California has established parent involvement as one of eight priority areas that local educators must focus on, but school districts have a long way to go to make that involvement “authentic” and “meaningful,” according to a new report.

The report, issued by Families in Schools, a statewide advocacy organization based in Los Angeles, is urging the state to adopt “consistent, high quality” standards to determine how effectively schools and districts are engaging parents.

It is based on interviews with 30 school district leaders from 14 school districts in California. The report did not identify the names of those interviewed or the districts, offering them anonymity “so that fear or politics would not prevent them from sharing their real opinions and experiences.”

The State Board of Education is currently still drawing up “rubrics” or guidelines for how to assess progress, or the lack of it, in each of the eight priority areas prescribed by the Local Control Funding Formula, or LCFF, the landmark school financing reforms championed  by Gov. Jerry Brown.

School districts are required to draw up a Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) to describe how they will spend state funds to improve student academic outcomes.

Under the financing formula, districts get additional funds for every low-income student, English learner and foster child they serve. Parents must be involved in deciding how these funds are spent — to a greater extent than in any other state, according to State Board President Michael Kirst.  In addition, parents must be involved in decision making at school sites, and in programs for high-needs students.

The Families in Schools report offers a detailed rubric with numerous ways districts – and the state – can measure how well they are engaging parents and families. “These measures establish clear expectations of how schools should engage, reach out to, and partner with all parents, especially those whose students are low-income, English learners and foster youth,” the report states.

But Oscar Cruz, executive director of Families in Schools, said that too often schools have a “compliance-based” approach to parent involvement – such as simply getting parents to a meeting – without forging deeper relationships between parents and their child’s school.

“What is the use of having 60 percent of parents coming to an LCAP meeting, if when they go to their school and their principal doesn’t want to meet with them, and they feel pushed out?” he said.

“Moving from policy to implementation – that is where there is a huge gap,” Cruz said.

Cruz’s organization differentiates parent involvement, which it defines as actions parents take to support their child’s education at home and at school, from parent engagement, which refers to what actions schools take to involve parents in their child’s school and in decision-making there.

Based on its interviews, the report concludes that many districts, regardless of their size, “simply lack the resources and/or expertise to build robust parent engagement programs.”

In addition,  the report says, “school administrators are slow to give teachers and staff the tools and training they need to connect with parents.” Many district leaders concede that “parent engagement often falls to the bottom of the pile.”

Mary Lee, whose son graduated from a Los Angeles Unified high school in 2012, is a “parent ambassador” for Families in Schools. In that role, she does volunteer work to promote parent involvement in Los Angeles Unified. She said that “some schools are really making strides in outreach, and there are others where parents don’t even know what the LCFF is,” she said.

Stephanie Sequeira, who has three children in the César Chávez Elementary School in Richmond, is the outgoing president of the District LCAP Committee for  West Contra Costa Unified.   Despite the requirements of the LCFF, she said, “I see it as another rubber stamp committee.”

“Parents are there, but we are not as actively involved as we should be,” she said.

She said she often gives rides to parents to get to meetings, and that the work of a nonprofit organization, Building Blocks for Kids Collaborative, was a key factor in training parent groups to be more effective.  A new principal at her child’s school this year has also made a big difference, she says.

The Families in Schools report also noted that too often parent engagement efforts attract the same group of families, rather than widening the pool to new, previously uninvolved parents.

Several early reviews of the state’s school financing laws indicate that the reforms have resulted in greater parent engagement. “In some districts, we see that administrators are using LCFF funds to expand parent engagement programs, add new services for foster youth, or improve school climate,” a 2015 Education Trust-West report found.

But despite these efforts, Los Angeles Unified school board member Monica Garcia said there is still a need to take on the challenge of engaging caregivers in “an organized and effective way.”

“In California we have to do a much better job of engaging parents and families,” she said. “They are always part of the solution.”

Go here to see the full report Ready or Not: How California School Districts Are Reimagining Parent Engagement in the Era of the Local Control Funding Formula. 

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  1. Lysette Lemay 9 months ago9 months ago

    The flip side of family engagement is professional development. Teachers are rarely set up for success: certification programs do not have an engagement component, nor do they help new teachers navigate the diverse home cultures of their students’ families. A little training and dynamic practices such as home visits result in increased capacity in the classroom as well as the home, leading to higher student achievement.

    Lysette Lemay, Middle School Teacher and Sacramento Coordinator, Parent/Teacher Home Visit Project

  2. Jennifer B. Lyle 10 months ago10 months ago

    I really appreciate the distinction Cruz makes between parent involvement and parent engagement. The two are often conflated

  3. Eric Premack 10 months ago10 months ago

    If Families in Schools wants for parents and others to read their report, they shouldn't demand personal information like email addresses and mobile phone numbers to download a copy of it. In addition to Mr. Raymond's sound examples, if we genuinely want to empower and engage parents, we should give them more choices, including charter schools, inter- and intra-district open enrollment, and look at programs like Minnesota's Post-Secondary Enrollment Options program which allows high … Read More

    If Families in Schools wants for parents and others to read their report, they shouldn’t demand personal information like email addresses and mobile phone numbers to download a copy of it.

    In addition to Mr. Raymond’s sound examples, if we genuinely want to empower and engage parents, we should give them more choices, including charter schools, inter- and intra-district open enrollment, and look at programs like Minnesota’s Post-Secondary Enrollment Options program which allows high school students to take college courses and real post-secondary CTE courses, earn dual credit, with public funding for tuition and transportation. Offering choices gives parents and students leverage that is otherwise absent from districts that are all too often detached from their stakeholders.

  4. Gail Monohon 10 months ago10 months ago

    All too often the only kind of parent involvement that the school bureaucracy really wants is for families to send teachers well-behaved children who have been given a good "first five" start at home, and are supported in doing assigned homework. The district administrators who write the actual LCAP would much prefer parents and "outsiders" to refrain from inserting themselves into actual governance processes by making suggestions that would entail more work and change … Read More

    All too often the only kind of parent involvement that the school bureaucracy really wants is for families to send teachers well-behaved children who have been given a good “first five” start at home, and are supported in doing assigned homework. The district administrators who write the actual LCAP would much prefer parents and “outsiders” to refrain from inserting themselves into actual governance processes by making suggestions that would entail more work and change how things are done.

    Replies

    • Ann 9 months ago9 months ago

      And if those conditions were met parents would certainly be expecting schools to send those kids home having achieved high academic and social accomplishments.

  5. Jeff Camp 10 months ago10 months ago

    This report contains practical ideas that will be of interest to school and district administrators focusing on Family Engagement. I'll add another: get parent leaders to sign up with Ed100.org and learn what they need to know to be credible as influencers in the conversations that matter most. It's online, free, available in Spanish, and enables schools and districts to develop quantifiable evidence of informed parent engagement (using the helpful definition of "engagement" suggested by … Read More

    This report contains practical ideas that will be of interest to school and district administrators focusing on Family Engagement. I’ll add another: get parent leaders to sign up with Ed100.org and learn what they need to know to be credible as influencers in the conversations that matter most. It’s online, free, available in Spanish, and enables schools and districts to develop quantifiable evidence of informed parent engagement (using the helpful definition of “engagement” suggested by Families in Schools.) It’s a deeper metric than counting noses of anyone who shows up at a meeting.

    The Families in Schools report (which draws on interviews with district staff) emphasizes PTAs and PTOs as targets of engagement. This makes sense, since the “meat” of the report is a rubric for use by schools and districts for their LCAPs. But leaders of parent organizations are also drivers of engagement efforts in addition to being targets of them.

    Efforts to engage parents at a deeper level are important. They will achieve some results directly, but the long term effects will be indirect. By playing a part in school and district choices, some parents will become powerful. They will be ready to step up to influential roles in their school, their district and beyond.

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  7. Jonathan Raymond 10 months ago10 months ago

    Parents and families are a school district’s most important partner. Engaging and empowering parents is about building relationships and this takes time and requires making it a priority. When relationships between parents, teachers and students are strong – children thrive. California is fortunate to have several excellent models such as the Parent Teacher Home Visit Project in Sacramento. We don’t need to reinvent — just look to those practices and programs that are working.

  8. Zella 10 months ago10 months ago

    I strongly disagree with the concept of compliance being a bad word or element. It was a collective group of diverse parent/families voices who assisted in drafting parent involvement legislation on a national level. It was parents who advocated that parents be at the decision making table on a national state regional level developing policies. There was not a consistency when it came to parent involvement and economic infrastructures even now make it a … Read More

    I strongly disagree with the concept of compliance being a bad word or element. It was a collective group of diverse parent/families voices who assisted in drafting parent involvement legislation on a national level. It was parents who advocated that parents be at the decision making table on a national state regional level developing policies.

    There was not a consistency when it came to parent involvement and economic infrastructures even now make it a challenge. To ensure student success, we must have a consistent clear and concise defined parent involvement program which is applicable to all California school districts.

  9. ann 10 months ago10 months ago

    It seems like engagement is only important if parents support what the education establishment, including “think” tanks and unions want. Active parents who want charter conversions or their child’s personal information to be held confidential are a different story.