• By Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed. • IDRA Newsletter • September 2007
When Dr. José A. Cárdenas founded IDRA in the spring of 1973, with a singular focus on equitable funding for all public schools in Texas, he set in motion an organization that, as it approaches its 35th year, embraces and carries out action to ensure fair funding for the common good, effective governance of schools, parent involvement and community engagement, student engagement, teaching quality, and curriculum quality and access. We observe and report key outcome indicators for school holding power and student success. Each of our areas of focus has grown over time as we continue our mission of working with others to create public schools that work for all children.
Family leadership in education has been one of those strands that has been with us from the beginning but also one that has evolved and grown with experience and knowledge.
Key Terms in Family Engagement
Each word in family leadership in education has special meaning.
Family – Parents are just one set of key actors rearing children. There are grandparents, other adult kin and foster families. The individuals in this circle are those who are legally, morally and practically responsible for the children and who would most likely be the advocate for the best possible education for the children they rear and most likely want a future filled with many options for those children.
Leadership – We, at IDRA, are not as interested in fundraising and free labor for schools as we are in family members who want to be a positive influence on their children, on schools and on the outcomes of student achievement, success and access to higher education. Our volunteerism focuses on families advocating, bringing together, collaborating and joining other families and schools to create excellent and equitable public schools. Within the field of parent involvement in education, some areas, such as parenting, are well documented and explored and have a myriad of resources, training and programs. Parenting is a case in point. Important as it is to help parents to be better at parenting, becoming more adept at preparing them for school and guiding them through their school years, our leadership focus highlights the critical area of families taking action for improving schools.
In Education – Even though there are many good, important and worthwhile causes for families to take leadership in (health insurance for all children, for example), IDRA keeps its focus on neighborhood public schools.
IDRA Principles for Family Leadership
IDRA recently outlined its principles for family leadership in education that – while evolving over time – have been basis of IDRA’s work with families, schools and community groups. Following are these six principles.
Families can be their children’s strongest advocates. Our first premise draws on the potential that all families have in speaking for, defending and supporting their children. The concept of parents as advocates has been difficult to capture in the research and literature, especially connecting it to student achievement. But it is key to our vision. Our premise is not an unreal, romanticized view of the reality of our families. We do not ignore that there are dysfunctional families in all classes, races and communities. Nevertheless, just as our principle about children is that all children are valuable; none is expendable, so is our view of families that each must be approached with respect and high expectations.
Families of different races, ethnicity, language and class are equally valuable. Each group has assets, traditions and a language that is worthy of respect. Our organizational experience has shown that when this principle is present and evident in the outreach and work done with families, there is a marked in increase in the amount and quality of families’ engagement with their children’s schools and education.
Families care about their children’s education and are to be treated with respect, dignity and value. Every major survey conducted in the Latino community has placed education as the number one issue of concern or very close to the top. Surveys, interviews and conversations with parents of all races, classes and national origin have reinforced this almost universal concern that families have for their children’s education and the desire to be treated with respect.
Within families, many individuals play a role in children’s education. As stated in the brief explanation of the use of the word family, we acknowledge that there are many key caretakers of children who are not genetic parents. The combination of all who live within a home are important influences on children and can be a collective force for creating excellent schools.
Family leadership is most powerful at improving education for all children when collective efforts create solutions for the common good. IDRA’s organizational experience reinforces the fact that the individualistic, charismatic leader model is too narrow and does not sustain communities, families and excellent schools over time. As wonderful as the neighborhood mom in sneakers haranguing the school board about a serious concern is, our neighborhood schools need a network of families, co-supporting and co-creating action that improves schools. Our neighborhoods need a network of families who continue to support their neighborhood schools as each generation of children flows through them. Collective efforts draw on the powerful roots of our democracy and are sustained with peer compassion (child rearing is a difficult and isolating responsibility), cooperation and revolving spokespersons so that when there is individual burnout, others from the network keep up the good effort.
Families, schools and communities, when drawn together, become a strong, sustainable voice to protect the rights of all children. Some years ago, when IDRA was participating in Mobilization for Equity, a Ford Foundation-funded effort through the National Coalition of Advocates for Students, we were presented with some research on change in schools. The macro view of the kinds of efforts that led to institutionalized change in schools was summarized in several conclusions. When the change sought was funded and supported solely within the institution itself, the innovation ended when the money dried up.
From another body of studies, it was found that when the change effort was based solely outside of the institution, as with an activist grassroots organization, over time the effort failed. The external group could not sustain the effort from without in such a way as to ensure that the changes would last.
A third category found that when the change involved the institution internally and brought external pressure to bear, then there was some hope of the innovation being sustained.
Our principles draw on the experience that schools from within, in collaboration and connection with families and with the broader community from without, can become our cherished dream – excellent schools for all children.
New Guide for Engaging Parents in Education
U.S. Assistant Deputy Secretary Morgan Brown announced the release of a new publication, Engaging Parents in Education, at the 2007 National Parental Information and Resource Center Conference in Baltimore, Md. Brown discussed the importance of informing parents and students of their education options under No Child Left Behind and engaging parents in decisions about their children’s education.
The guide profiles five Parent Information and Resource Centers, including the IDRA Texas PIRC, that are representative of how PIRCs and their partnering organizations can successfully increase parent involvement in education. The centers emphasize the power of strong parent-educator partnerships to improve schools and raise students’ academic achievement.
To view and download Engaging Parents in Education visit
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©2007, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the September 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.]