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Beyond the bubble: the role of affect and cross-communication in dismantling biases

School discipline and behavioral research and evaluation, including my own, consistently battles the critique that we arent considering (or measuring) the presence/dynamics/frequency/quality of parental interactions with teachers and parental participation at school. Part of this is clearly about measuring the influence of how families/homelife/parents shape behavior while at school (and sometimes this is treated as a scapegoat for teachers' limited ability to thwart discipline issues at school). However, a second piece of this is the often understudied nature of parental-teacher communication in improving student behavioral and other outcomes. This second line of inquiry spurs myriad questions about how and about the exact mechanism through which increased parental involvement/communication would ameliorate student discipline issues. In some evaluations, we have tried to answer these questions by proxying parental involvement/interest with a set of student, parent, and staff survey items linked with student performance. This is helpful information (that is rife with endogeneity challenges), but we can do better.

Recently, empirical research on the nature of parent involvement and parent-teacher interactions has emerged. Over the weekend I received the email [linked here] that pointed my co-authors for the Breaking Schools' Rules discipline studies and myself to a new report about Parent Teacher Home Visits (PTHV) conducted by RTI International and which seems to continue the NEA funded work from 2010 on parental involvement.

A program the incentivizes parent-teacher outside-of-school contact seems like an interesting solution to a difficult challenge - I've long been a fan of getting schools out into their neighborhoods and canvassing their community to help address problems, make changes, and be more responsive to their local needs (LA public schools see this type of work as an enrollment growth/recruiting tool) The implications for having schools and staff that are not hooked into their local community are worsened when segmentation and segregation are persistent in urban areas.

The core strategies/principals of PTHVs are summarized in this report as:

  1. Visits are always voluntary for educators and families, and arranged in advance.
  2. Teachers are trained and compensated for visits outside their school day.
  3. The focus of the first visit is relationship-building; educators and families discuss hopes and dreams. 
  4. No targeting – visit all or a cross-section of students so there is no stigma.
  5. Educators conduct visits in pairs and, after the visit, reflect with their partners.

Below are some reasons I think the strategies and findings in this report will be useful, particularly with some of the intervention programs I'm working with which have (burgeoning) parental interaction components.

Surprisingly (to me at least) this PTHV report starts from the outset examining how biases shape these interactions (viz. that "the achievement gap can be at least partially explained by educators’ implicit biases, which impact their expectations and behaviors toward students, which, in turn, affects student performance"[ their logic from this report is visualized below]) and how staff and parents reported that these beliefs about biases shifted as a result of PTHV related activities/communication.

Their protocol for measuring/uncovering these biases during data collection (particularly their 'field scan interviews') is detailed in the appendices of the report and I found them useful. I haven't read a lot of research with this sort of straight-forward discussion and measurement of belief and perceptions about biases in school evaluation work (most mindshift studies I've encountered have been post-hoc and indirect assessments of bias, mindshift, etc via survey items/proxies) and I found it illuminating.

One passage discusses teacher incentives/compensation for PTHVs. It says 
Compensation for home visits cited by some PTHV teachers as a critical motivator. Related to the supports required by educators for home visits is whether to compensate them. Many of the home visit models in our field scan paid teachers a stipend for the home visits. Our field scan interviews reflected some debate about whether educators should be compensated, as it was unclear how best to motivate people to do home visits. Some believed compensation was an effective motivator. In fact, in one field scan interview, a program staffer indicated that before stipends were paid, only 25% of teachers did home visits. After instituting the stipend, the number of teachers more than doubled. In two of the PTHV schools in our study, a minority of teachers indicated that if they were not compensated for the visits, they probably would not continue to do them.
The report doesn't aver evidence that this sort of input-based or input-driven compensation is causing or even correlated with changes in teacher PTHV participation rates. In light of recent findings about the lackluster impacts (and sustainability) of TIF and performance pay programs, this makes me wonder if this is short-term participation effect and hope that future iterations of this program/study can explore this component more fully. 
#EDresearch #EDevaluation #ParentalInvolvement #ReducingDisparities