The Benefits of Taking a District-Wide Technology Approach to Family Engagement

Based on what we know from sixty years of research, it’s not uncommon to see family engagement strategies incorporating things like Family Academic Socialization, Home Learning Support, Home Visits, Live Phone Calls, Parent-Family Conferences, Academic “Nights”, School Events, etc. A common missing component that allows families to consistently engage in their child’s learning in meaningful ways at home is a district-wide platform that promotes engagement.

As communication has evolved and changed in our ever-growing technological society, many schools and districts often forget to evaluate how their communication methods move the needle on family engagement and consequently end up using one-way communication methods that don’t provide families the opportunity to engage in meaningful conversations about their child’s learning.

For districts to further their family engagement efforts, it’s important to recognize that in our increasingly digital society, families are expecting to communicate with their child’s teacher through technology in a way that is familiar and safe. Using a district-wide platform that allows this type of interaction provides a space for families to engage with educators and promote better learning outcomes for their students. This type of technology can help districts: conform to the needs of our younger-generation family populations, eliminate “app overload” and the sporadic usage of different tools, eliminate the burden of educators having to manage the setup of their own technology, and provide everyone with a tool that is unified with the district’s overall family engagement strategies.

One of the growing benefits of using a district-wide technology is that it is becoming one of the easiest and most impactful ways to engage families. We cannot overlook the changing family culture as generations shift away from Baby Boomers and into later Gen Xers and Millennials. Society is now in a time where 95% of people in the United States own a cellphone, nine-in-ten or more adults younger than 50 say they go online or own a smartphone, and young adults report preferring texting to phone calls. By accounting for these changes and adapting family engagement strategies, school districts can establish an impactful way through technology to have more meaningful two-way conversations with families that promote efficacy and engagement.

By accounting for these changes and adapting family engagement strategies, school districts can establish an impactful way through technology to have more meaningful two-way conversations with families that promote efficacy and engagement.

As Dr. Steve Constantino, a national family engagement expert has said: we don’t need to do extra to engage families, we just need to “do what we already do, only differently.” In this case, a family engagement technology can help districts sustain their family engagement efforts, but through a new channel that is familiar to families. (Read our previous blog for more on how technology improves family engagement)

Another benefit of a district-wide family engagement platform is being able to provide a consistent place for families to engage in their child’s learning from classroom to classroom, school to school, and year to year. Regardless of the classroom, grade, or school a child attends in the district, a family will always remain on the same unified platform. Without a district-wide platform, both schools and teachers are typically faced with using one of the many “teacher-parent” communication tools out there such as Remind, ClassDojo, or even social media, thus resulting in a number of sporadic tools and apps throughout the district.

This is important in regard to the concept of “App Overload.” If one teacher is using a free EdTech app, and the next is on Instagram, and the school administration uses Twitter in addition to a website, it can be harder than ever for families to stay engaged. While these apps are typically helpful in providing messaging, behavior reports, or classroom pictures, their sporadic teacher to teacher usage consequently causes an “App Overload” effect on families which leads to disengagement over time. By providing one consistent place for families to see what’s going on in the classroom, have conversations with their child’s educator, and view upcoming events from the classroom, school and district, engagement in their child’s learning increases (click here to learn more about App Overload in our Family Engagement Tech Guide).

By establishing a district-wide family engagement platform, the entire district benefits by saving teachers from the upkeep of classroom setup, rostering, and the adoption associated with the number of free teacher communication apps. However, when schools and teachers resort to using free apps or programs, they are often tasked with having to set up their classroom, upkeep the roster of students and families, and most of all push for families to onboard and adopt the platform. This is a lot of time and energy that educators don’t have, nor is it something they should have to do.

By partnering with a family engagement platform like Livingtree Engage, classroom networks are built for every school, rosters are created and updated with SIS integration, and families are automatically onboarded through emails and text messages at the beginning of every year – thus eliminating the burden and saving time for educators throughout the district.

The final benefit of using a district-wide family engagement technology is being able to provide everyone with a platform aligned with the district’s family engagement strategy. Years of research, planning, and development typically go into a school district’s family engagement process, and being able to sustain those efforts over time is crucial. With so much time and money going into providing professional development and family engagement training for district members, it’s important to be able to use a single platform that they can then effectively use. So much of that can be wasted if families are becoming frustrated and disengaged due to the overwhelming number of apps. But when educators understand how to engage every family AND have a unified platform to do so, then meaningful conversations that lead to the trusting relationships crucial to family engagement can occur.

Livingtree Engage is a district-wide platform designed to provide a safe, secure space for educators and families to engage in a child’s learning – because engaged families ultimately produce better learning outcomes for every child. So, if families have one consistent place to see what’s going on in the classroom, have conversations with their child’s educator, and view upcoming events from the classroom, school, and district, school districts will see increased family engagement, and ultimately student success.

Can Technology Improve Family Engagement?

Every model of reform in education has as a necessary component: the idea that families need to be connected to the process of learning. Family engagement then, is not a “nice to have,” but a “must have” if we are to once and for all meet the goals we have for all of our children. As leaders in education, we can no longer ignore what sixty years of research has told us, and instead should focus on developing strategies and practices to engage families, because this is what is going to ultimately increase the success and achievement of our students.

Family engagement strategies will typically incorporate a mix of Family Academic Socialization, Home Learning Support, Home Visits, Home Phone Calls, Family-Teacher Conferences, Academic “Nights”, School Events, etc. One of the biggest components we often see lacking in family engagement strategies is the technology. In a time when 95% of people in the United States own a cellphone, nine-in-ten or more adults younger than 50 say they go online or own a smartphone, and young adults report preferring texting to phone calls, it seems that technology is making one of the greatest impacts in society, as well as education. While we know that technology can make communication with families easier, can it improve family engagement? To answer that question, let’s first take a look at a key component of family engagement: Meaningful Two-Way Communication.

For school districts to further their family engagement efforts, it’s important to truly understand the role that meaningful two-way communication plays and how it leverages the necessary engagement that promotes better learning outcomes for all students. Research has shown that schools which place an emphasis on effective two-way communication are more likely to create environments that are conducive to engaging families because of the trust that is restored and the relationships that are built. It’s those very relationships that promote family efficacy which are the key ingredients in supporting learning outside of school, resulting in positive impacts on student learning outcomes.

There are an abundance of ways to communicate with families, but we forget to evaluate how these methods move the needle on family engagement. Many schools and districts are adept at one-way communication, resulting in only providing families with information that may or may not be understood. Often, there is little or no mechanism for families to engage in meaningful dialog about the information received. Weekly folders home, website posts, newsletters, blogs, social posts, mass texts and emails are all examples of one-way communication that at best, ask a family to verify that they have received the information. In order to actually register positive change and create meaningful dialogue with families to improve student achievement, we must empower families and provide them the opportunities to have conversations about their child’s learning.

In order to actually register positive change and create meaningful dialogue with families to improve student achievement, we must empower families and provide them the opportunities to have conversations about their child’s learning.

According to Dr. Steve Constantino, a national family engagement expert: “family engagement is a process, not an event or a series of events.” Families do not become engaged or stay engaged through standalone school events, but instead the relationships that are built. With family engagement hinging on the relationships that are built with families, it’s important to realize that our educators are the catalysts of the relationships. Families depend on the educators of their children to keep them informed, answer their questions and involve them in the learning process.

In today’s technical society where we have new generations of families that are consistently connecting online, it’s now possible to “go to” families and reach them anywhere, at their convenience. With the right online platform, educators can move beyond information sharing to meaningful two-way conversations which promote both family efficacy and engagement.

To promote the active engagement of families, Dr. Constantino suggests educators can “supply [families] with information about what is happening in school before it happens; prompt them with questions (and answers) they can ask their children…provide a mechanism so that families can share with teachers how their children responded to questions.” Another idea is to even “integrate families into homework assignments and maybe even projects.” Not only are these proven techniques that promote the efficacy of families, but when facilitated through a secure family engagement platform, they effectively start meaningful conversations that engage families in their child’s learning.

So can technology improve family engagement? The answer is yes – we can definitely improve family engagement by providing families a family engagement platform, such as Livingtree Engage. By accounting for the family cultural shift around technology, and adapting family engagement strategies, school districts can establish an impactful way through technology to have more meaningful two-way conversations with families that promote efficacy and engagement. At the root, providing a safe, secure space for educators and families to engage is what sustains relationships that create engaged families, and ultimately student success.

At the root, providing a safe, secure space for educators and families to engage is what sustains relationships that create engaged families, and ultimately student success.

Every family, regardless of their station in life, desire that their children exceed them in their quality of life. If we pursue family engagement just for the sake of family engagement, then we’ll never be able to truly change the lives of our students and we will quickly dash the hopes of families everywhere. Engaged families produce better learning outcomes for every child.

To learn more about how Livingtree Engage can help sustain family engagement efforts and promote efficacy in your school or district, click here.

2018-19 K-12 Mid-Year Crowdfunding Risk Report

Crowdfunding has exploded in K-12 education. The number of campaign requests, as well as the number of donations towards these campaigns have significantly increased over the years. Data from one popular crowdfunding site for teachers showed that during the 2017-2018 school year, over 254,000 campaigns were funded, resulting in over $152 million in funds raised for K-12 classrooms, projects, and experiences.

This type of online crowdfunding has opened enormous opportunities for K-12 school districts to raise funds for projects, equipment and supplies. Crowdfunding is ultimately helping close the education funding gap and support the needs of schools and students. Its efficiency and effectiveness have been proven not only through the generous donation amounts, but also through the speed and ease compared to traditional methods like burrito or donut sales.

Despite the many benefits of online crowdfunding, school districts need to be aware of the associated risks and liabilities. Every single campaign that is posted poses serious liabilities for a school district, depending on how the campaign is pitched, what names are used, what the campaign is raising funds for, and what type of student information (photos, names, etc.) is displayed. Every donation made to the campaign also comes with financial liabilities for a school district, including where that money is routed, who controls or oversees those funds, who owns the funds, how inventory is accounted for, and how the school district manages to report those funds.

The lack of proper built-in oversight, tracking and reporting on crowdfunding sites – even education-specific sites, present significant legal and reputational risks for school districts across the country. Every school district should have oversight for any online fundraiser conducted in the name of the district, a district school or a district employee.

At Livingtree, it’s our goal to help school districts understand the risks of crowdfunding, and better manage the process within their district to ultimately raise more money. Due to the recent publications from state auditors and school board associations on crowdfunding, Livingtree decided to take a deeper dive and report what is happening right now. To provide a better picture of the current risks school districts are facing this year, we took the latest data from the earlier mentioned crowdfunding website to develop this Mid-Year Education Crowdfunding Report.

According to the crowdfunding website, over 145,000 projects have been fully funded so far in the 2018-2019 school year. At that pace, we expect to see around 290,000 fully funded campaigns by the end of this school year, an increase of 36,000 campaigns from the previous year. In addition, this year’s completed campaigns have raised over $77 million of donations for teachers and school projects. Based on that number, we’d expect to end the school year with around $154 million of donations, an increase of $2 million over last year. Since this data is only taken from one popular crowdfunding site, it’s likely that the overall crowdfunding totals are much greater.

To further understand this issue, Livingtree compiled all of the campaign data from the crowdfunding site for the 2018-2019 school year and composed lists to help identify which states currently have the highest risk when it comes to education crowdfunding. Below, we’ll examine the states with the Highest Average Amount Raised per District, the Highest Average Number of Campaigns Posted per District, and the Highest Average Number of High Risk Campaigns Posted per District.

Note: the data is organized to represent states in amounts per district to give the most accurate representation of every state. Hawaii and the District of Columbia are not represented in the data.

Highest Average Amount Raised per District

StateAvg Amount Raised Per DistrictTotal Amount Raised (Statewide)
Florida$57,479.91$4,253,513.32
Nevada$42,042.15$756,758.69
Utah$40,327.33$1,653,420.65
Maryland$40,118.36$962,840.74
North Carolina$32,785.70$3,770,355.42
South Carolina$22,163.51$1,861,734.46
Louisiana$18,089.54$1,266,267.86
California$13,182.13$12,404,386.71
Delaware$13,141.04$249,679.84
Virginia$12,485.71$1,648,113.87
Georgia$10,534.94$1,896,289.92
Massachusetts$9,805.79$2,333,777.15
Texas$9,486.36$9,761,468.95
Tennessee$8,855.31$1,248,599.03
Connecticut$8,411.12$1,421,479.43
Arizona$8,395.31$1,897,340.05
Rhode Island$7,415.36$259,537.51
New York$7,076.41$4,932,259.16
Alabama$6,898.59$945,106.61
Mississippi$6,152.57$929,038.73
Alaska$6,018.77$318,994.63
Idaho$5,595.59$643,492.62
Colorado$5,291.34$941,858.24
Oregon$5,030.50$905,490.29
Indiana$4,891.85$1,447,986.53
Washington$4,837.99$1,441,720.76
West Virginia$4,749.19$261,205.20
Pennsylvania$4,356.19$2,178,095.45
Oklahoma$3,841.52$2,001,429.55
Illinois$3,826.11$3,309,581.73
New Mexico$3,691.19$328,515.69
Kentucky$3,689.04$645,582.54
Minnesota$3,072.05$1,044,497.13
Michigan$2,960.27$1,628,147.41
Wisconsin$2,899.49$1,223,582.74
Missouri$2,734.23$1,424,533.66
Arkansas$2,624.42$624,611.88
Ohio$2,441.36$1,508,758.66
New Jersey$2,376.73$1,430,790.69
Wyoming$2,031.94$97,532.93
New Hampshire$1,898.28$317,012.57
Maine$1,731.74$412,154.09
Kansas$1,263.09$390,295.37
South Dakota$970.19$146,498.51
Iowa$890.90$310,032.83
Nebraska$613.40$152,735.74
Montana$552.87$229,439.89
North Dakota$319.74$58,192.12
Vermont$228.82$60,409.64

Florida made number one on the list for the highest amount of money raised from the crowdfunding site, averaging out at over $57,000 per school district. The next three states all averaged over $40,000 in funding per school district.

Regardless as to whether these donations reach schools in the form of funding or project items, a district must be able to ensure that every dollar is tracked and properly routed, and oversee the process to maintain accurate inventory and donation reporting. State-wide totals are also included in this report for reference.

Highest Average Number of Campaigns Posted per District

StateAvg Number of Campaigns Per DistrictTotal Number of Campaigns (Statewide)
Florida107.27931
Nevada86.11550
Maryland76.01823
Utah64.62648
North Carolina62.57185
South Carolina47.03947
Louisiana30.12107
Delaware28.8547
Virginia26.13442
California20.819562
Georgia20.03595
Massachusetts17.04053
Connecticut16.02710
Tennessee15.82229
Texas14.514963
Rhode Island14.4505
New York13.19097
Alabama12.01646
Arizona11.82674
Mississippi10.41574
West Virginia10.3564
Indiana10.33035
Oregon9.31680
Colorado9.31661
Washington9.22739
Idaho9.01032
Alaska9.0475
Pennsylvania8.84399
Kentucky7.21258
Oklahoma7.13685
New Mexico7.1628
Illinois7.06057
Michigan6.03304
Wisconsin5.82458
Minnesota5.71951
Missouri5.72965
Arkansas5.01185
Ohio4.93030
New Jersey4.32601
Maine3.5831
Wyoming3.5166
New Hampshire3.3547
Kansas2.7848
South Dakota1.9294
Iowa1.9659
Nebraska1.4339
Montana1.0414
North Dakota0.6106
Vermont0.5120

Florida again tops the list at number one for the highest average number of campaigns posted from the crowdfunding site, at 107.2 campaigns per school district so far this year. The higher the number of campaigns being posted, the higher the risks and liabilities for school districts without fundraising controls in place. And without the ability for school districts to review and approve campaigns before they go live, it’s almost impossible to be sure that the campaign meets all of school district’s requirements.

Highest Average Number of High Risk Campaigns Posted per District

StateAvg Number of High Risk Campaigns Per DistrictTotal Number of High Risk Campaigns (Statewide)
Nevada7.7139
Florida6.9513
Maryland6.3150
Utah4.8198
North Carolina3.8434
South Carolina2.6220
Delaware2.547
Rhode Island2.278
Massachusetts2.2519
Virginia2.0259
Louisiana1.8127
New York1.61107
Texas1.61631
California1.41345
Georgia1.4252
Connecticut1.2209
Arizona1.0223
Tennessee0.9130
Washington0.8229
Pennsylvania0.7373
Illinois0.7621
Oregon0.7120
Alabama0.791
Colorado0.7118
Idaho0.776
Indiana0.6190
New Mexico0.653
Alaska0.529
Minnesota0.5179
Kentucky0.589
Oklahoma0.5259
Michigan0.4224
Wisconsin0.4170
Mississippi0.459
New Jersey0.4233
West Virginia0.420
Missouri0.3173
Ohio0.3197
Maine0.361
New Hampshire0.240
Kansas0.258
South Dakota0.228
Iowa0.259
Arkansas0.240
Nebraska0.128
Vermont0.09
Montana0.014
North Dakota0.04
Wyoming0.01

Nevada leads the way for the highest average number of high-risk campaigns posted from the crowdfunding site, at 7.7 high risk campaigns posted per district so far this year. At Livingtree, we identify high risk campaigns as those classified on the crowdfunding website as either “Special Needs” or “ESL.” The classification of high risk is due to the fact that “Special Needs” campaigns have a high possibility of violating a student’s IEP, which a district would be legally required to fund through IDEA. There are also special services that ESL students qualify for that can’t be funded outside of the school district. These are all in addition to the existing risks that go along with crowdfunding, making them much higher risk campaigns. So far this school year, “ESL” and “Special Needs” are ranked as the 7th and 8th most popular project categories.

What to do next:

Again, it’s important to note that these statistics were generated from a single crowdfunding site, and that this is only a piece of the “crowdfunding picture.” We’d expect that total crowdfunding numbers are much larger, however it is difficult to collect data from every single site out there.

Because of these statistics and the associated risks, some districts take the easy route by setting policies that ban crowdfunding. However, this option forgoes the many benefits that crowdfunding has to offer for school districts, and creates a new task of having to police the large number of crowdfunding sites to ensure district members aren’t using them.

The other option is to evaluate online fundraising management options and adopt one that provides an automated district approval process for all campaigns, tracks all donations, routes funds through a district account, gives the district access to their donor information, provides aggregated reporting for every campaign, and has built in tools to make fundraising easy for any PTA/PTO, booster, club, team, or district member.

Once a management platform is selected, procedures and guidelines can be written to accompany the school district’s fundraising policies (no, you don’t actually have to re-write policies!). These should clearly outline rules for only using the district’s chosen fundraising management platform, campaign approval criteria, required campaign content, and ownership of the funds raised.

Once this is all in place, start fundraising! With your district overseeing the entire fundraising process and having official procedures to guide the process, fundraising becomes manageable and easy.

If you are curious about your school district’s risk potential on the crowdfunding site we used, check out the free tool created by Livingtree to evaluate your district’s risk potential, dollars collected, and number of campaigns posted so far this school year: https://learn.livingtree.com/risk-analysis

Is your school district ready to start evaluating fundraising management solutions? Then download our free Crowdfunding Considerations Guide for K-12 School Districts and know the 7 important areas to evaluate when looking at fundraising sites: https://try.livingtree.com/crowdfunding-considerations-blog/

Data Sourced from:
https://data.donorschoose.org/explore-our-impact/

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