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Chalkbeat Roundtable: Should parents have a say in curriculum?

In a recent story about about parent involvement at the Highbridge Green School, a new middle school in the Bronx, Principal Kyle Brillante said he’d rather involve parents in planning the curriculum than the school dance.

“We feel like the heart of engagement for parents and students is to meaningfully involve all of our stakeholders on instruction,” Brillante said. “That’s what’s going to push student achievement forward.”

Teachers, parent coordinators, and parents contacted us with their own thoughts on the story’s premise, with some praising the Green School’s efforts to involve parents in curriculum and others arguing that parents should steer clear of the classroom. Here are six perspectives.

  • Learning Leaders’ Jane Heaphy: Parents need tools to be full participants
  • Queens parent Kimberly Coleman: Parents’ opinions can never be objective
  • Teacher Jose Vilson: Parents should have some voice in curriculum
  • Parent coordinator Michele Farinet: Parents and educators have different expertise
  • PTA president Matt Schneider: Parents and educators work together powerfully
  • Parent coordinator Taneesha Crawford: Contributing isn’t realistic for all parents

Parents’ involvement in curriculum can be useful, if they have the tools

Jane Heaphy, public school parent and executive director of Learning Leaders
Jane Heaphy, public school parent and executive director of Learning Leaders

One of the most interesting questions raised in the piece is what parents and educators need to learn in order to partner effectively. I am thinking about Brillante saying he wants to involve parents in curriculum-related decisions even if it means teaching them about the issues first.

Researcher Karen Mapp at Harvard University talks about this, needing to give parents the tools to be full participants. Of course, this has to happen in a way that respects parents’ own expertise and builds on their experience.

It is not easy to build consensus, to even get deep feedback. But some schools do it very well. The Green School seems to be on an excellent track, in spite of, or arguably even demonstrated by, the expressed frustration some parents feel. The promising part is in the conversation. It appears that the school leadership is listening.

Parents can advocate for their own kids, not all children

Kimberly Coleman, parent and Mom in the City blogger
Kimberly Coleman, parent and Mom in the City blogger

While I understand the desires of some parents to play a role in planning a public school’s curriculum, I don’t think that they should. I say this from a dual perspective — as a parent of sons in public school and as a wife of a public school teacher. As a parent, I know that (as much as I might like for them to be) my opinions are simply not objective.

I would primarily advocate for the issues that concern my kids — academically advanced boys – the most. However, I know that public schools have the tremendous challenge of teaching kids with a wide variation of academic abilities and I don’t think that the vast majority of parents (including myself!) are adequately equipped to give input into the curriculum.

Particularly when it comes to history, parents need to have a say

Jose Vilson, math teacher at I.S. 52
Jose Vilson, math teacher at I.S. 52

My lens happens to be a race-based one, so when I hear about parents trying to get involved in curricular decisions, I think there should be some voice. Parents should have a hand in curriculum, especially as it concerns pedagogy and material. That’s why, for example, some parents felt like they had to create their own schools. Some of the topics they wanted to see covered and methodologies they’d like to see implemented weren’t being seen in the schools they had around them. Parents are often frustrated with our current curriculum, especially as it concerns U.S. history and how history is often taught from the lens of the victor, and alternative histories also matter.

Parents should support student learning by offering input, not direction

Michele Farinet, parent coordinator at P.S. 41
Michele Farinet, parent coordinator at P.S. 41

All schools want an engaged and involved parent body and parents who think and reflect and offer constructive feedback — within limits. Here’s how I think about those limits:

A person who has a loved one facing medical issues ideally should help, guide and be an active presence in his or her loved one’s journey, which can take them from partnering in choosing doctors and hospitals, understanding the course of treatment being undertaken, and through the daily highs and lows of the process. But that person does not stand in the operating room and dictate to the doctor what to do during the loved one’s surgery and that person does not write the subsequent prescriptions or perform the subsequent therapies.

Likewise, in committing to the public education system and the idea of the “community at large,” we as parents must respect and work with, not in place of, those people who have trained, worked in, and dedicated their lives to the education profession.

Structure is important and the Department of Education can help

Matt Schneider, PTA co-president at a Manhattan elementary school
Matt Schneider, PTA co-president at a Manhattan elementary school

As Chancellor Carmen Fariña looks for ways to meaningfully engage parents, she could focus on helping School Leadership Teams and parent-teacher associations become more than the “superficial structures” that some are, as Principal Brillante pointed out.

In our school, the SLT, a governing body that includes parents, teachers, and others, has moved beyond measuring achievement and progress to analyzing actionable problems and solutions. Last year, one of our goals was to assess the potential for a foreign language program. An SLT committee made of parents, teachers, and the principal spent the school year researching potential extra-curricular and curricular programs, surveying parents, and writing a proposal. The proposal was approved by the PTA, which then set out to find grants and other funds to implement the program. The funding came through and we implemented our new Spanish program this past fall.

We need to keep in mind parents’ schedules, and be flexible

Taneesha Crawford, Parent coordinator at South Bronx Preparatory
Taneesha Crawford, Parent coordinator at South Bronx Preparatory

I think what that community has done is amazing! I feel like under the Bloomberg administration parents were stripped of their voice. Parents have be to be incorporated back into the school culture, and the way involvement is measured needs to change. We can’t just measure parent involvement by how many parents show up to a meeting.

Working parents in particular need flexibility. People have to work, so how can I be upset if the majority of my parents can’t make an evening meeting because they are working, or fearful of taking off because of what their supervisor may say? We should be paying attention to the needs of parents that can’t be as physically involved because they have to work. Social media would be a great way to have parent meetings via Skype or forums/conversations via Twitter and Facebook.

Want to share your perspective? Join in below in the comment section or send us an email.

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