Book Review of School, Family, and Community Partnerships: Preparing Educators and Improving Schools
Key Words: family engagement, preparing educators, engaging families, teacher education, school reform, educational policy, systems theory, Epstein
The second edition of School, Family, and Community Partnerships: Preparing Educators and Improving Schools, by Joyce L. Epstein (2011) makes a significant contribution to understanding how families and schools work collaboratively to benefit children. Part One focuses on the foundational theory and research of these partnerships. Part Two applies the research to school and classroom practices and to educational policy development. Aimed at university-level audiences of education, sociology, and psychology professors, it aspires to help train the next generation of teachers, administrators, counselors, and other professionals to integrate effective partnership programs in schools. It promises to share recent progress in research, policies, and practices, and to help future educators think in new, more in-depth ways about partnerships.
Divided into four sections, this review first critiques the overall content, research, readability, and value of the edition. Second, it assesses each chapter in Part One for its theoretical contributions and merit. Third, it considers each chapter in Part Two for its potential impact on school, classroom, or policy practices. Finally, a conclusion suggests how the book may best be utilized in college coursework related to educational partnerships.
The author, Joyce L. Epstein, is no stranger to professionals in the field of family engagement. Director of the Center on School, Family, and Community Partnerships and the National Network of Partnership Schools, she is a research scientist and professor of sociology at Johns Hopkins University. Epstein's theoretical model using the concept of overlapping spheres of influence is widely used by schools and researchers, and has been adopted by the National Parent Teacher Association as a tool for understanding family engagement and improving partnership practices.
The book was reviewed with several criteria in mind. First, I looked at whether it achieved its own learning goals and was conceptually sound. Designed as a volume to be used as the basis for a full course on partnerships or to supplement coursework in other areas related to education, I also looked for qualities that would make it an outstanding textbook in its field. According to the author's own insights, a textbook must include (a) differing theoretical perspectives, (b) research using various approaches, and (c) practices that can be put to use in schools and classrooms (p. 13). When assessed by these criteria, the book has strengths and shortcomings. While it excels at describing Epstein's own conceptual framework and the research that supports her theory, it lacks discussion and debate of other theories on family engagement and approaches that may support different ways of thinking about partnership. Applying theory to practice is one of its greatest strengths. Particularly helpful are suggested activities and exercises at the end of each chapter that foster critical thinking. Despite its shortcomings, it provides exceptional insights into the field, facilitating dialogue important to education reform.
The included research studies represent diverse populations and encourage discussion on critical issues facing today's families and educators. Numerous readings focus on traditionally underserved groups, including inner-city families, ethnic minorities, and single-parent families. The volume would be enhanced by adding more recent research including case studies to encourage examination of the impact of race, class, culture, and linguistic diversity on family-school partnerships at a higher analytical level. While the studies are relevant, only 3 of 18 were updated from the first edition, making most of the research 15-20 years old. …