• By Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed. • IDRA Newsletter • September 2007

Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed.At the annual conference of Parent Information and Resource Center directors, one of the key presenters was Dr. Karen Mapp, Harvard professor and co-author of the new Beyond the Bake Sale – The Essential Guide to Family-School Partnerships(2007). Her presentation was structured around four core beliefs. These beliefs are similar to those that have undergirded IDRA’s nearly 35 years of advocacy.

Dr. Mapp’s core beliefs and IDRA’s principles underlying family leadership in education provide a powerful way to give new life to the spirit of the law in No Child Left Behind Act, specifically in Title I, Section 1118 that speaks to parent involvement.

Dr. Mapp’s core beliefs are:

  1. All parents have dreams for their children and want the best for them.
  2. All parents have the capacity to support their children’s learning.
  3. Parents and school staff should be equal partners.
  4. The responsibility for building partnerships between school and home rests primarily with school staff, especially school leaders.

IDRA’s principles focus on family advocacy, value, care for children, multiple roles, collective efforts for the common good, and collaboration for a strong, sustainable voice to protect the rights of children (see article entitled “IDRA’s Family Leadership Principles“). These core beliefs and principles provide an energy for effective and efficacious carrying out of the NCLB parent involvement requirements.

The Texas Education Agency through the Education Service Center, Region 16 published An Administrator’s Abbreviated Checklist to NCLB – Parental Involvement as a practical tool to monitor compliance with the current law. The document identifies about 50 requirements relating to parent involvement across the federal title programs, and it divides the topics into the categories of notification and consultation.

Notification is generally met through the dissemination and transmission of documents. Consultation implies communicating with and listening to famlies.

Four topics from the consultation list can illustrate how the above beliefs and principles show up in carrying out the consultation:

  • Written Parent Involvement Policies,
  • Written School-Parent Compact,
  • Parent-Teacher Conferences (Required at Elementary Schools), and
  • School Improvement Plan.

In elaborating on each topic, we are illustrating how the beliefs and principles breathe life into the requirement.

Written Parent Involvement Policies

The language of the parent involvement policies should be parent friendly and understandable to all families. The documents should be sufficient to transmit essential and required information in a way that informs but does not confuse and that clarifies but does not over-simplify or hide harsh truths. Ideally, these documents will have been the result of dialogues, surveys and meetings where a representative cross-section of families has participated as equals.

A parent-friendly plan explains what the basic school program offers and guides families to appropriate choices, supplementary services and logical and practical steps parents can take to ensure excellent public education for their children. Rather than being punitive and accusatory, parent involvement policies should be informed by parents’ dreams for their children and the realization of parents being the strongest advocates of their children’s success.

Written School-Level Compact

Families can participate in a dialogue that includes defining and understanding a compact, listing responsibilities and expectations of families (which include parents, caretakers and students), prioritizing the lists and agreeing on shared responsibilities, and challenging the institution to list its responsibilities. The dialogue could use the structure of a force-field analysis where the participants first describe the ideal school and student achievement context (the golden dream for all involved) and then participants list the forces that are supporting achievement of the dream and those that are restraining or blocking achievement of the ideal.

The compact then could be a document that frames the ideal sought by families, students and school personnel, with a list of agreements based on increasing the assisting forces and reducing the blocking forces. The net result is that the document, called a compact, is a living, organic representation of the collaboration, connection and vision of all concerned.

When families read and sign the compact, they know that it represents a position of value and respect for all parties to the agreement and that it is an appropriate tool for collective action for the improvement of the school and the ultimate success of all the students.

Parent-Teacher Conferences

Though required for families whose children are in the elementary grades, parent-teacher conferences are highly recommended for all students. It is a key nexus to demonstrate the ideals of equal partners, the parents’ capacity to understand and support what a child needs to succeed and be happy in school and to provide expert insight into each child.

In contrast to stereotypic notions of parents being primarily a resource to a campus for fundraising and volunteering as a free labor pool, the parent-teacher nexus spotlights the key and most valuable resource that a parent brings to school – being the one who knows his or her child as no one else does.

Even when trained psychologists examine children, their knowledge and understanding of children pales in contrast to the deep, subtle and sophisticated knowledge that parents of all classes have of their children. In fact, a truly expert counselor can comb out the many interwoven strands of knowledge that a parent has of his or her own children.

Even through the subjectivity and bias (which all of us have, with or without professional titles), when asked, a parent can give long disquisitions that reveal the learning style and preferences of the child and the moods, mood swings, personality traits and all other bits of information that a competent educator can find most useful to know how to best teach a child.

The wisdom of parent-teacher conferences has been part of the public school tradition from a distant point that preceded the intervention of federal laws and resources in education. We just have to remember and apply the beliefs and principles that make these traditions wise.

School Improvement Plan

Most state agencies have guidelines for development of school improvement plans. Some indicative statements define such a plan as

“an explanation of how parents can become involved in addressing the academic issues that led to identification.”

?The campus improvement plan must “describe how the campus will provide the parents of each student enrolled with written notice about the campus’ identification for improvement. Second, the plan must specify the strategies that will be used to promote parental involvement. Effective strategies will engage parents as partners with teachers in educating their children and will involve them in meaningful decision-making at the school” (TEA, 2007).

At face value, the language supports parents’ partnership, worth and critical contributions in the effort to improve the education of all children at a campus. Our beliefs and principles reinforce the critical necessity of engaging them in conversations and decisions of substance.

A seventh-grade English teacher with a deep love for literature and writing can still learn from the parent, who, without a command of the English language, can give insight into the struggles that children are having after school and on weekends as they attempt to do their English tasks. That parent can give important evidence on the effectiveness of the after-school tutoring and on what helps and hinders her child, and other neighborhood children, from becoming proficient in English.

As an English language learner, she might not know much about the literary offerings of her child’s text, but she has a deep and almost desperate understanding of the importance to be fluent and successful in English to be able to succeed in this country. So she is an invaluable member at the table where the school improvement plan is being formulated. What applies to English is also equally relevant to mathematics, science and all the other critical curricula that all children must master (see sample in box above).

Children’s Strongest Advocates

The NCLB requirements are for some schools a burden, met through mechanical carrying out of the letter of the law, with minimal engagement of most parents. We took four of them as examples and illustrated how these rules can be an opportunity for meaningful family engagement.

Beliefs and principles based on respecting families can bring out the best in schools and communities to meet the spirit of the mandates. Neighborhood public schools, to be excellent places that prepare children for a future with real choices, must accept those principles as they partner with families. After all, families can be their children’s strongest advocates.

Parents’ Observations
Grist for the School Improvement Plan Mill

Parents can be shrewd observers of systemic regularities of a school that those of us within the structure are unaware of, blind to or immune to. A recent cursory survey by parents interviewing other parents and students about what students are experiencing in high school algebra revealed three situations that the parents were able to judge quite accurately.

Parent observation: One algebra class had 35 students.

Parent recommendation: Reduce class size.

Parent observation: A student was frustrated because when he did not understand something and asked the teacher, the response from the teacher was either to repeat his or her original statement, to tell the student that the concept had already been taught earlier, or to say there was no time to stop because the chapter had to be covered by the end of the week.

Parent recommendation: Have teachers check for understanding and re-teach in ways that increase the possibility of comprehension.

Parent observation: A tutoring class after school had 15 students and one tutor. There was little one-on-one help.

Parent recommendation: Provide real tutoring with tutors who are creative and use approaches different from those used in class.

These observations and recommendations are valid, practical and important elements to include in a campus improvement plan. And though these come from the common-sense recommendations of parents with limited formal education, there is a body of research to support them.

Intercultural Development Research Association


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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 feedback@idra.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.]