Schools must embrace the power of parents | EdSource

Schools must embrace the power of parents | EdSource



I wish that Missouri would do this.  Our system is far more damaged and corrupt than California's is.  Our district won't even let parents on the committees that make decisions.



The fifth anniversary of California’s parent trigger law, the ascent
of national advocacy groups like MomsRising and parents posting their
political views on everything from Common Core to the merits of schools
vaccinations raises the question – have we reached the age of parent
power?





As my own mother might say, the proof is in the pudding.




We certainly may have opened doors for parents to wield more
influence in schools. The spread of parent empowerment laws like the
Local Control Funding Formula support this fact. We’ve also even seen
greater attempts from districts to engage parents within public schools
through parent advisory boards and hiring committees.





However, setting the table for parents to get involved is one thing.
Genuinely inviting them to join the dinner party is another.




Today state officials and school districts neglect to build the
capacity of parents to exercise their rights. Many parent advisory
boards serve as nothing more than rubber stamps for school leaders
decisions.
While some districts get it right, under performing districts
have no real incentive to encourage parents to hold them responsible for
success. A United Way of Greater Los Angeles study conducted last year
found that out of 1,000 LAUSD parents surveyed, the majority did not
feel like equal partners with their school district in educating their
own students.





This happens while state policymakers haphazardly turn over more
power to thousands of parents underprepared to hold large districts
accountable. Sure parents can serve as effective watchdogs but only in
systems that genuinely encourage that type of participation.





This dilemma disproportionately affects black, brown and poor
parents. Having worked with parents in communities like Watts and East
Los Angeles, I’ve witnessed firsthand how schools label a
well-intentioned mom advocating for her son’s education as nothing more
than a nuisance. Parents in poor communities can find that their calls
for more resources, more qualified teachers and less violence in schools
lead to their own exclusion. Frankly the very parents left with no
seats at the table are the very ones who should be seated at its head.



The recent passage of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) serves
as a prime example of this challenge. The landmark law gives parents
and families a say in how districts invest millions of dollars in
funding to support English learners, foster youth, and low-income
students. According to a recent Ed Trust–West
report, through the LCFF process school districts saw higher levels of
community engagement and proposals to implement parent engagement
programs in the local control and accountability plans.





Far too often though, we documented school districts that lacked the
knowledge or resolve to give parents more say in decision-making.
Some
of our interviews revealed an absence of adequate translated
communication as well as parents receiving documents filled with
undefined acronyms and jargon. School districts also tasked parents with
understanding complex budgets and data without proper training and
guidance. For low-income families, attending the LCFF meetings and
participating on advisory boards proved tough, causing inequity in who’s
providing input in spending decisions.





We did see bright spots. The San Francisco and Berkeley unified
districts, along with strong partners from the community, provided
parent-friendly budget documents, meetings at times where parents could
attend and worked with community advocates more broadly. Also, networks
of community-based organizations created seats at the table for parents,
students, and community members to have a real voice in the process.





If California is serious about parents and community members holding
districts accountable more must be done. School districts need more
guidance from the state and parent engagement experts on how to
earnestly partner with our mothers and fathers. It’s also time for the
state to work together with the philanthropic community to sufficiently
resource large scale parent empowerment programs. Additionally, the
state should impose clear consequences when parents and community
members report attempts to dissuade their contributions.





More importantly, we need to go to the experts for support. School
districts should work with organizations – like CADRE in South Los
Angeles, Fathers and Families of San Joaquin, and Bay Area Parent
Leadership Action Network – who have shown results helping parents
exercise their rights. We should arm these groups with the means
necessary to help parents ask the critical and important questions of
school and district leaders.





Can we ask California parents to do a task that even expert educators
and lawmakers have found challenging – helping poor performing schools
and districts improve? If we don’t make deep investments in parent
know-how we run the risk of widening achievement gaps across the state.
The move toward LCFF provides the perfect opportunity to finally support
meaningful relationships between districts, schools, parents, and
community members. Now let’s make sure to bring California parents along
in the process.

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