Overview and 4A Framework

The vision of America’s Promise Alliance and its partnership with the Annie E. Casey Foundation is that all young people will graduate from school with the knowledge and skills they need for adult success. Dropping out of school does not occur overnight but is a gradual process of disengagement that can be interrupted when communities, schools and families work together to identify when and why their young people do not succeed in school and to ensure young people, especially those most at risk, receive the supports they need. Supporting student success needs to be viewed as a common enterprise involving educators, parents, communities and students themselves. Each has a stake and a role in the process recognizing that roles may evolve as key milestones are reached along the way.

Key Concepts for Parent Engagement

Parents are a key ingredient of any dropout prevention strategy. As each child’s first and arguably, lifelong teacher, a parent (broadly defined to refer to whoever is a child’s primary caregiver) is well positioned to provide a child with the on-going support and supervision he or she needs to be successful in school.  Whether or not children get on the path to high school graduation in the first place and stay on track throughout their school career is significantly influenced by the extent to which parents are able to support them in their educational endeavors.

Why does parent engagement in schools matter?

A New Wave of Evidence (1) by Ann Henderson and Karen Mapp describes how, no matter what their family income or background may be, students with involved parents are more likely to:

  • Earn higher grades and test scores
  • Be promoted, pass their classes, and earn credits
  • Attend school regularly
  • Have better social skills, show improved behavior, and adapt well to school
  • Graduate and go on to postsecondary education.

What does parent engagement in schools look like?

Parent involvement in children’s education can take multiple forms. According to Joyce Epstein at the Johns Hopkins University, schools can foster parent engagement across a number of realms:

  1. Parenting: Assist families in understanding child and adolescent development, and in setting home conditions that support children as students at each age and grade level.  Assist schools in understanding families.
  2. Communicating: Communicate with families about school programs and student progress through effective school–to home and home-to school communications.
  3. Volunteering: Improve recruitment, training, work and schedules to involve families as volunteers at school or in other locations to support students and school programs.
  4. Learning at home: Involve families with their children in learning activities at home, including homework and other curriculum-related activities and decisions.
  5. Collaborating with community: Coordinate resources and services for students, families, and the school with businesses, agencies, and other groups, and provide services to the community.
  6. Decision-making: Include families as participants in school decisions, governance, and advocacy through PTA/PTO, school councils, committees, action teams, and other parent organizations.

Parent engagement is not a single event but a process that evolves over time. Kathleen Hoover-Dempsey and her colleagues have identified three factors in determining parent involvement:

  1. Whether parents believe they should play an active role in their children’s education and have a positive sense of self-efficacy for helping their children learn
  2. Whether the school welcomes and invites their involvement
  3. Whether parents’ life context (socioeconomic situation, knowledge, skills, time) supports involvement. (3)

What can parents do specifically to prevent their children from dropping out?

While parent engagement has tremendous value in terms of supporting the well-being of an entire school community, we propose specifically focusing engagement on four key concepts:

Attendance Every Day: Ensure that children go to school regularly 

Achievement Every Year: Monitor and help children make satisfactory progress each year 

Attainment Over Time: Set high expectations for children and plan for attaining their long-term goals

Advocacy For All: Empowering parents and families to improve opportunities for excellence in education 

These four priorities were identified because each one is clearly critical to student success throughout a child’s academic career. Each one is heavily influenced by the actions and thinking of parents as well as educators, community-based providers and students themselves. Localities may find that they need to tailor or adapt this framework of the 4As to their own local realities and existing communications with parents.

What does it mean to engage parents in developing solutions to school drop-out?

Parents are invaluable sources of information about possible causes of drop-out as well as what types of strategies are likely to help families overcome barriers to ensuring students attend school every day, achieve every year and attain their life goals over time. While national information can offer information about likely issues and solutions, gathering insights from parents from your own community is essential to grounding your efforts in local realities.


(1)Henderson, A, & Mapp K, A (2002). New Wave of Evidence: The Impact of School, Family and Community Connections on Student Achievement, Southwest Development Lab, Austin Texas.

(2)Go to the Center on School, Family, and Community Partnerships at Johns Hopkins University for further information and resources.

(3)Hoover-Dempsey, K, et. al, (2005) Why do Parents Become Involved? Research Findings and Implications. The Elementary School Journal, Volume 106, No. 2. University of Chicago.