States focus on parent engagement
(Fla.) As debate in Washington appears to grow serious over reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, some states have already initiated new policies governing what many expect to be a key element of any update of the federal education law – parent engagement.
Florida, Michigan, California and Massachusetts have all recently enacted or strengthened requirements that districts undertake special efforts to better link families and schools either through the budget process or as an accountability measure.
Research consistently shows that students with involved families tend to have higher grades and test scores, better attendance, higher rates of homework completion, better social skills and behavior, often enroll in more challenging classes, and are more likely to graduate and go on to college.
“Through emphasis on developing successful partnerships with families, schools have improved the academic achievement of students and built lasting relationships with families,” said Cheryl Etters, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Education.
Formal policies encouraging parent involvement with schools have been around in one form or another for decades. Section 118 of Title I, Part A spells out a clear mandate that LEAs receiving federal funds must involve parents; must have a written policy for parent involvement and must reserve 1 percent of the federal allocation to help carry out parent engagement requirements.
This requirement is separate from two other parent-related programs – Public School Choice and Supplemental Educational Services, both of which are tied to Program Improvement.
But there has been criticism that the current federal rules don’t go far enough and are too passive – prompting some state lawmakers to adopt stronger policies.
Florida, for instance, passed the Family and School Partnership for Student Achievement Act in 2003, which requires local school boards to adopt rules that promote family and community involvement. Under the law, LEAs are also required to develop and distribute a parent guide written in parent friendly language, develop and distribute a parent involvement self-assessment checklist and train teachers to partner with families.
“Effective partnership is realized when families, schools and communities engage in practices that foster an understanding of their specific rights and responsibilities regarding student success,” Etters said.
Massachusetts included family and community engagement as a standard in its teacher evaluation rubric, which includes indicators such as parent engagement, collaboration in student learning expectations and curriculum support, and both two-way and culturally proficient communication.
The rubric was developed by the state’s Department of Education in 2012 after it was awarded $75 million through the federal Race to the Top grant which required changes in states’ teacher evaluation systems. Districts have steadily been adopting the framework, but this is the first year that all educators across the state are to be evaluated under it.
In Michigan, one indicator of district accountability is parent involvement, and districts are required to adopt and implement plans designed to encourage parents to participate in school activities and meetings.
Detroit Public Schools, one of the state’s largest districts, also stands out as one of the most successful in meaningfully engaging parents. By 2011 authorities at the district said parental involvement had increased by 37 percent over the previous year through participation in its Parent and Community Engagement 2.0 initiative. The program is meant to keep kids in school by getting parents involved through its Parent Resource Centers, which offer workshops on parenting, help with homework and studying, and job skills training.
Last year, the education department released its District Improvement Framework 2.0 which included a number of suggestions that mirrored Detroit’s engagement methods.
In California Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders sought to fundamentally change the relationship between schools and families with adoption in 2013 of the Local Control Funding Formula.
For the first time in the state, school districts were mandated to bring parents into the budget process:
- Schools must consult with parents as a key stakeholder group and must seek their input in developing the Local Control Accountability Plan. (EC 52060[g])
- Schools must promote parent participation. (EC 52060[d-3])
- Schools must show evidence of how parents have been engaged and involved in developing, reviewing and supporting implementation of the LCFF. (EC 52066)
The Legislature took the further step of including parental outreach as one of the eight “state priority areas” (EC 52060) that LEAs are required to develop, as well as report performance measures that support student outcomes. Thus, parent engagement has equal status alongside implementing state content standards, providing a safe and functional learning environment and improving student academic outcomes.