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The 74 Interview: Harvard’s Karen Mapp on ESSA, Family Engagement, and How Schools and Communities Can Partner to Help Kids Succeed (


The Every Student Succeeds Act contains a subtle difference from previous legislation when it comes to connecting families with schools: The phrase “parental involvement” has been changed to “family engagement.”

Subtle, but important, said Karen Mapp, who pushed for this change during her time as a consultant for the U.S. Department of Education in 2013, as ESSA was being crafted. Now a senior lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Mapp said she’ll never forget an encounter she had while she was deputy superintendent of family engagement for Boston Public Schools. A grandmother told her about attending a parent-teacher conference for her granddaughter. The teacher asked the grandmother when the real parents were going to show up.

The heart of this work involves treating families as true partners, with valuable insight into their child’s learning, Mapp said. Here’s how she recommends schools do that.

One of the foundational pillars of effective practice is that whatever initiative a school or district designs, there has to be a real intentional focus on building relationships of trust and respect with families. The relational piece is the glue that holds the rest of the initiative together. Having trust is really important for any initiative to be sustained.

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