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What Counts as Parent Involvement?

The New York Post‘s relentless shilling for the renewal of Mayor Bloomberg’s control of the New York City schools continued today with the claim that Mayor Mike doesn’t get adequate credit for his accomplishments in involving parents in the schools. Carl Campanile’s article identifies a number of accomplishments, including the institution of parent coordinators at each school; the creation of the Office of Family Engagement and Advocacy; making parent involvement part of the system of accountability for principals and schools; and increasing the quantity and quality of information about schools available to parents. Ironically, on the same day, Meredith Kolodner filed a story in the Daily News on the problems that parents and other stakeholders are having obtaining information on the performance of various programs and on decisions regarding future plans.

My colleague Joyce Levy Epstein, Director of the Center on School, Family and Community Partnerships at Johns Hopkins University, has developed a typology of six different types of parent involvement. The framework includes:

  • Helping all families establish home environments to support children as students
  • Designing effective forms of school-to-home and home-to-school communications about school programs and children’s progress
  • Recruiting and organizing parent help and support
  • Providing information and ideas to families about how to help students at home with homework and other curriculum-related activities, decisions, and planning
  • Including parents in school decisions, developing parent leaders and representatives
  • Identifying and integrating resources and services from the community to strengthen school programs, family practices, and student learning and development

I’m not a big fan of this typology, because I don’t think it reflects the ways in which parents might be involved in their children’s schooling at multiple levels of the education system. I would also prefer to see a clearer focus on children’s learning and development. Some forms of parent involvement have direct consequences for children’s learning at home and in the classroom; others may be equally important, but the consequences are indirect.

For example, many parents are passionate about district policies regarding the relocation or closure of schools, or eligibility for citywide gifted and talented programs, or investments in smaller classes. Such policies and practices may be important in determining children’s opportunities to learn, but they are also somewhat distant from a student’s experiences in a particular school. Parents may exercise different amounts of influence at the district, school and classroom level, and different policies and practices are relevant to involving parents at each of these levels.

It seems pretty clear to me that the most vocal critics of the Bloomberg-Klein era of reforms are primarily concerned about the perceived decline in parental involvement in district-level decisions. Many see the Chancellor and his team as acting unilaterally without consulting parents or other stakeholders. I think it’s worth having a parallel discussion about the strategies that the current leadership of the Department of Education has relied upon to strengthen the ways that parents can directly support their children’s learning in the classroom and at home. Do we know which strategies have been successful, which have floundered, and why?

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