• by Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed. • IDRA Newsletter • October 2014 •

Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed.As IDRA publishes its 29th Texas Public School Attrition Study, we remind ourselves how important it is for parents to have that data and, more importantly, understand what it means. Attrition data point to patterns but give no clear reason for the trends. Communities must make sense of the figures through further investigation.

Whether or not a family’s children are in school, all families need to know how schools are doing in keeping school-age children in school and succeeding in their studies. Families can use the data to further investigate the why’s and wherefores’ of the issue. Schools need to know what families think and more importantly how families and schools can partner to meet the challenge.

In 2007-08, we worked with a group of families in El Paso who were very concerned about the mathematics scores of the students in a large high school that was predominantly Latino and poor. They created a questionnaire and surveyed their peers. The information they collected was surprising and useful for the school in modifying intensive professional development for teachers.

Parent’s Skills as Teachers? Not in This Approach

Before we explore some questions parents can ask, let us be clear about the domain we are working in. Parenting training is a broad discipline targeted to improving parent’s skills in bringing up and educating their children. Within this domain, the conversation is focused on the parent as teacher. There is a large body of literature that focuses on parents: their literacy, economic status, education, etc. Our focus is on the institution rather than the family. Rather than attempting to “fix” what is perceived to be broken at home, we choose to focus on what to improve in the school.

We address those aspects of family engagement that highlight parents as resources to the school, as decision makers about the quality of the education of their children, and as leaders in creating schools that work for all children. It is an asset-based, valuing approach – therefore the title “Family Leadership in Education.”

Parents as Resources for Quality Education

Parents, families and others in the community can inquire about school without any further preparation than their faith in their children and their desire to have high quality schools. A parent does not need to know the content, the language of instruction or effective teaching pedagogy to judge whether children are learning and succeeding.

Leadership in education emerges when…

  • A parent answers critical questions being asked by another parent,
  • A parent asks questions of his or her peers,
  • Parent surveyors and interviewers make sense of the responses they collect, and
  • Action is taken based on the information learned from the family-to-family survey.

Developing and Conducting a Survey

Any school or community parent organization can take the attrition information in IDRA’s study and develop a simple questionnaire to survey their neighbors and peers. Following the pattern of the survey developed by the El Paso parents some questions that may be asked are:

  • How are your children doing academically?
  • Are your children encouraged to ask questions when they don’t understand something?
  • When your children don’t understand a concept, is it re-taught in a different way?
  • What helps your children learn in school?
  • What blocks your children from learning in school?

Additional possible questions include:

  • Are rigorous classes available to all students?
  • Are the teachers prepared and certified to teach their classes?
  • Do any teachers consider college preparation as appropriate only for a select few students?
  • Does the school have resources to hire sufficient, highly qualified teachers?

At the elementary level:

  • Are any teachers explicitly demonstrating a deficit view of the students or of their own ability to teach?
  • How are deficiencies in staff being made up?
  • Are the best and brightest teachers reaching the children whose classroom teachers admit to limitations in certain areas?

The survey can be administered by parents with parents in the language of the community. The information gathered can be tabulated and studied by the group conducting the survey. The results then can be reported to the sponsoring organization, the administrators of the schools involved and the teachers.

Families Bonding and Increasing School Holding Power

Without attempting to convert the parents into teachers you nevertheless are giving them a valid and important function in the education of their children. Families can give the school important information that addresses some issues of why children give up on learning, get bored with school and stop seeing education as an important part of their life. Added benefits are the nurturing of stronger bonds and connections among families and with their schools. All this to give substance to their collective dream: that their children get an excellent education and be prepared for college and beyond.


Grayson, K., and A. Montemayor. “Community Conversations about Math Learning and Teaching,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, January 2008).

Montemayor, A.M. “Latino Parent Engagement in High School Math,” Classnotes podcast (Episode 31: April 3, 2008).

Montemayor, A.M. “This We Know – All of Our Children are Learning,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association May 2007).

Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed., is a senior education associate in IDRA Field Services. Comments and questions may be directed to him via email at feedback@idra.org.

[©2014, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the October 2014 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.]