California Parent Groups & Effective (or Ineffective) Political Strategy

Two years ago, the California PTA made a disastrous decision to ally themselves with a California billionaire against our Governor.

This year, the smaller Educate our State parents group (which has done some good work in the past but has also previously missed the mark) has made what I think is another political mistake. They’ve decided to become the face of the opposition to one of the Governor’s pet projects, the creation of a “rainy day” fund to put aside a portion of tax revenues in reserve.

The California Teachers Association is neutral on the ballot measure and, instead, is focusing all its efforts to re-elect Tom Torlakson as state Superintendent of Public Instruction in the face of an onslaught of attacks from so-called “school reformers.”

It’s clear the ballot measure is going to win, and if Educate Our State really wants to effectively support public education, I’d suggest they follow CTA’s lead. Another parents group opposing an enormously popular governor (who has been a huge supporter of public education) on an issue they are sure to lose is not the ticket to political power or credibility. The California PTA learned that lesson the hard way, and are just beginning to rebuild their stature.

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San Diego Controversy Shows How Rich “School Reformers” Damage Genuine Parent Engagement

An article came out yesterday about a controversy in San Diego surrounding a parent group funded by Rod Dammeyer, a venture capitalist and charter school supporter.

All I know is what the article says, and it appears that the teachers union is understandably concerned that actions by the parents group carry a hidden charter school agenda.

Yes, we educators need to look at parents as allies. At the same time, however, it’s a little mind-boggling to me how the parents group spokespeople can seem surprised at the teachers union reaction to them when they are funded — and staffed — by people connected to the state Charter Schools Association.

At a recent national conference of the Parent Teacher Home Visit Project, I led a discussion with people from around the country on organizing and parents. An issue raises was that the only grant money available out there for parent engagement was from rich “school reformers” who want to push a charter school and parent trigger agenda.

I think, more and more, we’re going to see that money corrupt genuine parent engagement.

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The Best Resources For Learning About The “Word Gap”

There has recently been a flurry of media attention to what is called the so-called “word gap.” It’s the term used to describe the difference in vocabulary development of low-income children and middle-and-high-income children during their pre-school years.

In addition to the media attention, there have been some high-profile efforts at trying to respond to the issue, and that’s where it gets particularly controversial. I thought a “Best” list here on the topic might be useful to readers:

I’d say the best piece that talks about the issue has been written by Esther Quintero at The Albert Shanker Institute. It’s titled The ‘early language gap’ is about more than words.

She followed that up by creating this short video:

Here are some of my previous posts on the topic:

Chicago Program Emphasizes Quality Of Parent/Child Interaction Key To Growth, Not Increasing Quantity Of Vocabulary

Another Reason To Wonder About Huge Parent Engagement Experiment In Providence

Could Providence’s Word Counting Project Be A “Boondoggle” As Well As Being Creepy?

Providence Wins Grant For Project That May Hold Promise, But Also Sounds A Bit Creepy

Intriguing Study Seems To Question Importance Of Word Quantity Spoken To Young Children

“Efforts To Close The Achievement Gap In Kids Start At Home”

Here are some additional resources:

Too Small To Fail is a project that Hillary Clinton has begun.

The 32-Million Word Gap is by David Shenk.

More Effective, Less Expensive, Still Controversial: Maximizing Vocabulary Growth In Early Childhood is from The Shanker Blog.

Can We Disrupt Poverty by Changing How Poor Parents Talk to Their Kids? is from The Atlantic.

We Need a Nuremberg Code for Big Data is from Slate.

Trying to Close a Knowledge Gap, Word by Word is an article and video from The New York Times that gives a pretty good over of research, concerns and potential strategies related to the “word gap.”

It includes discussion about the Rhode Island that’s inserting recording devices into children’s clothing, which I have previously posted about skeptically (though I’ve tried to maintain an open mind).

More non-profits teaching parents to read with children is a post at Ed Source describing programs helping parents to get their children reading early and the research behind the efforts.

“Coaching parents on toddler talk to address low-income word gap” is a pretty interesting report from the PBS News Hour.

I’ve embedded the video below, and you can see the transcript here.

Ed Source reports on a recent visit by Hillary Clinton to Oakland:

Hillary Clinton spoke to a friendly crowd at Oakland’s UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital on Wednesday about her new campaign (no, not that one) to get parents to spend more time talking, singing and reading to their young children.

“Brain research is showing us how important the first years of life are,” Clinton said, “and how much a simple activity can help build brains.”

Oakland will be the second city – the first was Tulsa, Oklahoma – to receive a concentrated dose of messaging about the importance of verbally engaging infants and toddlers. As part of the “Talking is Teaching: Talk Read Sing” campaign, residents can expect a multimedia campaign featuring television commercials, a radio spot, billboards and bus station ads. Local retailer Oaklandish will also be launching a new clothing line for babies that includes onesies that read, “Let’s talk about hands and feet,” and baby blankets proclaiming, “Let’s talk about bedtime.” For every item purchased, Oaklandish will donate one item to a family in need.

Importance of talking to infants now on TV is the headline of a blog post at Ed Source.

It talks about two recent TV shows that have featured the “Word Gap.”

Here’s a clip from one of them:

Quality of Words, Not Quantity, Is Crucial to Language Skills, Study Finds is from The New York Times.

Poor Kids Are Starving for Words is from The Atlantic.

You can see all my parent-related “Best” lists at A Collection Of “The Best…” Lists On Parent Engagement.

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How Can Parents Measure School Quality?

I’ve previously posted about concerns related to many letter-grades being given to schools in different parts of the country (see “Parents Get Testy Over Philadelphia’s New School Report Cards”).

I’ve also previously posted about an effort supported by the Boston Globe to create a somewhat broader criteria that parents can use to evaluated schools (see Boston Globe Tries To Help Parents “Find Their Dream School”).

Today, the people behind that Boston rating system have published a fairly extensive column in Education Week explaining it. I think it’s worth checking out the article, headlined How to Measure School Quality.

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US DOE “Awards $14 Million to Special Education Parent Technical Assistance Centers”

U.S. Department of Education Awards $14 Million to Special Education Parent Technical Assistance Centers is the headline of a US DOE press release.

Here’s an excerpt:

The U.S. Department of Education announced today more than $14 million in five-year grants to operate eight special education parent technical assistance centers that work to assist families of children with disability. The eight centers set to receive funding include one Center for Parent Information and Resources (CPIR); six Regional Parent Technical Assistance Centers (RPTACs); and one Native American Parent Technical Assistance Center (NAPTAC).

The centers will use the funding to improve the information they provide parents on laws, policies, and evidence-based education practices affecting children with disabilities. The centers will also use the funding to explore how data can be used to inform instruction; how to interpret results from evaluations and assessments; and ways to effectively engage in school reform activities, including how to interpret and use the data that informs those activities.

“Parents will always be their children’s first and most important teachers, and can have tremendous impact on their kids’ readiness to learn at every stage of the education pipeline,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “These grants will help special education parent technical assistance centers enhance the important services they provide to families across the country.”

I’m not familiar with these centers, and don’t know how useful or responsive they are to parent needs (I’d love to hear comments about them).

But I figure I’ll add this info to The Best Resources To Help Engage Parents Of Children With Special Needs.

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Family Engagement Bill Introduced In Congress Today — Again

The Family Engagement in Education Act of 2013 was introduced in the House and the Senate today, which is becoming a regular occurrence (I’ve written about its introduction in 2011 and 2010).

Of course, that’s what typically happens with many bills and doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying. With luck, the stars will eventually align and it will move forward, but don’t hold your breath…..

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Parent Involvement & The New NCLB Reauthorization Bill

The United States Senate is considering a new No Child Left Behind Reauthorization bill and, even though it’s highly unlikely it will go anywhere, it does appear to have some positive parent involvement elements.

You can read more details about the parent involvement particulars over at Education Week.

Two things stand-out, both which I’ve written about in the past. One is the doubling of earmarked money for parent involvement efforts, and the other is re-establishing funding for the now-defunct Parent Information and Resource Centers.

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The Parent Trigger & Civil Rights

Two tweets from this morning, prompted by the publication and tweeting of a new post Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig titled Parent trigger laws: Wolves in sheep’s clothing and astroturfing:

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California PTA Sets Back Parent Engagement Efforts In State

Each day, as a teacher and as a strong proponent of parent engagement in word and deed,  I find myself more amazed by the actions being taken by the California PTA this election season. I don’t think I’m overstating it to suggest that their efforts this year will be used as a case study in political organizing and in political science classes for years to come — in how not to become politically engaged. If you had to make a list of most of the major mistakes a community-based group could make in a political campaign, the California PTA has managed to make a huge percentage of them.

And, by doing so, they have set-back parent engagement efforts in our state dramatically.

I’ve written quite a few posts already about their entanglement with billionaire Molly Munger and their pushing her doomed-to-fail ballot initiative instead of joining forces with Governor Brown and every major education group in the state to support an education initiative much more likely to succeed.

A new poll out this week shows that the Brown initiative still has a chance to pass, while support for the Munger/PTA initiative is dropping like a lead balloon. It would be surprising if it reached 40% “yes” vote on election day.

So what are the mistakes the California PTA has made?

First, allying yourself with a mercurial billionaire’s idea is never a good idea — the power imbalance is inherent in that kind of relationship. Once a group comes up with an idea and a plan, you can certainly take money to support it, but at least you “own it” and can plan a campaign around it so that it builds your organization’s long-term capacity. Once a billionaire comes up with an idea, it’s a pretty safe bet that he/she is always going to believe it’s theirs. Their self-interest is not going to be the long-term health of your organization.

Second, understand that once you get directly involved in any kind of public life, the name of the game is compromise — the “half a loaf,” not “half a baby” kind. When the Governor unveiled his initiative, the leaders of the California Federation of Teachers, who were sponsoring a competing one, cut a deal with the Governor to make changes in his initiative and drop theirs. That was the point of maximum leverage for the PTA — they could have made a deal with the Governor about specific support of parent engagement efforts — whether the initiative passed or not. Even if they could not have brought Munger along with them, at least the withdrawal of their support for her initiative would have removed a veneer of political respectability from it. And, if the Governor’s initiative passed, the PTA could have helped take credit for it. If it didn’t pass, the Governor and the Democratic leadership (in an overwhelming Democratic state) would have still remembered it. But, no, the PTA didn’t make a deal.

Third, the upcoming overwhelming defeat of the Munger/PTA initiative demonstrates how little political power the PTA actually has (if they had joined in with the Governor, that could have been masked) — you never go to the ballot unless you’ve got a very good chance of winning precisely because of this situation.  Remember the old organizing adage, “It’s not how much power you have, it’s how much power they think you have.” One of two things are now going to happen:

* The Governor’s initiative will eke out a win, and the PTA will have zero political leverage for years to come, or….

* The Governor’s initiative will lose, the PTA will become a scapegoat for its defeat, and it will have zero political leverage for even longer. I happen to believe that, even though having the PTA/Munger initiative around didn’t help, if the Governor’s initiative loses it will be due more to some mistakes made in its political campaign. However, just as people remember Al Gore’s defeat as more due to Ralph Nader than his inability to win his own native state of Tennessee, the PTA and Molly Munger will be thought of and remembered as the reasons for Prop. 30′s defeat.

If I were the California PTA”s leadership, I’d fall on my swords (figuratively, of course) immediately and use this fiasco as an opportunity for new leadership to make apologies, rebuild bridges, and radically reshape the organization.

Perhaps those actions could hasten parent engagement efforts being supported — by policy and funding — in our state capitol.  At least by a few years……

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Does The PTA Really Have Any Power In CA Prop 38 Campaign?

Besides Molly Munger’s millions of dollars, support from the California PTA is the only thing giving her initiative any kind of political respectability. And the PTA has vowed to refrain from attacks on Governor Brown’s Prop 30.

However, as the Sacramento Bee reported this morning, Molly Munger calls Jerry Brown’s ads ‘utterly deceptive,’ plans to counter.

Does the California PTA really have any power in the Prop 38 campaign?

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Not My Criteria For “Parent Power” — What’s Yours?

A “school reform” group called the Center For Education Reform has come up with a misnamed “Parent Power Index” to rate states on how much they support “Parent Power.”

Their criteria seems to include school choice, evaluating teachers by student test scores, and support for online learning, among other things.

My criteria might include parent involvement in school activities and number of home visits done by teachers and school staff.

What else do you think should be included?

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The PTA Responds To Questions On Their Support Of CA Proposition 38

I’ve been a critic of the California PTA’s involvement with billionaire Molly Munger in sponsoring Proposition 38 on the California ballot instead of throwing their full support to Governor Brown’s Prop 30.

I still think it was and is a mistake, but it’s also clear to me that the wisest move now is for supporters of education in California to vote “yes” for both initiatives.

I have also invited the California PTA to respond to the criticisms that I and others have made about their involvement, and Carol Kocivar, CA PTA President, has been gracious enough to respond:

Can you explain the process the California PTA used to make its decision to emphasize its support of Proposition 38 — how involved were PTA members in drafting it, and were members involved in deciding not to abandon it in favor of the Governor’s initiative, as proponents of another initiative did?

Beginning in fall 2011, California State PTA researched a range of potential solutions to address the chronic underfunding of our public schools. Our leaders spoke with leaders from nearly every statewide education group, as well as with state elected leaders and school finance experts. We became aware of the exemplary work being done by the nonprofit Advancement Project.

This work aligned extremely closely with the 2011-13 Advocacy Goals set by our 120-member California State PTA Board of Managers, including: “Adequate funding for education to ensure every child has the opportunity to meet his or her full potential” and “Access to a full curriculum for every student that includes physical education, arts and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).  These goals were established in part based on input from our annual survey of members, which showed adequate school funding as the highest priority.

California State PTA helped contribute to the final language of many aspects of Proposition 38, including sections related to what specific programs the new funding can be spent on; the process for engaging local parents, educators, communities and school boards in budget decision-making; and sections that provide $12 billion in general fund relief during the first four years to prevent deeper cuts to other programs.

In July 2012, our state Legislative Committee invited a presentation from the Proposition 30 campaign and, per our process, our state Board of Managers voted to take a position of “neutral” on that measure.

Given that Prop 38 has been losing in all public polls this year, and that a proposition in that position has never won, what is the PTA’s rationale for continuing to support it instead of changing its focus to Prop 30?

The one poll that truly matters is on Nov. 6.  We are confident, based on internal polling we have seen, that as more people learn about Proposition 38, support increases to achieve victory.

After $20 billion in education cuts, we strongly believe we need to start to restore funding for our schools and this is precisely what Prop. 38 does.

Much early polling related to Proposition 38 tested title or summary language that was different from the actual label that has been approved for the ballot.  In addition, most early polling focused almost exclusively on the taxing mechanism contained in the initiative, as opposed to how much funding it generated and what the funding can be used for. Many polls have shown that voters are willing to pay more in taxes when they are assured the money will go to help their local schools, which is exactly what Proposition 38 does.

Did the PTA support Ms. Munger’s decision to challenge in court the state’s decision to put Prop 30 on the ballot in the first position?  If so, why?

PTA did not take a position on the legal action.

What is the PTA doing to support Prop 38?

California State PTA is first and foremost sharing information with our members about the benefits of Proposition 38. We are also helping to talk with other state and local organizations in order to expand our growing coalition, which includes many education and children’s groups, school districts, and business and civil rights groups. Some of our leaders and members are also participating in local public forums and media shows to discuss the initiative.  We encourage everyone to learn more about Prop 38 and how it works.

Has Ms. Munger given money directly to the California PTA?  If so, how much and for what purpose?

We have received absolutely no money from Molly Munger. We commend her as a tremendous advocate for all children and we share her commitment to passing an initiative in November that will help transform our public schools and provide every student with the programs and services they need and deserve.

Does the PTA plan to publicly attack Prop. 30 during the campaign?

No. While we support a different measure this November, we understand that proponents of both Prop 30 and 38 have the best interests of California at heart. Similarly, we think voters understand that in a state as large as California, there is room for more than one idea about how best to fund our schools and help revive our economy.

California State PTA will continue to advocate on behalf of all children in a manner that is mutually respectful and aimed at educating voters in a constructive, fact-based manner about the vital policy issues and solutions presented by the initiatives. We ask all who are involved in these campaigns to make the same commitment.

Because of the significance of the decision voters face, they deserve straightforward and clear information about each of the initiatives without the distraction of negative campaigning.  It is worth noting that while California State PTA strongly supports Proposition 38 because we feel it is the best course for children and our state, our association has not taken a position in opposition to Proposition 30.

In contrast, some supporters of Proposition 30 are formally and actively engaged in opposing Proposition 38, including having formed a political committee, submitting ballot arguments against Proposition 38, and testifying publicly against Proposition 38.  To foster a more positive environment, we urge supporters on both sides to agree not to formally and actively oppose each other’s initiatives.

Is there anything you’d like to share that I haven’t asked you about?

We all agree our state needs to invest more in our public schools. The traumatic economic events of the past five years have resulted in unacceptable cuts to public education in the amount of $20 billion. We cannot wait any longer to reverse this.

Prop 38 offers a positive vision, one focused on what we can and must provide for every child. When Prop 38 passes, every school in the state is guaranteed additional dollars to restore programs and services that have been cut. Additional funding flows to serve low-income students.

Importantly, Prop 38 also makes a serious commitment to restoring early education programs and access to preschool — proven strategies to address the opportunity gap. Prop 38 provides substantially more funding – an average of $10 billion per year over the next 12 years for schools. It also provides substantial relief for the General Fund — $12 billion in the first four years, and millions more in future years, by paying down state bond debt.

Lastly, Proposition 38 establishes important reporting and transparency requirements that will ensure more meaningful input at the local level by parents and communities, and real accountability.  That’s why the California State PTA is supporting Prop 38.

Thanks, Carol!

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“Students, parents should have a voice in teacher evaluations”

Students, parents should have a voice in teacher evaluations is a thoughtful column about AB 5, a good bill in the California Legislature about teacher evaluations that has a good chance of passing and being signed by the Governor. The bill, and the column, also include realistic perspectives on the use of standardized test scores.

Here’s an excerpt on the community involvement part:

AB 5 will require school boards to conduct two public hearings for students, parents and the community: one before collective bargaining occurs to inform the development of the new teacher evaluation systems, and one after the bargaining takes place, to force each board to present its system publicly and be held accountable for it.

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The Best Posts & Articles On Parent Trigger Movie “Won’t Back Down”

“Won’t Back Down” is the upcoming theatrical movie made by the producers who brought us “Waiting For Superman.” It’s about a fictitious version of the parent trigger idea (see The Best Resources For Learning Why The Parent Trigger Isn’t Good For Parents, Kids Or Schools.

Here are my choices for the best posts and articles about it:

FAQ on the Controversial Film Won’t Back Down: What Parents Need to Know is by Leonie Haimson at the Huffington Post.

Walmart is sponsoring a concert to “salute teachers” and benefit Teach For America, where they’ll also show scenes from the film. Here’s the trailer:

There is an excellent In These Times article about the controversy, Walmart, Right-Wing Media Company Hold Star-Studded Benefit Promoting Education Reform Film.

My Center For Teaching Quality colleague Jose Luis Vilson is the star of that article, including quotes like this:

“It’s another Waiting for Superman,” says Jose Vilson, a New York City math teacher and board member of the Center for Teacher Quality. “You have these popular actors, who as well-intentioned as they may be, they may not know all the facts, but they’re willing to back up a couple of corporate friends or people maybe they’ve become familiar with” in “trying to promote this sort of vision.”

And this one, where Viola Davis doesn’t shine (though, admittedly, she may have said much more that wasn’t quoted by the reporter:

Vilson says he was particularly disappointed by Viola Davis’ participation, given The Help star’s past comments about wanting to elevate the voices of often-ignored domestic workers.

“You should also see the alignment between that and what’s going on with teachers,” says Vilson, “and the bad tone that’s being sent throughout the country.”

“I’m sorry,” Davis told the New York Times, “I just know if you don’t have a strong advocate for a child, they’re not going to make it.”

It was particularly disappointing to learn from the article that CBS is planning on airing a special on Walmart’s event….

“Parent Trigger And Why We Need To Talk [Let's Be A Solution] is a great post by Jose Luis Vilson that’s a follow-up to the article.

Check out a review by someone who has seen it, Rita Solnet, which appeared in The Washington Post.

I also wrote a commentary on the film in reaction to a New York Times column about it.

Education Week also published a very thoughtful review.

American Federation of Teachers Randi Weingarten has just published a critique of the new “Won’t Back Down” movie, ‘Won’t Back Down’ union stereotypes worse than ‘Waiting for Superman.’

Here’s an excerpt:

I don’t recognize the teachers portrayed in this movie, and I don’t recognize that union. The teachers I know are women and men who have devoted their lives to helping children learn and grow and reach their full potential. These women and men come in early, stay late to mentor and tutor students, coach sports teams, advise the student council, work through lunch breaks, purchase school supplies using money from their own pockets, and spend their evenings planning lessons, grading papers and talking to parents. Yet their efforts, and the care with which they approach their work, are nowhere to be seen in this film.

“Won’t Back Down” Film Pushes ALEC Parent Trigger Proposal is a very thorough article from The Center For Media and Democracy bout the film and the policy.

‘Won’t Back Down’: Film critics pan parent-trigger movie — update is from Valerie Strauss at The Washington Post.

Reaction to “Won’t Back Down” Shows Critics Have Learned Something is by Anthony Cody at Education Week Teacher.

‘Won’t Back Down’ gets a D+ for a public school polemic is from The Chicago Tribune.

Bad Lessons From ‘Won’t Back Down’ is by Dana Goldstein.

A Political Football in the Classroom: ‘Won’t Back Down,’ With Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis
is by The New York Times.


Director of “Won’t Back Down” Tries to Explain, but Questions Remain
is by Anthony Cody at Education Week.

Hollywood propaganda is from The Washington Post.

Diane Ravitch reports that “Won’t Back Down,” the parent trigger-pushing film, is now officially a box office flop. Read the details at “Won’t Back Down” Continues to Plummet.

Public education’s new quick fix is a good piece at Salon about the parent trigger and the recent “Won’t Back Down” film.

Here’s how it ends:

The quest for easy fixes is seductive. But the more we look for Hollywood-style magic bullets, the less we focus on what makes public schools work.

“Won’t Back Down” revived as centerpiece of corporate lobbying campaign is the headline of a Washington Monthly article. Here’s how it begins:

The cringe-inducing anti-teachers’ unions movie may have had the backing of wealthy corporate education reformers, but the magnates couldn’t seem to use their entrepreneurial spirit to cobble together a decent flick. The astroturfers dream, starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis, completely flopped at the box office when it was released last fall. In fact, if movie-goers’ taste is the sole metric, “Won’t Back Down” was the worst major film in the history of cinema. The Huffington Post reported that the $2.6 million it took in on its debut weekend set “the record for worst opening of a film that released in over 2,500 theaters.”

If the billionaire backers of this film — Philip Anschutz, through Walden Media, and Rupert Murdoch through 20th Century Fox — held their production to the same standards that they want to impose on public schools, every last copy of “Won’t Back Down” would be sealed in a series of wet cement laden oil drums and eventually heaved into Lake Superior. Yet they won’t let it die. They just (sorry) won’t back down. According to the AP, they’ve stripped the movie of its flimsy pseudo-artistic pretensions, and have placed it at the center a new lobbying effort.

USA Today has a similar article.

Feedback is welcome.

You might also be interested in all my “The Best…” lists related to parent engagement.

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