Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed.

“¿Oye, qué sacates?” “¿Y tú pasates?”
[Psst, What d’ju get? An’ you, d’ju Pass?]

Two students whispering across their desks reflect the general concern with the markers of academic achievement. Grades have been with us since formal education began and will not disappear. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act has been with us since the mid-1960s and, through the No Child Left Behind Act, continues to require schools to inform families about the academic status of their children. Additionally, a school academic report card is one of a series of mandates that federal dollars require. For the federally-funded network of parent information and resource centers (PIRCs), it is a key piece of information to be transmitted to families whose children attend Title I schools.

Beyond the Report Card

Actionable knowledge is an important ingredient for building the capacity of communities to collaborate with schools. Grades are one piece of data that a community needs to understand, review and compare with other data about the achievement levels, retention, etc.

IDRA has publications and online resources to support actionable knowledge and school accountability. To assess the strengths and weaknesses of a school in Texas and work with others to improve it, see IDRA’s bilingual OurSchool data portal (www.idra.org/OurSchool or www.idra.org/OurSchoolsp). (See also, Posner & Bojorquez, 2010).

In addition, IDRA’s new book, Courage to Connect – A Quality Schools Action Framework (Robledo Montecel & Goodman, 2010) presents IDRA’s framework in which the levers of change are centered on actionable knowledge. The critical change strategy of community capacity building is described in this book.

If Info Disseminated But No One Gets It…(or “It’s in the [e-]mail”)

Disseminating student information through paper reports mailed to the home, telephone messages or electronic transmittal might minimally cover the letter of the law, but these tactics do not support authentic communication or a conversation about the status of students’ learning progress.

There are 32 discrete parent involvement requirements that come with federal Title I dollars. Simply presenting these in print or in PowerPoint slides to families – even when translated and written in lay terms – is clearly not enough. Mailing a document to families has a similar impact as that of weekly fliers and advertisements from businesses, commonly considered junk mail. Families are not really informed by such efforts, and there is no facilitation for them to take action on the data. Even parent-teacher nights rarely provide ample opportunity for in-depth communication between school and home.

Authentic Accountability

A truly accountable school has real communication with individual families and provides collective opportunities for conversation about how children are doing academically and socially. For there to be ongoing and sustained change for the better, there must be an ongoing effort to build the capacity of the community to understand and be able to use the school information (Posner, 2010).

The big challenge is how to build the capacity within families to make their schools accountable. It is labor-intensive, but it can be done. Staff and school volunteers can selectively contact families in their homes, inviting them to communicate with the school, giving information in a personal and understandable manner, listening to their opinions and encouraging them to pass information on to their friends.

If personal communication is established as a regular pattern and parents who are willing and able are encouraged to communicate with their peers, a whole new relationship is established among families and between families and the school.

 Successes in Outreach & Community Capacity Building

The PIRC resources are focused primarily serving Title I families and their schools. During the last 10 years, IDRA’s Texas PIRC has worked in partnership with community leadership and families in very poor South Texas communities building their capacity to hold their schools accountable.

Though hard-pressed to meet the basic needs of their children, these families are vitally interested in their children’s educational success. And many of their schools are barely meeting academic standards, if at all, and are informally labeled as undesirable campuses by teachers and the broader community.

Within this context and from these unincorporated communities (colonias) a grassroots organization, ARISE, comes from and supports families: colonia residents who are equally desirous of seeing their children succeed and be prepared for college.

The outreach and communication approach ARISE uses involves the following:

  • Visit and communicate directly and often with the families in an immediate neighborhood.
  • Discover and uncover talents, dreams, needs and desires.
  • Provide some services but also require in-kind reciprocity.
  • As potential leaders emerge, support them and give them more responsibility.

This personalized approach exponentially increases the available human capital over time.

The IDRA Texas PIRC has provided bilingual training and technical assistance, grounded on the assets and wishes documented by ARISE. We have discussed key Title I parent rights and responsibilities in parent-friendly language and connected to their stated expectations through participation and interaction that support critical thinking. School data are integrated into a problem-solving, highly engaging activity.

Bilingual participants are critical to the process when some only understand one of the presentation languages. This is so because the goal is not so much the transfer of information but participant conversation. Switching between languages challenges the presenter but does not take twice as long to transmit the information, as some expect. The ensuing dialogue actually enables greater retention of key ideas and provides a much more stimulating experience for all involved.

Conversation about the education of their children builds capacity in families for self direction in communicating with school and increased potential for engaging their neighbors for the success of all children. Nurturing the capacity to engage in dialogue among families and with school educators, administrators and other staff expands family leadership. The ability of the community to transform its schools is set in motion.

Resources

Posner, L., & H. Bojorquez. “Knowledge for Action – Organizing School-Community Partnerships Around Quality Data,” in Robledo Montecel, M., & C. Goodman (eds), Courage to Connect: A Quality Schools Action Framework (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 2010).

Posner, L. “Actionable Knowledge – Putting Research to Work for School-Community Action” in Robledo Montecel, M., & C. Goodman (eds), Courage to Connect: A Quality Schools Action Framework (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 2010).

Robledo Montecel, M., & C. Goodman (eds). Courage to Connect: A Quality Schools Action Framework (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 2010).

Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed., is an IDRA senior education associate and director of the Texas IDRA Parent Information and Resource Center. Comments and questions may be directed to him via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©2011, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the February 2011 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Every effort has been made to maintain the content in its original form. However, accompanying charts and graphs may not be provided here. To receive a copy of the original article by mail or fax, please fill out our information request and feedback form. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.] 

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