Opinion > Commentary

A welcome recognition of the importance of engaging parents


Oscar Cruz

Oscar Cruz

As education advocates we know the powerful connection between student achievement and parent engagement.

Take any student; no matter what grade they’re in, which school they attend, their ethnic or racial background, their age, what part of the state they live in – take your pick of factors, but when you get their parents involved, that student will always do better in school. The research behind this is well documented and well known.

But like the quality of education those schools offer across the state, the quality and even the commitment to parent engagement is anything but consistent.

That’s one of the reasons why we as education advocates and community leaders are behind Gov. Jerry Brown’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). LCFF is, in fact, a significant victory for parent engagement advocates. The law makes parent engagement one of eight statewide priorities and holds districts to a higher standard and great level of commitment to parent engagement than ever before.

Yolie Flores

Yolie Flores

To begin with, the law requires districts to solicit the opinion of parents when developing their education plans. They are required to solicit parent input through community meetings, parent committees and other engagement strategies. But these types of requirements have historically fallen short of effectively reaching out to parents and addressing the real needs. For example, concerns have been raised about how schools interact with low-income, immigrant, foster, or disadvantaged families. Many of these parents have faced discrimination at their children’s schools and therefore feel undervalued in their child’s education. Many schools fail to provide adequate guidance to parents who are trying to support their child’s academic success. Given these conditions, a handful of community meetings and advisory committees are simply not enough. For these families, authentic parent engagement must also include changing the culture of the school district and each school site. We believe the new funding system aims to achieve that.

More importantly, LCFF intends to fundamentally change the way schools interact with parents on a day-to-day basis, from how parents influence regular decision-making in their child’s school to how parents are engaged as partners to support learning. Parent engagement is no longer a “check-the-box” formality. It is an outcome in itself, as important as other statewide education priorities such as improving test scores, maintaining quality facilities, or implementing Common Core.

A critical component of LCFF is the Local Control and Accountability Plan – or the LCAP. All school districts are required to create these plans that essentially describe how they will address the eight state-wide priorities and meet their local educational objectives. The State Board of Education has been working to develop templates for these LCAPs that school districts must complete by July of this year.

Initial drafts of the LCAP by the State Board of Education were vague and did not explicitly ask school districts to show how they are going to change school culture to better engage parents and families. However, because of the advocacy work of our statewide partners, the LCAP template released last week is more explicit on this LCFF priority. Advocates are asking the State Board and districts to listen to the voices of thousands of families from across the state who are demanding a more parent-friendly school culture; a welcoming environment where parents are treated as valuable contributors to their child’s education rather than mere spectators. Parents demand that schools provide them with resources and guidance so they can help their children and make the right choices for them.

Like the old adage warns, it is easier said than done. That’s why Families In Schools is championing the importance of parent engagement. We invite you to join our statewide campaign and learn more by visiting www.parentsmatternow.org.

Families In Schools and our growing network of supporters will work to keep the State for Board of Education and districts accountable for ensuring the intent of the law is reflected in all guidelines and regulations. We demand and expect a “family- centered” education system that invests in authentic parent engagement to support student learning.

•••

Oscar E. Cruz is President & CEO of Families In Schools, a nonprofit organization working to involve parents and communities in their children’s education to achieve lifelong student success. Yolie Flores is a Senior Policy Advisor to Families In Schools and a former member of the LAUSD Board of Education.

Filed under: Commentary, Local Control Funding Formula, Parent Involvement

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7 Responses to “A welcome recognition of the importance of engaging parents”

  1. Paul Muench said

    on January 10, 2014 at 4:50 pm

    Perhaps the authors did not intend the double entendre of the title, but I appreciated it. Schools should be welcoming by reaching out to parents for input and schools should welcome parent input when parents reach out to schools.

  2. Transparent said

    on January 12, 2014 at 1:30 pm

    I know both of these authors personally, served on several committees Yolie Flores organized in LAUSD addressing parent engagement and small schools and have been an advocate alongside Oscar Cruz on behalf of families with children in public schools in L.A. I know they both mean well and as a parent advocate for 20 years in LAUSD, I welcome their well-known voices to this long-standing fight. I have to say, though, that it is no victory just to be told that districts like LAUSD will be required to listen to opinions of families. I have too much experience in the trenches as a parent leader to be satisfied with three minutes at a microphone before the Board of Education or participating in a district-led dog and pony show organized to update non-profit community partners in favor of making a consistent effort to build the capacity of families to participate in policy, planning and shared decision-making at our public schools. Yolie led the effort a number of years ago to introduce the Parents as Equal Partners in the Education of Their Children resolution to her colleagues on the LAUSD Board of Ed. The resolution led to a district-wide series of conversations with a few parents but mostly among representatives of non-profit organizations, a final report, a detailed three-year strategic plan and then….poof. Nothing. Why should anyone believe that anything will change?
    Districts like LAUSD are entrenched bureaucracies in which parents and families are the last to be considered in any decision. I will continue the fight on behalf of families but it has been made clear to me over and over again: despite all the lip service, LAUSD fears parent and family involvement. They trip over themselves every time and do not trust empowered families in their schools.

    • Oscar E. Cruz replied

      on January 13, 2014 at 9:42 am

      I agree that meetings are not enough. That is the point of the article, that we need to make real changes in school culture to engage parents and not just have a handful of meetings. LCFF does include some real opportunities for parent engagement, but the implementation regulations and guidelines need to be effective. Thanks to the advocacy of many organizations around the state, we were able to achieve the following changes in the LCAP template:

      – Added more in-depth questions on how districts solicited input from parents
      – template demands districts to document how their LCAP plan and budget changed based on input from parents and stakeholders.
      – template requires that in addition to soliciting input from parents, their LCAP plan should list specific goals on how the district will improve parent engagement, along with the activities they will conduct and the expenditures associated with the activities.

      Much more needs to be done in the implementation phase and we will need your advocacy to ensure LCFF improves parent engagement. Thanks for your leadership and I look forward to collaborating.

  3. Angel said

    on January 12, 2014 at 8:32 pm

    I really don’t need various nonprofits with paid staffs trying to claim to know what parents need. Not parents in my demographic or my zip code. The few times I get invited to provide feedback for LAUSD programs, real parents are outnumbered by paid employees of various nonprofits three or four to one, and they’re all in it for their own agendas.

    LAUSD relies on the lack of parental instutional memory. If it weren’t for people like Transparent for those of us still in the trenches to be able to rely on, we’d be doomed. Halfway through my second child’s education, and I’m becoming that institution–things that just annoyed me in the 90s with my son are still issues now. Not resolved, just swept under the rug. Or flavor of the week this week, and dropped like a hot potato the next.

    Yes, my second child has just 5 1/2 years left in LAUSD, but I’ll be around a lot longer.

  4. Don said

    on February 13, 2014 at 6:05 pm

    It is hard not to be cynical when reading this article. Sure, LCAP wants schools to engage parents. But site councils have been in place for 40 years and they have failed miserably to really coordinate parent input with school leadership and plans.

    LCAP is just talk. I see no indication that anything with teeth will be put in place that REQUIRES administration to actively work with parents and to give them real power in determining how schools will meet the needs of all children.

  5. el said

    on February 14, 2014 at 8:28 am

    Realistically, the problem for LAUSD is that even if they completely wish to engage parents, and parents really want to communicate, the size of the district makes this incredibly impractical.

    If you had a meeting that had three minutes of input from just one parent from each of LAUSD’s 700 schools, that meeting would take 35 hours.

  6. Don said

    on February 14, 2014 at 1:28 pm

    El,

    The parent engagement referred to in this article is at the school site level not the district level. I don’t know about your personal experience, but I have a long history with parent involvement through schools site councils and every school viewed it as a chore that they begrudgingly had to comply with. Many times they didn’t comply at all. Districts also have to get parent input, but most of the work is at the school site.

    The authors of the article are very optimistic about a change in culture vis-à-vis community involvement in school site decision-making. I don’t see any reason at present to believe that LCFF will change the culture.

    I appreciate their optimism, indulgent as it is, however a belief in reform is not reform. This is a belief masquerading as real change.

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