Is Spending $20 Million On Parent Centers In L.A. The Best Way To Increase Parent Engagement?

Today, The Los Angeles Times published an article headlined LAUSD parent centers aim to boost involvement at schools. It reports on plans to spend $20 million to “upgrade” parent centers in the District. The article discusses a positive report on parent centers from the LAUSD “Inspector General.”

I’d like to share my thoughts in two part — one, on parent centers in general and, two, on the Inspector General report.

I’ve published quite a few posts about parent centers around the country and my reservations about them. I’ll reprint here what I wrote in one post:

I generally don’t tend to be a big fan of these kinds of parent centers because they are often well-intentioned efforts to “do to” parents (involvement) instead of “doing with” (engagement). It can have a kind of “if you build it, they will come” perspective. Instead, I’d rather have resources devoted to supporting teachers and other school staff go out and visit with parents, listen to their needs and desires, and then have parents work together — with school support — to figure out what they want.

They might, or might not, want a parent center.

Of course, it’s easier to just build a room….

In that previous post, reader Melissa Whipple also left a thoughtful comment:

I agree with you Larry, Parent Centers are simply a room at a school site. They are not a magic bullet. A Parent Center is only one component of an effective family engagement strategy–not to be confused with being the entire answer. If only it were that simple. Deciding on have a parent center is similar to mandating student uniforms or painting a school building a new color–they are nice ideas–but in and by themselves they do not boost student success and development. They may improve school climate but that is not sufficient.

Parent Centers may also send an inadvertent message that the only important parent engagement takes place on the school site. Research indicates that the kind of family engagement most related to student success is what families are doing at home–which schools need to acknowledge, celebrate, incorporate, and expand upon.

Supporting student success requires building deliberate and ongoing relationships among the adults in children’s lives.

I’m always interested in hearing different or supporting views from readers, so I hope you’ll leave your comments on this topic.

Now, for the Inspector’s General report, which can be found here.

The report repeatedly says:

Research has shown that Parent Centers are a critical and essential link toward creating an integrated and inclusive school environment.

It goes on to say that they reviewed “various studies” and listed multiple benefits they supposedly showed from parent centers.

However, they only cite “A New Wave Of Evidence” as their source. That is obviously a classic study on parent involvement/engagement, and just about every parent engagement advocate, including me, have cited it extensively.

However, after checking it out again, I found that it actually only cites one fifteen year–old study on parent centers and, in their report on that study, it says:

The parent activities listed were attending the parent resource room, school meetings, and assemblies; going on class trips; working in the classroom; receiving home visits; going to parent-teacher conferences, and transporting children to and from school.

It seems to me that most of those activities, except for the first one, have nothing to do with a “parent center.” It’s odd that they would characterize it as a report on them — at least to me.

So I’m a bit wary of that Inspector General’s report…

But I’m very interested in hearing what people in LA have to say.

3 thoughts on “Is Spending $20 Million On Parent Centers In L.A. The Best Way To Increase Parent Engagement?

  1. Given the huge financial problems facing the district, this $20 million focus on ‘parent centers” seems like more optics and public relations than a practical plan to engage parents. Creating and distributing a simple, focused brochure on how parents can help their children learn more might be both far cheaper and more effective – especially if translated into the appropriate home languages. Or so it seems to me.

  2. Hi Larry and Engaging All Parents Fans,
    Here are some pluses to having a Parent Center:
    1) It establishes a dedicated space for parents to come together on the campus–which sends a message that the school values parents enough to provide them with a space. Not all spaces are created equal–it needs to be easy to find–near the front of the school and NOT hidden in the back of the school in a substandard space (this sends an entirely different message).
    2) It can also be used to offer space to community groups, immigrant and refugee services, and other non-profit groups on a regular basis (bi-monthly or more often as needed)–as a way for parents to be able talk directly to those agencies who provide meaningful resources and assistance without having to find a way to get across town.
    2) If it is equipped properly with a a suggestion box and family interest surveys, appropriate child care space, books on parenting, culturally relevant materials and family- focused magazine subscriptions, home learning activities, current local resources posted in the languages present at the school, AND A PAID WELCOMING STAFF PERSON who knows how to build positive and reciprocal relationships, leverage those relationships into deeper engagement and coordinate activities IDENTIFIED by parents as the type of support they find helpful.
    NOTE: An empty space with no one there will not magically do anything. It isn’t about the building or the room–it is all about the relationships.

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