How to encourage parent involvement?

Today’s Chronicle has an opinion piece about a proposed parent involvement resolution currently before the Alum Rock Union Elementary School District in greater San Jose. Authored by trustee Gustavo Gonzalez, the resolution would require parents whose children attend district schools to volunteer 30 hours a year at those schools. Of course, because Alum Rock Union’s schools are public schools, the 30-hour requirement would be unenforceable. Still, Mr. Gonzalez thinks his proposal is an important step:

“We need to get rid of the excuses,” Gonzalez said. “People say that our parents don’t want to be involved, and that’s just not true, that’s a myth. This is about changing the culture, which has to happen if we’re going to make this work.”
I agree with Mr. Gonzalez about the need to change the culture at schools to make sure parents are as engaged as possible with their children’s education. But I disagree that compulsory volunteer hours are the way to change that culture.  And it’s funny, because the SFUSD Board is scheduled for an update on our own parent engagement efforts on Tuesday evening — efforts that attempt to meet the parent engagement goal in an entirely different way.
Last year, the Board unanimously passed a resolution authored by Commissioners Yee and Fewer calling for a first-ever parent engagement plan to be created. A reasonably polished draft of that plan has been circulating for comments in recent weeks, most recently at community meetings and the Board’s Budget and Business Services committee.  The introduction to the plan reads:

Above all, SFUSD is committed to changing the power dynamic between teachers and parents and the relationship between the educational system and the communities we serve. We must acknowledge how this power dynamic has historically disempowered parents in our most marginalized communities from advocating for higher expectations and better outcomes for their children.  As a district, we are committed to working with, and listening to, our partners to reach deeper and systemic levels of engagement.  We know that “listening to families is more than a favor to parents; it is essential to children thriving as learners.” As we intensify our interaction between parents and schools it will lead to greater levels of understanding, mutual learning, and shared leadership.  Partnerships will evolve.  As we hold each other accountable for raising expectations for all students, we expect to see the culture of change and social justice we seek to create in our schools. 

Our families have consistently maintained that they want to be a partner in their children’s education, and to share governance of our schools. Moreover, years of research, and our district’s best practices, provide documentation that when parents are effective partners in their children’s education, students are more likely to earn high grades and test scores, enroll in higher-level programs, pass their classes, earn credits, be promoted, attend school regularly, graduate, and go on to postsecondary education. Recognizing the voice of our families, as well as the research, SFUSD is committed to honestly and effectively partnering with every parent to educate every child well.

We also recognize that most barriers to parent involvement are found within school and district practices, not within parents. Indeed, research has shown that schools can take deliberate actions which enhance parent engagement. The actions shown to have most impact on achievement are “(1) school efforts to reach out to parents, to engage them directly in the processes of strengthening student learning; (2) teacher efforts to become knowledgeable about student culture and the local community and to draw on this awareness in their lessons; and (3) strengthening the network among community organizations, to expand services for students and their families.”

I think that pretty much sums it up. Encouraging parents to be engaged in the education of their children is not about telling parents what they have to do or compelling them to show up; it’s about creating an environment where parents feel welcomed and where their experiences and input are valued. Of course, the parent engagement plan is just a start and there is a long way still to go — most of our schools continue to struggle with truly engaging all of their parents.


6 responses to “How to encourage parent involvement?

  1. Hi John K,
    I applaud your school’s efforts to reach out to the various communities that make up your school. Many of our immigrant communities come from a very different type of school system, where parents don’t traditionally get involved in the school. Some communities also don’t have personal experience of how to support their child’s education at home, by doing things like checking their homework.

    These communities are NOT less interested in their child doing well, they are just not educated that their involvement affects their child’s performance. Once they feel empowered by this information, as well as feel welcome at the school and in the classroom, there is a big change in their involvement. I’m seeing this in the work that PPS is doing with parents and I’m really glad that the district is focused on changing its own dynamics to support parent involvement in this way. Big kudos to Deena Zacharin for all her work to create this plan and include the input of parent organizations in drafting it.

  2. Rachel- Really enjoyed this post. Your line about making parents feel welcomed and valued is so true. It is a chicken and an egg proposition though, isn’t it? Thought you’d enjoy this article about why involvement matters:

  3. There is “parent involvement” and there is “parent involvement.” The first is PTA meetings and participation in fundraising, event planning, field trips, and other assistance to the school community. The second is interest and awareness of their child’s participation in the classroom, i.e., homework, class behavior, ability, challenges, etc. There may be some overlap between the two groups, but the first does not always lead to the other, or to improvement in the student’s ability or competence.

    I have always believed that the most successful students are those whose families ask about school, make sure homework gets done, follows up on school communication, and sets and maintains expectations for their child. If this is what SFUSD means by “parent involvement,” then I’m all for it.

  4. thanks for this – I look forward to action on the plan. My school has really struggled with this – there are a core of 10-15 predominantly middle class families that carry the bulk of the volunteering load, and the school has done a lot to reach out and empower other communities to be involved, with little apparent effect. Since I’m not in those communities, I don’t know what messages they are getting or what would be more effective in motivating them to participate. I hope the plan provides specific case studies or “best practices” that are culture-specific, as a way to help schools who want to improve.

  5. Deena Zacharin

    Thanks for quoting the Parent Engagement and Partnership Plan in your blog. I look forward to hearing more of your thoughts on it and your support in implementing it!

  6. Mark Murphy

    And you…Parent/Commissioner Norton, thank you for YOUR help today in David’s classroom! Very appreciated.