Without accessible data on school success, parents and communities often remain disengaged or rely on solutions driven by supposition and anecdote. Schools are mandated to send accountability report cards to parents. Yet there are few mechanisms for helping parents interpret data on school performance. There are even fewer resources to guide authentic parent-school collaboration and engagement resulting from analysis of the data. This article encourages these joint efforts and introduces a dynamic web-based tool – IDRA’s School Holding Power Portal (www.idra.org/portal) – to support them.
A Gateway to Action
IDRA’s School Holding Power Portal is structured around IDRA’s Quality Schools Action Framework. Grounded in research and years of experience in the field, the framework proposes that because schools (like other public organizations) are complex, multi-faceted entities, they rarely benefit from patchwork, silver bullet or short-term solutions.
Instead, what is needed to strengthen schools is a systems-level approach that engages the commitment and leadership of school, family and community partners around high quality actionable data. Quality schools emerge, the framework suggests, through enlightened policymaking, accountable leadership, equitable funding and an engaged public. Quality schools reflect quality teaching, student engagement, parent and community engagement, and quality curricula. (Robledo Montecel, 2005)
By providing data on these key indicators of quality schooling, IDRA’s School Holding Power Portal helps schools and communities gather information as a backdrop to partnerships that can leverage their distinct roles and shared strengths. In this way, this online portal has been developed around three premises: (1) that public schools can provide an excellent education for every student; (2) that school-community-family partnerships are fundamental to this success; and (3) that quality data about schools is indispensable in identifying areas of strength and need, leading change in the right direction and assessing whether or not changes are making a difference.
Although the portal is intended to help school-community partners work together on complex challenges, it invites partners to begin this work around a shared vision that can be – though profound – quite straightforward and simple. One school district in South Texas described its shared vision this way: that each and every student, bar none, achieves academic success.
Value of Partnerships
It is clear from research, direct experience and common sense that parent and community engagement in public education matters. In their meta-analysis of 51 studies, Henderson and Mapp found a “positive and convincing relationship between family involvement and benefits for students, including improved academic achievement” (2002).
Payne and Kaba also found that recognizing parents and community members as assets to the process of raising student achievement can predict the quality of a school (2001).
IDRA’s Texas Parent Information and Resource Center, recently featured in the U.S. Department of Education’s Engaging Parents in Education guide, affirms through years of partnerships with parents that “parents are powerful advocates of excellent schools as peer teachers, spokespersons, catalysts, problem solvers and resource linkers” (IDRA, 2008).
Parent Involvement Often Stymied
While community and parent involvement is pivotal to school success, significant barriers prevent meaningful engagement. These obstacles often have included language, cultural, and logistical barriers, as well as “deficit-based” interactions that suggest to parents that they are either irrelevant to school reform or the principal cause of student failure.
Parents naturally are not compelled to engage an institution that does not value their contributions or that simply sees them as part of the problem. Where logistical and language barriers are addressed, many schools still struggle to create meaningful relationships among schools, families and communities or to provide access to the kind of information that spurs joint action to strengthen schools.
Dearth of Data for Engagement
Newer, user-friendly education databases, produced by the independent sector, have substantially improved public information about school performance. However, these databases typically resemble a consumer’s guide (“buyer beware”) approach to education as opposed to facilitating collaboration among parents and schools. Much of the school accountability data available tends to rely solely on No Child Left Behind Act testing measures to rate schools.
For many parents and communities, this is simply not enough to gauge success beyond school halls. College access and success rates are rarely part of any state agency databases. By design, NCLB does not hold schools accountable for how well they prepare students for higher education. Yet, parents and communities hold college going rates at a higher premium than just scoring well on a state-mandated test that does not guarantee success beyond high school.
Families and communities can offer extraordinary human capital to school reform. But good information is key to meaningful engagement.
A Place for Collaboration and Transparency
IDRA’s School Holding Power Portal is a web–based resource designed to provide school, community, family, student and business leaders in Texas with key information to assess school holding power and student preparation and, where needed, to develop a school-community action plan to improve outcomes.
In conjunction with a school district’s internal use of the School Holding Power Portal and other research tools and products for professional development, school leaders can use the portal as part of an effort to engage families and communities in:
Analyzing school data, conducting needs assessments and targeting the most effective approaches to reducing dropout rates and increasing college readiness.
Convening solution–oriented community–school forums that bring various stakeholders together around a shared vision of student success and quality data.
Designing a plan that is informed by research–based best practices, builds on school-community strengths, is aligned with the current school improvement plan and engages stakeholders in ownership, accountability and success.
Identifying and implementing models with proven success and providing tailored professional development and training.
The portal provides easy-to-access data and helps school-community partners explore questions like:
How well does the school keep and graduate students? The portal provides data on how many students are lost from school enrollment before they graduate (student disappearance rates) and how this compares to Texas as a whole and to other schools.
How well does the school prepare students to achieve academically? The portal provides data on how students are doing on Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills tests and if they are college-ready.
How well does the school prepare students for college? The portal provides data on how well a school prepares students for SAT and ACT tests.
How well does the school perform in getting students into college? The portal provides data on how many high school seniors are attending college and how many are attending two- vs. four-year institutions.
When embarking on community-school partnerships, schools and educators can use the IDRA School Holding Power Portal to guide them through a three-step process.
Create opportunities for parents to use the portal in groups to galvanize discussions about strengths and weaknesses. This portal can be used by anyone at any time. It is an easy-to-use tool that is available at no cost. The power of the tool, however, can best be harnessed by groups. Educational institutions can create opportunities for using the portal with parents and community members.
A lone parent viewing a school’s AYP status, or ACT/SAT scores, or college-going rates may feel discouraged. A group of parents viewing the same scores in a school lab, surrounded by the instructors or administrators are more likely to feel empowered. Why? A by-product of transparency is trust. When a school opens its doors and welcomes parents regardless of poor or mediocre test results or less-than-stellar college preparation rates, the message is clear: “This is our responsibility, and we welcome your help.”
Having schools create opportunities for data dissemination and discussion does not have to be difficult. School leaders can plan a schedule of gatherings throughout the year with parent teacher organizations, local community-based organizations and faith-based communities. They can use Title I funds designated for parent education and leverage all resources, such as parent volunteers and parent liaisons.
The portal facilitates information dissemination to informal networks through simple tools. The IDRA portal gives users the ability to navigate to any high school and receive simple graphs about a school’s general performance and capacity to produce satisfactory results for children. Users can go a step further and take notes online about their own ideas, observations and recommendations about the school. These notes can be saved for later use, printed out and shared with other parents or e-mailed directly to other community members.
Parents are empowered by this simple ability to receive information and disseminate it to all parties concerned with educational institutions. This simple, easy-to-use feature can help bring more parents and community members into a school. The results lead to schools and communities working in partnership.
As groups gather and grow, weaknesses and strengths can be identified with input by the community stakeholders that a school serves. Educational data generally have been used in two ways: (1) as diagnostic tools to help institutions inform their decisions, and (2) as a means to increase accountability through public dissemination to communities. Unfortunately, either through inadequate standards or narrow focus, school achievement remains stagnant regardless of data-driven decision making or public awareness.
The IDRA School Holding Power Portal can serve both of those ends but through purposeful community-school use. The data can help institutions and parents identify problems and seek solutions not previously seen through the narrow lens of single measure standards.
Simply, when schools and communities look at the data together and have frank discussions, they can set shared goals that address a range of issues from inadequate funding and classroom size to pedagogy and school-home ties.
Henderson, A.T., and K.L. Mapp. A New Wave of Evidence: The Impact of School, Family, and Community Connections on Student Achievement (Austin, Texas: Southwest Educational Development Laboratory, 2002).
Intercultural Development Research Association. “Texas IDRA PIRC Valuing Assumptions,” IDRA web site (current 2008).
Payne, C.M., and M. Kaba. “So Much Reform, So Little Change: Building-level Obstacles to Urban School Reform,” Journal of Negro Education (2001) 2(1), 1-16.
Robledo Montecel, M. “A Quality Schools Action Framework – Framing Systems Change for Student Success,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, November-December 2005).
Laurie Posner, M.P.A., is an IDRA education associate. Hector Bojorquez is an IDRA education associate. Comments and questions may be directed to them via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©2008, IDRA. The following article originally appeared in the January 2008 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.]