• By Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed. • IDRA Newsletter • June- July 2007
Families and community members can assure the effective governance of a school. But they have to leave the confines of a narrow parent involvement hallway that ushers families into volunteering and corrals them to be a free labor pool mostly for fundraising and chaperoning.
Look from the vantage point of a birds-eye view of an imaginary “Good School Festival” with parents streaming to game booths and rides. Families observe their children’s joy in participating while assuring other children are likewise. If popular rides have long lines, they ask the manager to open more rides. If some look dangerous, the parents make sure the children are protected. If any child gets hurt, or some children are sitting on the side with sad or bored expressions, or some are even sneaking out because nothing interests them, families make sure their needs are addressed. After all, this is a festival for everyone, a carnival of bright ideas, exciting learning and with many excellent options for all children. And no parent needs to hire the festival workers, manage a ride, run a booth, sell tickets, make snacks or clean up the grounds at night.
School Governance is…
Effective school governance is the capacity of administrators to provide an excellent education to all students, along with the policymaking and pro-active support of a school board to guarantee that every student will graduate.
The Quality Schools Action Framework, developed by Dr. María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel, IDRA’s executive director, shows how we can strengthen public education for all students. The two school system fundamentals are: fair funding and governance efficacy. The four school system indicators are: parent and community engagement, student engagement, teaching quality, and curriculum quality and access.
Families and School Governance
This article connects the dots between the effective school system fundamental of governance efficacy with parent* and community engagement. The idea is not that all parents become administrators and board members, but that they are ever-vigilant protectors of their children. So, as in the opening analogy, many children are in danger of falling off due to a merry-go-round of poor or inappropriate instruction, in-grade retention, exclusion from high-quality curriculum and classes, or non-engagement and isolation. Parents influencing governance can help make the ride safe.
Consider the arenas for engagement in governance as concentric circles, with the central one co-equal with the campus where the family’s children go to school (see graphic at right).
In a typical school, a few parents participate on the site-based decision-making (SBDM) committee. The campus improvement plans from the SBDMs are important tools for guiding and governing the improvement of a campus. They echo the Quality Circle programs in the private sector several decades ago.
Quality Circles were private sector approaches for getting frontline input from workers, highlighted in the business world as one reason for the superior production of Japanese plants and factories, brought back to the United States business world and then championed as an effective approach for public education.
Though the idea has merit and some organizational value, it could be self-serving for the adults in the circle to focus on what the educators want and not necessarily on what the children need.
Energetic involvement by parents can remind the school that improving the campus means that children will learn with all deliberate speed, happily and will be well prepared for college and whatever opportunities present themselves. The child is the real focus and the parent potentially the strongest advocate. Parents can be supported to speak for those families that most need compassion and to be heard.
Family-Friendly Governance and Family-Initiated Stewardship
School Level Circle. In the central circle of our diagram, those who govern a school do well to invite input, questions and feedback from the families of the children they serve. Client-satisfaction measures in the private sector are one example of tools in this domain that could effectively be adapted for the families.
Families may investigate what things are happening in the school that support student learning and growth and what things are happening in the school that block student learning and growth.
The force-field is a good qualitative tool that can help parents speak to critical school governance issues. The information gathered in such a force-field analysis provides information that parent leaders and representatives and school personnel can use to discover the why’s and wherefore’s of student underachievement caused within the school rather than blaming students and their families.
Feeder-Pattern Circle. The next circle rippling from the center is a feeder pattern area, where parents from elementary, middle and high schools look at their particular feeder pattern as a pipeline for children to flow easily and successfully to the highest exit point of the system. Parents can communicate across campuses to check if there are any holes or cracks in the pipeline through which the school is loosing precious children. Parents can ask campus, area and central office administrators what policies and actions are in place to ensure the pipeline is seamless.
A good case in point is mathematics. It is common to hear high school algebra teachers complain that their students are poorly prepared for high school math. A quick survey of middle school math teachers usually finds inappropriate blaming of the elementary teachers for the problem. In many elementary schools, you might find two camps: the teachers who feel they themselves were never good in math, and those teachers who say that most children really do not have the capacity for pre-algebra concepts. “Their little brains just can’t handle those abstract concepts!”
These two widespread teacher opinions (that parents could very easily uncover through a few interviews of students and teachers) provide a rich opportunity to challenge the governance system to produce positive results.
The families-as-stewards-of-governance may ask:
- Can you show me the plan to teach the elementary teachers to be good in math?
- How are you bringing teachers on board who know math, love to teach it and know how to teach it to all students?
- How are the math teachers going to move from one or two traditional ways of teaching that guarantee that most students will not learn, to a dynamic array of approaches that ensure that all students will grasp and apply the principles of advanced mathematics.
So, governance must answer questions about:
- staffing and teacher credentials,
- professional development for those already teaching,
- processes to monitor and be vigilant at the critical transition points, and
- how the schools are demonstrating that, in fact, all students can learn math.
District Level Circle. A third circle is where families and community look at district-wide policies that help or hinder the academic success of all students. This is quite the opposite of the mythical parent chorus whining for social promotion, in-grade retention and any of the other deficit model institutional responses rooted in low expectations and despair of the children from poor, blue collar, minority or recent immigrant communities.
On the other hand, this article is not encouraging confrontational acts from disgruntled parents at public board meetings. There are many creative, productive ways to help school districts on the one hand develop healthy policies that hold on to the students and encourage their learning and on the other remove damaging, punitive rules that only serve to alienate, discourage and ultimately push out the many students who are not being served well. (IDRA research has found that between the 1985-86 and 2005-06 school years, more than 2.5 million students have been lost from public school enrollment, costing the state of Texas about $730.1 billion in forgone income, lost tax revenues, and increased job training, welfare, unemployment and criminal justice costs.)
Parents working with decision-makers and elected officials can provide a powerful and rigorous lens to reveal and extend the assets of the schools and the community while also removing what is counter-productive, harmful and not conducive to academic achievement and success for all students.
Parents do not need to understand the intricacies of school policies and regulations. They can judge the overall impact on students and leave it to the educators, wordsmiths and legal eagles to draft tools of governance that are benign and beneficial to all students.
IDRA has been promulgating a Parent Leadership Model (see bilingual description) centered on valuing of the parent and a collaborative peer leadership approach. Hundreds of parents in Texas have participated in various iterations of the model that parallels the concept that all children can learn with the recognition that all parents want their children to learn and succeed in school.
There are other organizations doing stellar and cutting-edge work. The Center for Parent Leadership at the Pritchard Committee begun in Kentucky is one. Another is the Parent Institute for Quality Education (PIQE) (https://www.piqe.org/), originally started in California.
Beyond electing school board members, parents, families and communities have many options to question, examine and inform the major decisions schools make, especially if there are clear signs that schools must change if children are to succeed.
Cortez, J.D. “Texas School Holding Power (Past, Present and Future),” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, October 2006).
Cotton, K., and K.R. Wikelund. “#6 Parent Involvement in Education,” Research You Can Use Close-Up (Portland, Oregon: Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, 2001) http://educationnorthwest.org/sites/default/files/parent-involvement-in-education.pdf.
Johnson, R.L. “Texas Public School Attrition Study 2005-06 Gap Continues to Grow,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, October 2006).
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 June- July 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.]