• by Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed. • IDRA Newsletter • January 2007
Every public school must provide the best possible education for all children – including those who are economically challenged, minority and who speak a language other than English. According to IDRA’s Quality Schools Action Framework, to have that capacity, each school needs to have curriculum quality and access, teaching quality, student engagement, and parent and community engagement.
School Capacity Key Elements
Quality curriculum refers to excellent educational programs of study, materials and other learning resources, such as technology, and their accessibility to all students. It involves school practices, fair and unbiased assessment of students and taking responsibility for the academic success of all students.
Quality teaching means that teachers are prepared and placed in their field of study. Teaching is informed by continual professional development and teacher classroom practices to deliver comprehensible instruction that prepares all students to stay in school, be on level and meet academic goals.
Student engagement refers to a school environment and activities that value students and incorporate them in learning and co-curricular school activities resulting in academic achievement.
Parent and community engagement means creating partnerships based on respect and a shared goal of academic success as well as integrating parents and community members into the decision-making processes of the school. A strong element to ensure that schools can do well by students, parent engagement is also a crucial requirement for schools receiving federal funds.
The federal No Child Left Behind Act acknowledges that parents can be the ideal partners and strongest advocates for schools in building their capacity to serve all children with excellent curriculum, instruction and guarantees that they will graduate well educated and prepared for higher education and other opportunities.
While coming up for review, NCLB is still the law for all schools receiving Title I money. It has key pieces that speak to parent engagement and that, in fact, re-affirm the partnership of families with schools to have schools work for all children.
Since its inception in 1965 in its original form, this epochal federal support for public schools serving economically disadvantaged students has required parent participation and input. Each new iteration of the law has given depth and breadth to the parent element.
Parent Engagement Challenge
The expansion of requirements attempts to move the parent engagement of school districts and schools from token to real, from simulated to authentic, from minimum to adequate, and from the letter to the spirit.
The current law has?five key elements that apply to all schools: standards, such as the comprehensive Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills; assessments, such as the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills in Texas; report cards for students, for schools and for school districts; high-quality teachers and reading programs; and adequate yearly progress (AYP) so that all students meet the reading and math standards by 2014.
The current NCLB iteration has six major leverage points for parents, as Anne T. Henderson has effectively identified (2002). Below is a list of these leverage points along with possible strategies.
Major Leverage Points and Creative Possibilities
School Parent Involvement Policy – Every Title I school must have an updated written policy, developed with and approved by parents.
Possibilities: The PTA can sponsor a half-day retreat for parents to gather with faculty and staff and conduct a force-field analysis on what the ideal policy for parent engagement would be on the campus. Beyond a written document that would be linear, static and somewhat legalistic, the force-field structure would enable the group to brainstorm the ideal and write a brief narrative that would include all the ideas brought up. There would be two lists following the ideal: the current forces supporting and blocking the achievement of the ideal, and a prioritization of five major steps the school can take to increase the supporting forces and simultaneously decrease the blocking forces.
School-Parent Compact – Every Title I school must have a compact developed and approved by parents that spells out how the school and parents will build a partnership to improve student achievement.
Possibilities: Similar to the above, a campus can invite representatives of the faculty and staff, parents, students and community. They can meet as subgroups and list the responsibilities the group will agree to and the expectations they have. A compact can be a summary of all the reports given by the representative groups. This can be an energizing and re-vitalizing Saturday event.
District-wide policy – Every school district must have a Title I parent engagement policy developed with and approved by parents.
Possibilities: Any parents and families at a campus or across campuses can review what exists, make recommendations and submit them to the Title I coordinator. A meeting to review and make recommendations can be held, all key ideas recorded and these submitted to the appropriate administrator. If language is an issue, bilingual personnel and/or parents can help with translation and clarification.
Report Cards – Every school and the district at large must report campus and district performance to families and the community.
Possibilities: Parents can gather at an evening meeting with school personnel to review the report cards, with information provided in comprehensible languages. A parent-school staff team can facilitate a dialogue to explore the assets and strengths of the school and of the community and also identify the critical needs in curriculum, scheduling, instructional quality and creative alternatives to accelerate student learning and achievement.
Public school choice and supplemental services – Families whose children are attending schools that are not making adequate progress can request a transfer to schools that are achieving AYP. Another option is to request supplemental services for their children.
Possibilities: Parents and educators can come together for their school to identify the resources that need to be brought to bear and the support needs in approaching the district, the state and the federal government to turn the campus around. They can decide what interim measures the school-parent-community collaborative must take to support children in their learning while keeping the joy in learning, the faith that all children can achieve, and while keeping all children in school and succeeding academically.
State Review of Parent Involvement Compliance – If there is major non-compliance with the NCLB requirements, parents can request that the state education agency visit and review the status of the district. Even though this is an extreme measure and requires more time and effort from the community, it can serve as a wake-up call for the school and district to have true and meaningful parent engagement.
Possibilities: A group of parents can come together and draft a letter to the state education agency’s NCLB/Title I coordinator or other point-person and list their concerns about the status of parent engagement at a Title I campus or school district. The letter can be simultaneously sent to key administrators at the school district as well as at the state education agency. The process of coming together to share concerns can itself be a step in creating a network of families collaborating and focusing on the critical issues to improve their schools. It is not as important that the group know all the details of the regulations but that the spirit of the legislation be understood. Inviting the state to visit the schools is in itself an occasion for great dialogue, sharing and discovery.
Several pressures – such as the current onslaught against public education, the school obituaries written by proponents of transferring public monies to private schools, and the AYP being perceived by many school leaders as a pendant sword soon to fall – are strong reasons to see parents as particularly appropriate partners in the improvement of their schools. The children – the ultimate clients – can have no greater or persistent advocates for their education.
There are more details and aspects of the law that are important to know and be able to use as motivators or catalysts for improving schools, but the major leverage points listed above are broad enough and strong enough to provide families and community members with a sound base for engagement. These levers are capacity building tools for parents to lift schools to high levels of academic success.
|Resources for Engaging Families
Community and Public Engagement in Education Opportunity and Challenge
Developing and Sustaining Research-Based Programs of School, Family, and Community Partnerships
Diversity: School, Family and Community Connections
Helping Practitioners Meet the Goals of No Child Left Behind
New Wave of Evidence: The Impact of School, Family and Community Connections on Student Achievement
No Child Left Behind: A Parents Guide
No Child Left Behind: What’s in it for Parents
The Social Context of Parental Involvement: A Path to Enhanced Achievement
Ten Facts Every Parent Should Know About the No Child Left Behind Act
Texans Testify on No Child Left Behind
Henderson, A. No Child Left Behind: What’s in it for Parents (Arlington, Va.: Parent Leadership Associates, 2002)
Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed., is IDRA’s lead trainer and is the director of the Texas IDRA Parent Information and Resource Center. He also serves on the national board of the PTA. Comments and questions may be directed to him via e-mail at email@example.com.
[©2007, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the January 2007 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. 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.]