• By Aurelio M. Montemayor, Ed.D. • IDRA Newsletter • November- December 2007
running up to the families are a great distraction.” “I feel I really succeed in parent involvement if I get 30 warm bodies in the room for the meeting.”
Not only are these opinions passé, the intentions reflected in them do not help parent involvement staff meet the requirements of the law.
For purposes of illustration below, two major points of view are divided into the old and the new paradigm of parent engagement.
The Old Paradigm
Volunteers and free labor for an understaffed, under funded and overextended school;
Participants in hobbies and enjoyable activities such as crocheting, decoupage and aerobics; and
Course attendees for self-improvement, such as English as a second language, citizenship class and driver’s license preparation.
We have several generations of professionals who are parent involvement specialists. Their positions are mostly funded through the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Many come from having been parent volunteers who were rewarded by the school by hiring them as parent liaisons.
The traditions mentioned above are part of the weekly tasks and activities of many family liaisons. They set-up craft groups that knit, collage or otherwise create objects for raising funds or simply for personal enjoyment. Fundraising for the school, inherited from older parent organizations, continues to prevail.
In all these activities, family participation has reflected community interests, priorities, accessibility and affordable time. Many of the very successful family involvement personnel in this mainstream are dynamic, go-getting and charismatic. These family involvement leaders create a strong following and dependence from poor and minority families. Sometimes these same popular leaders are patronizing and condescending toward families, especially families that are poor, minority or speak a language other than English.
These points of view have little room for perceiving the parent as co-constructor of an excellent education for all children. Even loving statements about parents, from these traditions, cast them as naïve, child-like and in need of guidance and correction.
The New Paradigm
Parent engagement as proposed and carried out by IDRA (and that coincides quite well with the spirit of Section 1118 of the Title I regulations) is in a different realm than the traditions listed above. Effective parent engagement to meet the letter of the law presumes a very different view of parents and their role in education.
This difference is dramatically highlighted in the key parent pieces in the statute: (1) School Parent Involvement Policy; (2) Parent-School Compact; (3) District-wide and Campus Policy; (4) Report Cards; (5) Public School Choice and Supplemental Educational Services; and (6) State Review of Parent Involvement Compliance.
Each of the above requirements attests to the change in direction for parent involvement. None of these can be complied with by increasing the traditional parent volunteer and fundraising activities. Evening classes for parents, though beneficial, will not meet the requirements unless the topic is the requirements themselves.
All of the Title I mandates are focused directly on the academic success of children. They rightly recognize that parents are vitally interested in that topic. Below are examples.
- Developing and approving policy requires dialogue and critical thinking. A meeting for this purpose must have parents present and participating.
- School-family compact requires parents coming together to determine their responsibilities and agreements with the school to ensure the academic success of their children, while also listing what is expected of the school.
- Report cards present critical information to parents and engage them in the status of their children in school.
- Public school choice and supplementary educational services empower parents to make informed decisions about their children’s effective instruction.
- Inviting the state educational agency to ensure parent involvement compliance is a dramatic opportunity for parents to request that the state monitor the school district and their children’s schools.
New Paradigm Requirements
Each of these examples necessitates school personnel – and very specifically parent liaisons – to communicate directly and effectively with families. The locus is the family and, therefore, requires personal outreach, home visits, multiple settings for meetings and seeking creative ways to inform families who, because of work and other circumstances, are not able to attend an evening meeting on campus.
As stated by López, et al.: “A home-school relationship should be a co-constructed reciprocal activity in which both the agency and sense of efficacy of parents, and the involvement opportunities provided by schools and other institutions that work with children are important” (2005).
In a Latino neighborhood, it might be that the key parent volunteers are the center of a comadre network, with each one acknowledged and validated for the number of other families they communicate directly with about school matters and events. These secondary contacts are in turn encouraged and supported in developing their own networks of parents for the same purposes.
From “Some” to “All”
Each NCLB parent involvement policy point requires a parent engagement approach that recognizes intelligence, critical thinking, informed decision-making and assertiveness in demanding the highest quality of education for children. And though this policy is aimed at economically disadvantaged parents, these assumptions are already made about middle-class, professional and formally educated parents. These assumptions, applied to all parents, are the paradigm shift.
Sample Title I Tasks from Texas
School Parent Involvement Policy – Every Title I school must have an updated written policy, developed with and approved by parents.
– Every Title I school must have an updated written policy, developed with and approved by parents
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.
District-wide policy – Every school district must have a Title I parent engagement policy developed with and approved by parents.
Report Cards – Every school and the district at large must report campus and district performance to families and the community.
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.
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.
Source: Texas Education Agency. An Administrator’s Abbreviated Checklist NCLB – Parental Involvement (Austin, Texas: Texas Education Agency, 2006).
A New Wave of Evidence:
Here are key points from a research synthesis authored by Anne T. Henderson and Karen L. Mapp, published by Southwest Educational Development Laboratory.
Key Findings about Impact
Many forms of family and community involvement influence student achievement at all ages.
Key Findings about Making Connections
When programs and initiatives focus on building respectful and trusting relationships among school staff, families and community members, they are more effective in creating and sustaining connections that support student achievement.
A New Wave of Evidence is available free online at as full-text PDF at http://www.sedl.org/cgi-bin/pdfexit.cgi?url=http://www.sedl.org/connections/resources/evidence.pdf
López, M.E., and H. Kreider, M. Caspe. “Evaluating Family Involvement Programs. Theory and Practice. Co-Constructing Family Involvement,” The Evaluation Exchange (Volume X, No. 4, Winter 2004-2005).
Montemayor, A.M. “IDRA’s Family Leadership Principles,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, September 2007).
Montemayor, A.M. “Every Family Engaged = Every Child Ahead: Building School Capacity through NCLB Parent Participation Requirements,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, January 2007).
Wilson, B., and D.H. Corbett. “I didn’t know I could do that”: Parents learning to be leaders through the Commonwealth Institute for Parent Leadership (Lexington, Ken.: Commonwealth Institute for Parent Leadership, 2000).
Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed, is an IDRA senior education associate and director of the Texas IDRA Parent Information and Resource Center. He also serves on the national board of PTA. Comments and questions may be directed to him via e-mail at email@example.com.
[©2007, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the November- December 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.]