by the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women and the Bank Street College of Education, 19 states reported that they require some parent-education activities in their early-childhood-education programs.
Missouri and Minnesota have taken the lead among states in launching comprehensive, statewide parenting programs administered and funded through the public schools.
But other states are stepping up their efforts. Smaller-scale efforts modeled after Missouri's "Parents as Teachers" program, which offers home visits and group meetings for parents and developmental screening for children from birth to 5, have been started in 28 states. (See story on page 15.)
Breaking the Cycle
A convergence of factors has fueled the current interest in such programs.
Educators are eyeing parent-education programs as one strategy to curb the school-failure rate among children placed at risk by such factors as poverty, abuse, language barriers, and family breakups.
In addition, says Alice Sterling Honig, a professor of child development at Syra6cuse University, the fact that the economy is increasingly dependent on a highly literate workforce demands that all children have "the base of loving, responsive parenting that research shows us will give us the tool-oriented, task-solving child."
The growing interest in parent education also stems from the broad recognition, based on interpretations of a body of research, that children pass through the most formative years of their lives before they enroll in kindergarten.
Burton L. White, the parenting expert whose research was the basis for the Missouri program, says studies associated with Head Start and other early-childhood programs show that a child advanced in language and intellectual skills at age 3 "is very likely to be well prepared for formal education."
Conversely, he writes in Educating the Infant and Toddler, a child nine months or more behind "rarely achieves above average or even average levels of later educational success."
Also bolstering the parent-education movement are studies that show that parents' attitudes about learning canhave an enduring influence on their children's educational experiences.
In an effort to break the cycle of failure among particularly vulnerable groups, many of the programs are being designed with specific populations in mind.
Parenting education is an integral element, for example, in many efforts to aid pregnant and parenting teenagers. And it is often used to help bolster the confidence, skills, and employability of disadvantaged parents enrolled in vocational-education, adult-literacy, and welfare programs.
In Iowa, for example, a 1988 law targets welfare recipients for parent-education services in an effort to reduce demands on the foster-care system.
The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs has adopted Kentucky's Parent and Child Education program for use in schools on Indian reservations. And some communities are making special efforts to serve groups such as homeless or limited-English-proficient families or parents with substance-abuse problems.
Recognizing that growing numbers of children are spending much of their formative years in child-care settings, some parenting programs are also including child-care workers in the training.
Parenting education is also being embraced as part of a broader strategy to combat a range of social problems that affect family well-being. For example:
Believing its benefits could help children better cope with the frustrations that lead to drug abuse, Gov. Edward DiPrete of Rhode Island has proposed replicating a successful parenting program using funds from an omnibus drug bill.
A drug-abuse-prevention bill recently passed in Minnesota includes $450,000 for 10 demonstration sites to expand the state's Early Childhood Family Education program, a pioneering statewide effort now serving 165,000 parents and preschool children, into grades K-3.
In Texas, a citizens' group involved in prevention programs related to children's mental health has led efforts to replicate Missouri's Parents as Teachers program at 15 pilot sites.
The nonprofit Child Abuse Prevention Council in Kansas led the way in piloting several "parents as teachers" programs before the legislature approved funds for a state program under the education department.
"This is just one of those programs that please everyone--it cuts across departmental lines," says Donna Buchholz, the council's Parents as Teachers supervisor.
Lois Engstrom, the supervisor of Minnesota's family-education program, which was first piloted in 1974 and which has been offered statewide since 1985, says such efforts also draw praise from health- and human-services professionals.
"Pediatricians keep telling us that a lot of questions parents ask them are not really medical," but parenting queries, Ms. Engstrom says. "They're very supportive because it frees up their time."
At the same time, she says, "human-services people talk about families they see who just don't know how," despite their desire, to nurture their children's learning.
In some states, social-service agencies have taken the lead in offering parents such support.
The Maryland Department of Human Resources and the Connecticut Department of Children and Youth Services, for example, have launched community-based drop-in centers that, among other goals, work with adolescent parents to assure the healthy growth and development of their children.
Much of the current interest in parent education, says Bernice Weissbourd, president of the Family Focus program in Chicago, can be traced to the "family support" movement, which promotes community-based, prevention-oriented programs that offer a range of education and support services to strengthen families.
Such efforts, which began emerging in the 1970's, blend parent education with elements of "Head Start, self-help, and the settlement house" philosophies, says Ms. Weissbourd, who is also president of the Family Resource Coalition, a national network of more than 2,000 people and groups.
Federal and Private Support
The parent-education movement has gained some of its momentum as the result of several federal statutes that feature efforts to involve and support parents of young children.
Parental roles are outlined in P.L. 99-457, the law extending special-education services to children up to age 5; laws governing the Head Start and Chapter 1 compensatory-education programs; and the Family Support Act.
The Comprehensive Child Development Act and the Even Start Act offer funds for programs combining such services as adult education, parenting training, and early-childhood education. And a bill introduced recently by Senator Christopher S. Bond of Missouri would help states launch or expand "parents as teachers" programs.
The movement has also gained currency through the work of a variety of education groups.
For the past several years, early-childhood and family education has been a key focus of the Council of Chief State School Officers, which has published detailed profiles on related state activity.
The American Association of School Administrators also published a pamphlet on parenting skills last year.
And the issue is on the agenda of a consortium of advocacy groups, headed by the Child Welfare League of America and the Children's Defense Fund, that is drafting model legislation to offer a "continuum" of child-welfare services for children and parents.
Recognizing a link between early-childhood education and the quality of the future labor force, businesses, too, are assuming a role in financing parent education.
The Beethoven Project, a broad array of parental-support, child-development, and health services launched at Chicago's Robert Taylor Homes in 1987, was the brainchild of the businessman Irving B. Harris.
More recently, the telecommunications firm U.S. West announced a $10- million grant program for child-development programs based on Missouri's Parents as Teachers program, and the Honeywell Corporation has teamed with the Albuquerque schools to launch a similar program for its employees.
Businesses have also donated funds to help supplement initiatives launched by communities or nonprofit groups.
Ronald McDonald Children's Charities provided the Kansas Child Abuse Prevention Council with the funds for a parent-education program, for example, and Scott Paper Company has donated more than $12,000 to help Alabama communities match a grant for parenting programs from the state's Children's Trust Fund.
'Trying To MeetThe Crisis of Families'
The sense of isolation faced by many parents has increased the demand for formalized parenting programs, experts say.
"In the old days," when the population was less mobile, notes Ms. Zoretich of the Canton schools, "people had support systems: families, communities, people who knew each other" and could exchange childrearing lore.
Projects that blend professional guidance with informal exchanges among parents are attempting to "reconstruct" the extended-family network, Mr. Zigler notes. "Home visitors are like the grandhers and aunts of bygone years."
Despite technological advances that have eased the "convenience" of childrearing, Ms. Provence maintains, "there has never been a time when childrearing is more difficult."
Fewer supports from family members and greater demands from the workplace, she contends, have put families under increasing stress.
"I think we're all trying to meet the crisis of families who are under too much stress and trying to do something about it," says T. Berry Brazelton, the clinical professor emeritus of pediatrics at Harvard University Medical School who has written extensively on parenting issues.
For growing numbers of single parents or full-time working mothers, Ms. Honig of Syracuse University says, there may be scant time or energy to "cuddle and smooch and dance and sing, give the baby a leisurely bath, eat together cuddled on the couch."
And many parents, she adds, are simply uninformed about techniques to stimulate learning.
Parenting programs, Ms. Honig says, can help people understand "the relationship you must make with the baby that will make that baby a good learner later on."
Successful programs, she says, stress the importance of "talking and singing to babies, holding them and stroking them, being interested in their sounds, responding to their coos."
Making Parents Observers
A key goal of parent education is to offer advice on how parents can respond and pose questions, share books and playthings, and tap everyday experiences and objects to stimulate children's learning.
"We're helping a parent take advantage of all the moments in everyday routines where they can teach the child," says Sue Treffeisen, the training coordinator for the Parents as Teachers National Center in Missouri.
Such programs also guide parents on "how to prepare the [home] environment so it fits the development of the child and encourages that development," adds Hannecristl Fruhauf, the center's dissemination coordinator.
A key function of such programs, she adds, is "to make parents good observers of their child."
"One of the basic assumptions we have in working with families," Ms. Treffeison says, "is that parents want to be good parents."
Those who fail to foster learning--or even resort to abusive behavior--may be lacking in self-esteem, unable to communicate effectively, or simply unfamiliar with normal developmental patterns, Ms. Zoretich notes.
By teaching them what to expect at various stages of development, she and others contend, parenting programs can help families set more realistic expectations.
"We see this as a program that enables parents to relate to youngsters at the appropriate developmental level," affirms Mr. Patterson of the East Providence schools.
Such knowledge can help prevent potential abuse that may spring from "misinterpreting a child's behavior as a discipline problem," Ms. Zoretich adds.
While most programs have placed a high priority on serving low-income and disadvantaged families, many have extended access to families of all socioeconomic levels.
Besides offering parents of diverse backgrounds the benefit of sharing common childrearing problems, such an approach also "makes it much more attractive to families that otherwise would be targeted" through welfare-related programs, Ms. Engstrom of Minnesota says.
"It's a much better learning environment than knowing you are being stereotyped or labeled," she adds.
Beyond Parent-Child Interaction
In addition to educating families on child development, such programs can contribute to the early detection of health and learning problems by offering various screening and referral services.
While some school-based parenting programs initially focused primarily on cognitive skills, Ms. Weissbourd of the Family Resource Coalition says, they "have begun to expand just because staff and parents have recognized the need to deal with other issues."
To have a broader impact, such programs must venture "beyond the immediate parent-child interaction" and offer other forms of support, says Wilma Wells, the coordinator of one of four Parents as Teachers centers in the St. Louis schools.
While not equipped to handle every crisis, she says, parent educators can make referrals and help families negotiate the "maze" of bureaucratic hurdles to seek such services as speech therapy, counseling, medical help--even food and shelter.
Large-scale parenting programs are more likely to succeed if they build on and tap the "spontaneity and creativity" of community programs, Ms. Weissbourd maintains.
Such collaboration has been critical to the success of Minnesota's family-education program, says Ms. Engstrom, who notes that the program operates in such diverse sites as housing projects, hospitals, laundry rooms, and storefront centers, as well as in Head Start classes and schools.
To have a lasting impact, Ms. Weissbourd adds, parenting programs must "be not only focused on children's development, but on parents' development as well"--through education, training, counseling, and employment programs.
"The evidence is really clear that parent education alone does not provide the changes in behavior that are necessary, particularly in communities where there are other stresses," she says. "Information on the child is not enough to motivate changes in childrearing patterns.''
"The more things you attack in one program, the better your success rate is going to be," adds Janet M. Blumenthal, the director of a follow-up study on the federal "Parent Child Development Centers," an extensive parenting program established in 1971 as a spinoff of Head Start.
"To the extent that these programs don't do just parent education, but really help parents get some training or better job situations, it might help change the whole family's living circumstances," says Ms. Blumenthal, who is also an adjunct assistant professor of early-childhood education at Georgia State University. "Then you're going to really see some substantial changes for kids."
Given the growing support for parent education, some observers fear that parenting programs will be embraced as a "quick fix" or as a substitute for more substantial efforts.
"One of the dangers is that you oversell these programs as a solution to society's problems," says Alison Clarke-Stewart, a developmental psychologist and professor of social ecology at the University of California at Irvine. "Then you're bound to be disappointed."
Parent education is not, she warns, "a substitute for other kinds of programs" or a "cheap way to provide preschool education."
Building School-Parent Bonds
An underlying premise of parent education is that it will build stronger bonds between schools and parents.
The theory, explains Heather B. Weiss, the director of the Harvard Family Research Project, is that those "who understand the school system better and don't view it as an antagonist" will become more active partners in school reform.
"We're casting families in a different role," says Mildred M. Winter, director of the Parents as Teachers National Center in Missouri.
In the past, she says, "parents would come to school to bring the cookies or mix the paint. Now we acknowledge how important they are in laying the foundation."
Adds Mr. Baker of the Missouri education department: Those "whose only experience with schools was their own 20 years ago tend not to be very discriminating in their expectations."
Parents as Teachers participants, in contrast, "know the difference between motor skills and cognitive skills," he says, and are "at least more likely to seek answers to questions others may never raise."
The program "establishes in the minds of the parents their importance" in educational decisions and gives them an incentive to cooperate and offer schools ideas, says Thomas Keating, the superintendent of the Kirkwood, Mo., schools.
"It also forces the schools to recognize that here are people who have been involved on a partnership basis with their children's education for the last five years," he observes. "You can't just greet them at the door and say, 'Hi, honey, we'll see you later."'
Also, Ms. Weiss says, graduates of parent-education programs are more apt to become politically involved--by running for school board or lobbying for school reform--and may become more demanding.
While the "negative scenario is that parents will start knocking the doors down," she says, shrewd administrators will ask, "how am I going to use that [energy] to change my system?"
Mr. Keating says he views that scenario as a challenge.
"The more parents demand of the school," he says, "the better the relationship will be."
Responsive Across Grades
But school systems bear a responsibility to nurture that relationship throughout a child's schooling, experts emphasize.
"Very often," says Joyce Epstein, the director of the effective-middle-grades project at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Research on Elementary and Middle Schools, "people get confused between parent education and parent involvement in the comprehensive sense."
Advocates are "pushing for people to see these not as add-on programs, but in terms of the larger education system," Ms. Weiss explains.
But Ms. Epstein worries that many programs focus on the "dynamics of family life" without exploring how it relates to schooling.
To be truly effective, she says, such efforts must transmit skills to help parents "be responsive to their children across the grades."
"It's the rare program that's trying to be in some sense cumulative--that tries to help the family grow along with the children," Ms. Epstein argues.
To have an impact beyond the preschool years, she adds, programs "would have to make stronger connections with schooling and with the child as a student. That's the kind of continuing education parents want and need and often do not have access to."
Ms. Honig and Mr. Zigler also stress the need to offer courses in high school to help educate teenagers about parenting responsibilities.
While early-childhood programs are critical first steps, "it doesn't make sense to think that parent education and preschool education can do it all," Ms. Blumenthal of Georgia State University says. "What can you tell a mother of a 5-year-old to do to keep her child from becoming a pregnant teen at age 14?"
Parenting Programs FaceLingering Challenges
Despite a growing base of support, par6enting programs have had to surmount a number of challenges, including those from conservative groups and parents who say such efforts constitute undue government meddling in family matters.
In Missouri, for example, members of the conservative Eagle Forum testified against Parents as Teachers legislation, calling it an effort to control children's minds.
And in Indiana, a group called Citizens Concerned for the Constitution swayed lawmakers to reword an education-reform bill to clarify that participation in parenting programs would be voluntary.
Eric Miller, the group's executive director, argues that programs for parents and infants are an "inappropriate use of the public schools," which he says "have difficulty now with children from 5 through 18."
Some observers also fear parent education could inadvertently increase pressure on young children to acquire formal skills before they are ready.
Barbara F. Schreiber, a Canton, Ohio, school board member generally supportive of parent education, says she nevertheless fears it could exacerbate the trend toward more rigorous academic programs at earlier and earlier ages.
"There is something to be said for supplementing early-childhood experiences," she offers, "but that doesn't mean [schools and parents] need to start in educating children in a very formal way."
'Going on a Promise'
Potentially more ominous, however, are claims that research documenting the effectiveness of parent education is inconclusive.
"There is very little research on the true impact of these programs on parent behavior, and even less on children's outcomes," according to Ms. Epstein.
Such outcomes, she adds, are "rarely measured and, if measured, rarely measured well."
"At this point, we're going on a promise," Ms. Weiss observes.
"There is an assumption that if you change the parents' behavior, that helps the child," Ms. Clarke-Stewart says. "But in fact, people haven't separated that from any kind of direct change in a child's behavior."
Research from the 13-year Harvard University Preschool Project directed by Mr. White showed that the language base, curiosity, social skills, and cognitive intelligence a child develops by age 3 set a critical course for future learning.
And longitudinal data from several projects launched in the 1960's have highlighted positive benefits of intensive preschool and parent-support programs for low-income families, including lower rates of school failure, grade retention, remedial placement, and juvenile delinquency; improvements in parents' attitudes and educational accomplishments; and, in some cases, reduced welfare dependency.
But it is difficult to separate the effect of home visits and other parenting activities from other project components, experts say.
Because its parenting component was not evaluated separately, for example, "there is no way to distinguish one source from the other source" of success in the Perry Preschool Project in Ypsilanti, Mich., says Lawrence J. Schweinhart, the chairman of the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation's research division.
In another successful project launched by Ms. Provence that brought medical care, day care, home visits, and other services to inner-city New Haven families, "it is not possible to know which was most helpful--and it may not be the same for everybody," she concedes.
'A Good Experience Every Year'
Ironically, Ms. Honig notes, one of the best arguments for parent education may be studies showing that the initial gains of children in early-education programs without parenting components were more likely to fade by the early grades.
In a 1974 analysis of seven early-education programs launched in the 1960's, the Cornell University scholar Urie Bronfenbrenner found that, "without family involvement, intervention is likely to be unsuccessful, and what few effects are achieved are likely to disappear once the intervention is discontinued."
Data from some of the more comprehensive efforts, such as the Family Development Research Program in Syracuse, show "how really powerfully important the total program is," says Ms. Honig, program director of the five-year program of developmental day care, home visits, and health benefits.
"If a program aspires to have the long-term effects found in the Perry Preschool program," Mr. Schweinhart adds, "it is reasonable that it should have some kind of classroom component and some kind of frequent home contacts."
Ms. Clarke-Stewart also contends that the effectiveness of parent training varies widely among parents--and that its impact may not be greatest on those with the most to gain.
Data indicating that some of the gains exhibited at age 3 by children enrolled in the Parent Child Development Centers had eroded 10 to 16 years later left researchers with "a feeling that we simply were not able to inoculate them against the rest of life," Ms. Blumenthal observes.
The staff of Chicago's Beethoven Project has also noted the dangers of setting unrealistic timetables for success in communities in severe distress. (See Education Week, Feb. 1, 1989.)
"At some point," Ms. Blumenthal notes, "we have to grapple with the fact that a child's experience has to be a good experience every year."
Parenting programs "present the hope of kids arriving at school where they need to be," she adds. "I don't think we can ask for anything more."
Parent-education advocates argue, however, that the early cognitive gains exhibited by project participants are promising--and that lasting effects on attitudes and behaviors may be more difficult to quantify.
Ms. Winter of the Parents as Teachers center contends that critics have imposed on parenting programs "unrealistic demands" not applied to other education programs.
"Why is it we hang on early-childhood programs the responsibility to show that the money spent is going to have an eternal effect?" she asks. "We hope to get parents involved and knowledgeable about children's learning, with the goal of having a lasting effect."
But, she says, "there are other factors that impact on how kids turn out."
Researchers involved in the early studies "fell into a trap," she argues, by setting out to prove parenting programs would raise children's i.q. In the process, she contends, they underrated the value of personal and social gains.
Ms. Provence says Head Start research has shown "that issues of social and emotional development and attitudes are favorably influenced by such programs, and it would be a great mistake to use academic achievement or test scores alone as an indicator of success."
"The big issue to me is not whether there are long-term effects, but what is mediating those effects," Mr. Zigler says.
The aim of parent training should be "to promote the total development of a child and give him a good start in life on all fronts," Ms. Winter argues. "Measuring i.q. is just a small part of it."
"We should not be holding this arena up to a standard no one else is meeting," adds Ms. Weiss, who notes that school-based management and other school-reform trends currently being pursued have not been put to an empirical test.
Backers also maintain that abundant anecdotal evidence from parents and educators shows that parent education pays off, and they point to data emerging from more recent efforts.
In a 1985 follow-up study of the pilot phase of Missouri's Parents as Teachers program, 3-year-olds enrolled in the program were significantly ahead of a control group in language, intellectual, and social skills, and their parents were more knowledgeable about childrearing issues.
In a second phase of the study, completed in 1989, participating children scored significantly higher than their classmates on standardized reading and math tests at the end of the 1st grade. Teachers also rated them higher in reading, math, language arts, social development, work habits, and physical fitness.
The teachers also reported that significantly more parents participating in the program sought parent-teacher conferences and took part in school activities.
A 1983 evaluation of the Canton, Ohio, Parent-Child Education Program that Ms. Zoretich coordinates, meanwhile, has produced evidence of long-term cognitive gains for project participants. (See story on page 18.)
The study, which examined the progress of 100 kindergarten to 10th-grade children who participated in the program beginning in 1972, showed that project children scored above city and national averages on standardized tests every year.
In addition, one-fourth of their parents pursued further schooling or job training, and many reported improved communications skills, discipline methods, and nutritional practices.
The "two-generational aspect" of such programs can be a "catalyst'' for positive changes in a mother's life, Ms. Weiss notes.
In addition to praising the comprehensive services Head Start offers children, parents are "enthusiastic about how Head Start helped them to get more education or a job," notes Sherri Oden, the research project director for the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation, which provided technical aid for a recent study designed by Head Start directors. (See Education Week, April 25, 1990.)
But "what is particularly compelling," she says, is that participants "do make changes as a family," not only in their approach to education, but in such aspects of parenting as preparing nutritious meals and scheduling regular medical checkups.
Parents who participated in Kentucky's Parent and Child Education program--which teaches parents and young children simultaneously in a public-school setting--showed increased literacy rates and improved educational expectations for their children.
Six states are replicating the program, which offers adult and early-childhood education as well as training in parenting and guided parent-child interaction.
Pace has had more success than most adult-education programs in keeping parents in school because they "like what it does for their children," says Jeanne M. Heberle, who coordinates the program for the Kentucky Department of Education.
The benefits of such programs can also extend to children's siblings.
Arkansas's Home Instructional Program for Preschool Youngsters, a program developed in Israel that trains community members to work with the parents of disadvantaged 4- and 5-year-olds at home, is one example.
Some formerly reticent parents will "now go in and talk to teachers'' when an older child needs help, says Ann W. Kamps, Gov. Bill Clinton's assistant for early-childhood programs. "We've seen remarkable turnarounds."
Ms. Zoretich notes that parents who have been involved in such efforts are also likely to share their knowledge with friends or organize similar efforts when they move to other communities.
"You take these seeds with you wherever you go and use them in some way," she says.
Observes Ms. Weiss: "Part of the reason for arguing for more family-oriented approaches doesn't have to do with data--it has to do with values. In the uppermost policy levels, people are reaching a consensus that the role of the family is critical in human development, and we have to strengthen and reinforce that role."
This special series on parental involvement in education is being underwritten by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.