A step further, John, would be to EXPECT this of a parent-teacher-student relationship. You are hinting at a climate change in the way a school is run - and I love it. "It takes a village to raise a child" has significant meaning here, and demands our attention as educators. The family conference is a key potential player in this climate change.
Thomas, I think that parents are just too busy. Pride gets in the way, but the truth is a parent wants to swoop in and be the change their child needs. Not all, but a large percentile of families often appear to be ships passing in the fog - it's really up to school to help them understand each other, and the conference COULD be a great place for this to happen.
I think you are spot on when it comes to conferencing with families - they need to know what to expect coming into the conversation. In other words, the skeletal framework can't be a surprise. All too often we think that a 15-minute conversation is all that is needed to build rapport with our families. But the conversation should go much deeper and be available all the time.
Perhaps what I am getting to is a set of standards we expect from parents when it comes to understanding their child's expectations...we can hold them as accountable for understanding as we can for a child's success in learning, right?