Family Literacy: Parenting Education, Participant Selection - Discussion with Doug Powell and Diane D'Angelo - Transcript - 2001

Family Literacy: Parenting Education, Participant Selection - Discussion with Doug Powell and Diane D'Angelo

A. List Moderator's introduction of the guests.

Greetings from the west coast! As they say, the best laid plans of mice and wo/men.... I planned to send out the introduction for the next 10 days discussion last night, but alas, the hotel I was staying in last night did not have internet. Now, this evening, I have arrived in the LA, CA area, and I have internet access. Yes!

So, here we are....a bit late beginning, but a great beginning, nonetheless. I am pleased to have Doug Powell and Diane D'Angelo with us for the next few days. Their bios are below. Since they are also working and traveling this week, here is how we will do this discussion. Each day, Diane and/or Doug will read your postings and will send out a "summarizing" reply every other day or so. They will not necessarily reply to each and every message. After you read their posting (the next message I send out will be their first message), please post your responses directly to the list, not to them individually. IF you want to remain anonymous, just feel free to send your responses to me and I will forward them on to Doug and Diane. So, I have been bragging to Doug and Diane about how marvelous you all are. Let's give them a great welcome and a thought-provoking dialog.

Douglas Powell, PhD, has more than 25 years of experience in developing, implementing and evaluating parenting programs for diverse populations. Recently he co-developed the Guide to Improving Parenting Education in Even Start Family Literacy Programs. He is a Professor and the Head of the Department of Child and Family Studies at Purdue University. Dr. Powell has also served as a consultant to the U.S. Department of Education's Even Start office since 1992 presenting at a number of key Even Start conferences.

Diane D'Angelo is a Senior Research Associate at RMC Research in Portsmouth, NH. She has been involved in providing training and technical assistance to Even Start programs and Even Start State Coordinators since 1988. She is the co-author of the Guide to Improving Parenting Education in Even Start Family Literacy Programs, as well as five of the Head Start national training guide series on parent involvement. She is also working in partnership with NCFL's Head Start family literacy project.

Nancy Sledd, NIFL-Family list moderator

Senior Training Specialist

National Center for Family Literacy

Louisville, KY

[Note: In this Summary of our Guest Question and Answer Session, our Guests' words will be in italics.]

B. Guests' introduction to the discussion: Parenting Education Goals

From Doug Powell and Diane D'Angelo, developers of the Guide to Improving Parenting Education in Even Start Family Literacy Programs:

This week we look forward to interacting with you about the many ways family literacy programs help parents support their child's literacy development. Several years ago the U.S. Department of Education asked us to develop a framework for parenting education in Even Start programs. To develop the framework, we reviewed the research literature, met with state coordinators and program leaders, and visited 12 Even Start programs. The result if the Department of Education publication referenced above.

You can secure a copy of the Guide to Improving Parenting Education in Even Start Programs by calling 1-800-872-5327 and ... [If you call the 1-800-872-5327 number you will first hear a prompt about proceeding in Spanish, wait for the next prompt and select #1 for publications and videos, from there you can be connected to a customer service representative that will assist you in ordering the Guide to Improving Parenting Education in Even Start. Sorry for the confusion. -- Diane D'Angelo]

The Guide sets forth five key goals for parenting education in family literacy programs.

These areas are:
    (1) Engage in language-rich parent-child interactions,br>    (2) provide supports for literacy in the family,br>    (3) hold appropriate expectations of child's learning and development,br>    (4) actively embrace the parenting role, andbr>    (5) form and maintain connections with community and other resources.

The overall goal of parenting education in Even Start programs is to strengthen parents' support of their young children's literacy development and early school success.

Our plan for the week is to focus on several goal areas at a time and to encourage members of this listserv to share their ideas about ways family literacy programs can support parents in each of these areas. Beginning today, we will focus on two goals: language-rich parent-child interactions and supports for literacy in the family. Please share your suggestions! On Thursday, November 14th we will offer comments on the suggestions/questions offered on this listserv and introduce the next three goal areas. We will offer comments again on Tuesday, Nov.20.

Within the area of parent-child interactions, research indicates that parents strengthen their children's literacy development when they engage in frequent and increasingly complex verbal interactions with their child; actively participate in joint book reading; ask questions that strengthen their child's problem-solving abilities; engage in attentive and flexible interactions with the child; maintain a predictable environment through routines and responsive structure; and develop and maintain a secure attachment relationship with their child.

Within the area of supports for literacy in the family, studies show that parents strengthen their child's literacy development when they provide easy access to reading and writing materials; read frequently themselves and use reading and writing to get things done and solve problems in every day life; and demonstrate an enthusiastic view of reading as fun.

How does your program support parents in these areas? What approaches and strategies have you found to be successful? What challenges have you encountered that other subscribers could help you address?

We look forward to hearing from you.

Doug and Diane

We also encourage you to share program strategies and experiences with 3 more goal areas set forth in the Guide to Improving Parenting Education in Even Start Family Literacy Programs. Please let us hear from you about the 3 goal areas described below plus the 2 goal areas summarized on Monday.

Hold Appropriate Expectations of Child's Learning and Development: Parents strengthen their children's literacy development and school-related competence when they view their child as an active contributor to his/her own development through challenging yet achievable interactions with the everyday environment; know their child's interests and abilities; and maintain appropriate expectations of their child's achievements.

Actively Embrace the Parenting Role: Parents strengthen their child's literacy development and school success when they maintain a positive sense of personal efficacy in the parenting role and in managing relations with their environment; take proactive steps to establish and maintain positive relations with community resources; and advocate for high-quality child and family resources in the community.

Form and Maintain Connections with Community and Other Resources: It is beneficial for parents to use effective coping strategies for adapting to changes in family and community environments, and to work toward good physical and mental health.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Doug and Diane

Subscribers' responses (focused on evaluation of parenting education outcomes).

    From: Judy Hickey

    As usual, it is how to measure parenting outcomes that continues to be soft data. It would be great if there could be lists of ways to measure improved performance for each of the five key goals. Perhaps this conversation with Doug and Diane could begin to address these issues.

    Even something as simple as a grocery list of possible objectives that parents could look at, choose from, and update after a month or two in the program. At least a program could then create a graph showing that parents met a goal, revised a goal, went on to a new one, etc. One of our parents, when asked at the beginning of the program, said she had enough books in her home. After a year in the program, she said she did not have enough books because of her heightened awareness of the need for print materials of all kinds.


    I say, "exactly" to the previous message. One problem early programs had: They'd ask parents "How often do you a) read to your child or b) go to the library or, c) use spanking as a punishment. Parents KNOW the right answers, so they would tell staff what they thought staff wanted to hear.

    Then there would be a post test measure some months later and parents would answer honestly because they had more trust in staff and some new found honesty with themselves. So, when the data were compared, it made it look like enrolling in Even Start made parenting skills worse!

    Resulting in inaccurate conclusions: People read less frequently? Spanked their kids more? Went to the library less frequently?

    Actually, parents probably just got more honest..

    That's why self-report can be helpful in gathering information, but can't tell the whole picture.

    Staff observation also has its limitations.

    Programs ask how do we measure how parents have applied the skills they've learned. It's not enough to know the information. (although that's the first step) It's applying it in real life.

    So, what we have to figure out is "What are the outcomes we're looking for?" and "How do we measure to what extent have those outcomes been achieved?"

    Cathy Lindsley

    Even Start State Coordinator in Oregon


    For those who are looking for ways to measure parenting, here is a suggestion. Go to the NIFL Website and the many Equipped for the Future links, including the role maps. Select the EFF Parent and Family Member Role Map. Work with the parents as they select goals from the Broad Areas of Responsibility. Explore the Key Activities under each area and determine the outcomes that both you and the parents are looking for. Then look at the Role Indicators (which we can equate with the Performance Indicators in Even Start) and notice how they answer the questions of How will performance be demonstrated? How well? and With what outcomes?

    Here is an example: One of the goals of Parenting Education as listed in the Guide to Improving Parenting Education is to Form and maintain connections to community and other resources for meeting individual and family needs. Notice how closely that goal is linked with the Broad Area of Responsibility on the EFF Family Member Role Map, which states Meet Family Needs and Responsibilities, and one of the Key Activities, which states Give and receive support outside the immediate family.

    The Role Indicators for that Key Activity are:

        *Create and participate in a social network of friends and relatives for support, recreation, dealing with problems, and coping with change.

        *Identify the problem and admit to the need for help.

        *Identify individual and community resources and services to match the need
        *Seek help

        *Attend to others' needs and offer help, as appropriate.

    These role indicators will help teachers and parents plan the curricular approaches, including materials and methods that will lead to the outcomes, tying curriculum, instruction and assessment into a comfortable whole.

    Hope this will be of benefit.

    Meta Potts
    Glendale, Arizona

C. Guests' responses to parenting education discussion.

A Message From Diane and Doug:

Judy Hickey raises good questions about how to responsively evaluate the contributions of family literacy programs to parenting practices and beliefs. We appreciate her example of how programs can have unintended effects. Meta's suggestion of using the EFF role map for tailoring parenting outcomes and measurement is a valuable one. You may also want to review your Even Start state performance indicators for expectations for parenting outcomes. What reactions do you have to Judy's ideas and question?

From Doug Powell and Diane D'Angelo:

The recent questions and comments about evaluating parenting outcomes in family literacy programs cut to the core of some key evaluation issues. There are no "magic bullets" or "one size fits all" answers in this complex arena. We believe it is essential to gather information from a number of different sources rather than rely on a sole measure. Program records (for example, attendance), staff observations, and parent reports are all potentially helpful sources of information for piecing together an understanding of how parents connect with and benefit from a program. Parent self-report forms work best when there are not "loaded" questions such as "Are you reading more to your child?" Local evaluators can be an especially helpful resource for generating an evaluation strategy that works best for your program and population.

We have appreciated the chance to participate in this listserv and offer best wishes for your important work in family literacy.

Doug and Diane

D. Other Comments: Selection of Participants (including recruitment, needs assessment) in Even Start or other family literacy programs

[This message was sent directly to the List Moderator, sender kept anonymous.]

    I'd love these two to give any tips at all regarding Even Start success stories, especially with more competitive scenarios. For instance, we're trying to decide as a district which needy school to concentrate on for our first Even Start proposal: an overcrowded Hispanic school with many pre-literate families but without campus space for Even Start, or another needy school that will receive over 100 families into its residential area from a new homeless housing arrangement. How best to recruit families? Assess need before the process? What are the best roles for the coordinator, and has it worked in the past to transition a Healthy Start coordinator into Even Start?

    I'm open for any tidbit of advice that anybody could pass along!

    Sounding desperate yet? :) Nope, not that bad...I've ordered their report and am reading a few grants that have won. My questions have to do not only with "how" but also what has changed since the winning grants I'm reading now...what are trends and proven measures?

    I have just signed (or been drafted, depending on p.o.v.) to coordinate a local family literacy initiative in the small rural community of Mountainair NM). The program is in collaboration with Torrance County Head Start and will draw from Head Start children & kindergarten ss at local elementary school. This small pilot program will select 12 children and includes family (parents, caregivers, some sibs) for 9 hours of instruction/activities a week.

    I have the same questions as Nancy. The teachers and Head Start staff already have lists and a clear idea of who to invite, and are champing at the bit to get started. We still need to evaluate & assess adults, select participants, work on program design, and rough out a tentative schedule . If there are (and there probably will be) more eligible children than slots available, we will look at the adults and the rest of the family to make a final decision.

    New to this, I am desperately seeking input and ask other coordinators to share insights on or off list.

    Vanessa Vaile

    Mountainair NM


    Vanessa, I am Project Director of the Head Start Family Literacy Project and we have a number of resources that you may want to try as you determine your next steps. Please look at the NCFL website at for resources and ideas. Since you are in NM, you may want to contact Ann Allen at Texas Tech for training and T/A support.


    Bonnie Lash Freeman

    National Center for Family Literacy
    Louisville, KY


    Different programs handle this in different ways. We are connected with a Head Start, and they already have in place a points system to assess needs. Theoretically, children are placed in Head Start based on area and then points. Other things being equal, then the lowest income takes precedence. Both programs always maintain extensive waiting lists.

    In our family literacy program, we use the Head Start recruiting packet and take points into account, but whether we accept a family or not also depends on where they live, the family demographics and how that correlates with the number of slots we have open and in which classes, priority going to families already in Head Start, and then we take into account other variables, including those you mention -- adult needs, family special needs, etc. We tend to give some weight to relatives or friends or neighbors of those already in the program for the purpose of community building and because we can often get a sense of who is most motivated to do the program and who is most likely to be responsible about fulfilling the contract. I also give some weight to the judgment of our chief recruiter, who has been with Head Start for 10 years and our program for 2+, and is experienced both at recruiting and explaining the program. He is also a skilled motivator, and can tell when someone is "hungry."

    You can try to devise a formula, but in the end, it always comes down to a number of variables. We try to use a team approach to make these decisions, and feel free to advocate for our choices.

    Points are given for low-income, long-term low income, disability [any of these is worth 5 points, and disability needs to be documented by our local Education Service District]; special needs [isolated from play mates, shyness, slight developmental delay, possible speech, behavior problems, abuse, health impairment -- .5 pt each], foster child [1 pt], and family instability [.5 pts each]: this can include serious health or mental health impairment of any family member living in the home, trauma, no GED or high school diploma, non or limited English, homeless, frequent moves, single parent, teen parent, employment issues, SCF involvement, substance abuse, marriage difficulties, incarceration of anyone in the program in the last 3 years, current incarceration or probation.

    Our families typically have 11.5 points -- the 10 low-income points and .5 pts each for employment issues, no GED, and non or limited English. If they have between 12-14 points, we consider them high-need. Families with more than that we look at carefully to see whether they are in a place where they can do our program. They might do better in a Head Start setting, because family literacy requires some ability to structure their lives to manage regular attendance and function in a classroom setting.

    Hope this helps some. If you have more questions about our process, I'd be happy to address them.

    Sylvan Rainwater.

    Adult Education Teacher and Family Literacy Program Manager

    Clackamas County Children's Commission

    Oregon City, OR USA


    From: Kim Starr

    Vanessa, When slots are few you really have to be conscience of the "most in need" rule. I know that it's hard to do that when you want to help them all, but when you are first beginning it is best to use a checklist or other method to see who is truly in need of the services. As your program grows, you will be able to accept more people.


    Specific tools: for instance, in this most recent response we talk about a checklist for determining need. Does anybody have a sample of that? How about a survey of families that is actually honest...I'm concerned folks will say they have 20 books up front and then when they're comfortable at the end turns out they didn't have any and it looks like Even Start didn't help at all...

    Anybody with tips about working Head Start into a program that includes smaller kids?

    Thanks! SO MUCH!

    Nancy Van Leuven


    What about guidelines on balancing adult (parents & caregivers) needs and children's needs? Participating elementary school and Head Start staff have their lists, but we also need to consider the adults. Although the "most in need" rule will likely yield the same families from child & adult perspectives, this may not always be the case.

    Any thoughts? BTW the better the outcome at the end of the grant period (short), the better our chances of continuing/expanding and accepting more people next year. First there has to be a next year.



    From: Leah Carpenter I work for a Head Start program. When it comes to determining enrollment when spaces are limited, it is very important to have a defined process. Whatever process you choose should be used on every family and well documented. Our program uses a form called the "Eligibility Selection Criteria". This form allows us to rank families based on the family makeup and what they are experiencing. Families with the highest numbers receive priority for enrollment. I know that it seems like a heartless process and at times I find myself thinking how repulsive to reduce families down to a number. That is when I try to remember the quote that "statistics are just people with the tears dried off." All of us who serve families need to serve as many people as possible, as fairly as possible. However, when faced with the choice of serving a few or serving none we do what we have to.

    Also, having a well defined, documented process helps to cover you from various accusations. I know that this may also sound less than altruistic. We have to do the very best we can and still stay able to work in this field. I equate it to putting the oxygen mask on before I put my child's on.


    While I can see the common sense approach of helping those most in need, I have some strong feelings about that.

    When we were raising our children, I was a stay at home mom with 4 young children. We made all sorts of sacrifices so I could do that. We struggled and we made it. As I returned to teaching adults, I saw many families in need, who knew how to play the system, and they did. I certainly think families should be helped, but sometimes it seemed that these families in need had more than we did as a young struggling family.

    I recall one time, my daughter wanted to take a class at the local art center. We couldn't afford the class, but neither were we poor enough to receive help. She never did take the class.

    Now my children are young adults working and struggling to make ends meet. They would like to return to school (college). They can't afford to pay tuition, but because they are working, they don't qualify for any financial assistance except loans.

    I don't regret our struggles, but I do resent it when families milk the system. Please, while using your guidelines and formulas, be flexible enough to help families helping themselves.

    Millie Kuth

    Hamilton City ABLE

    Hamilton OH


    >>What about guidelines on balancing adult (parents & caregivers) needs and >>children's needs? Participating elementary school and Head Start staff have >>their lists, but we also need to consider the adults. Although the "most in >>need" rule will likely yield the same families from child & adult >>perspectives, this may not always be the case.

    Yes, it's been interesting being part of a Head Start program, because they really are oriented more toward the child, with some involvement of parents. Whereas I (as an Adult Ed teacher) am more oriented toward the parent, with involvement of children as adjunct. As a program, we really consider the whole family in a way that Head Start often can't.

    As I'm part of the selection process, I do pay attention to the special needs of the parents -- I take into account things like literacy level and English level, and add it into the mix.

    >While I can see the common sense approach of helping those most in need, I >have some strong feelings about that. >I don't regret out struggles, but I do resent it when families milk the >system. Please, while using your guidelines and formulas, be flexible >enough to help families helping themselves.

    Yes, one of the things that's necessary in a family literacy program is that families have a certain level of functioning. They have to be able to get themselves and their children to the program three days a week and keep two home visits per month. They have to be able to function in a classroom in some way. We require them to set goals and report progress toward goals.

    We do find some families who -- shall we say -- shade the truth a tad on recruitment so they get more points. I've learned to be philosophical about that, especially if they then are good students who I can see are benefiting from the program. They are doing what they can to improve their lives and those of their children, and I really can't fault that.

    I do hear your frustration about being in that struggling place that still doesn't qualify for benefits. Been there, done that, as well. One fortunate thing about our program is that once accepted, people are in the program for as long as they like, or until they meet their goals, or until 3 years, even if they get a job and their income levels change. That can represent a significant support in transitioning out of poverty. The children also go to the top of the waiting list for Head Start if they choose to or have to transition out of our program because of getting a job, for example.

    It's more of an art than a science to figure out who should be in the program. You can make it as scientific and objective as you can (and I believe that's necessary), but in the end, it's subjective, never fool yourself. There's no point in putting a high-needs family into the program if they then can't take advantage of it because of drugs, alcohol, clinical depression, or what-have-you. And lots of time we simply can't accept a family that would otherwise be perfect for the program because we don't have the right combination of open slots.

    Doing recruitment in the summer is heartbreaking in some ways. I want *all* of those families in our program. But we have to let go of that sense that we are responsible for saving all the families in the world. We do what we can, and have to let go of the rest. To do otherwise risks our sanity and effectiveness.

    Sylvan Rainwater.

    Adult Education Teacher and Family Literacy Program Manager

    Clackamas County Children's Commission.

    Oregon City, OR USA

E. Closing by the List Moderator.

Diane and Doug spent a lot of their "own" time to present fresh ideas and dialog on the NIFL-Family list, and I appreciate their work for family literacy. This is one of those "behind the scenes" tasks that takes so much time, and the guests come to the list as a demonstration of their commitment to family literacy. As the family literacy field, we are stronger and better because of the work you do. Thank you!

Nancy Sledd, Senior Training Specialist
NIFL-Family List Moderator
National Center for Family Literacy
Louisville, KY