Guest Post: Report From Parent Engagement Conference

Carrie Rose, Executive Director of the nationally-recognized Parent Teacher Home Visit Project, recently attended a National Education Association-sponsored conference in Tennessee about parent engagement/involvement. You can read more about it in my previous post, “Union-Led Conference Targets Family Engagement in Schools.”

You can also read an interview I did with Carrie last month.

Carrie was kind enough to write a short report for this blog about her experience there:

Recently, Yesenia Gonzalez, one of the founding parents of the Parent Teacher Home Visit Project, and I had an opportunity to present the work of our non-profit collaboration and participate in a family, School, Community Engagement Summit in Nashville last month. This event, hosted by the Tennessee Education Association in partnership with the National Education Association and multiple other state partners, had over 300 participants and was designed to facilitate a dialogue on policy and practice for improving family engagement in schools and actually begin to shape recommendations for policy and practice via a compilation of measures local and state policymakers should consider and ultimately implement. While we attend many conferences and presentations during the year, this gathering differed in a few key ways.

First, one of the first things we noticed right away was a true feeling of optimism. As a recipient of Race to Top funding, Tennessee’s gathering provided a unique conversation where ideas were shared in an atmosphere of available resources. Both Yesenia and I realized that it had been a long time since we’ve been involved in a conversation about family engagement where cost was not an immediate concern/barrier to address.

Second, I was struck by the high ranking public officials who attended the summit. All talked about the importance of aligning interests and parent engagement as important to education reform efforts. In fact, given that most of our work happens at the site level with staff, students and families, I was interested in the fact that most participants in the sessions we attended and held were community members, state education department staff, and district administrators (many also identified as parents or caregivers).

Third, both Yesenia and I noticed that there was a lot of conversation about the changing needs of the community, students and families. Language resources, for example, were needed in much greater numbers than in the past. There was also a significant amount of conversation about the changing understanding of effective family and community involvement and a reflection on past work and outcomes.

Finally, as we left, I wondered what all of the formal recommendations would be, how much of it would be research based, and what the next steps on those recommendations would look like as they moved forward in Tennessee. On the whole, I thought that the idea of regional summits lifting up successful grassroots practices and engaging community members in forming recommendations for consideration at the statewide level was great and should happen everywhere. I understand other summits are taking place and wonder how much it differs in communities without the resources currently available in Tennessee.

Thanks, Carrie!

Parents United for Responsible Education

Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE) is a Chicago organization that has lots of useful resources on its website.

Here is how it describes itself:

Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE) exists to build support for and enhance the quality of public education in the city of Chicago by informing parents about educational issues, bringing the views of parents into the decision-making process, and acting as an advocate for parents in their relationships with the school administration.

Each year, PURE provides direct assistance or referrals to hundreds of parents and local school council (LSC) members calling our hotline for help and information. PURE provides informative and empowering workshops for LSCs in all areas of their responsibility. PURE also offers a variety of parent workshops and develops new workshops to meet parents expressed needs. PURE publishes four newsletters to keep parents, LSC members, and other school leaders informed of current educational changes and issues. PURE works actively to focus attention on the parents’ perspective in any discussion of critical school problems through such means as press conferences, public testimony, and editorials.

If you’re familiar with PURE’s work, please leave a comment about what you think of them….

“Ready by 21”

Claus von Zastrow has written a very intriguing post over at Public School Insights called Getting Students Ready by 21. It’s about an organization named Ready by 21. In many ways, it’s similar to the Harlem Children’s Zone.

I’ve posted about the Harlem Children’s Zone several times here and like its work. The work of Ready by 21 seems impressive as well as it tries to build a support network for students to deal with some of the issues outside the schoolhouse walls that affect student achievement.

I have to admit, though, I also have similar concerns about both. I wonder if both might relate to parents more as clients rather than partners. I also wonder about what kind of relationships they have with other neighborhood institutions like religious congregations and grassroots community groups — they appear to be primarily social service based.

If they don’t have that kind of grassroots base, I wonder how any kind of real neighborhood transformation will be able to take place. It also puts both organizations in a politically weakened situation where they are at the mercy of wealthy donors without a power base to push for additional resources.

However, I want to emphasize that these concerns might very well have no foundation in reality, and might just be due to my lack of knowledge…

Parents In Detroit

Last month, I posted about an organization called the Detroit Parent Network, and how they were likely to get a major contract from the Detroit Public Schools to coordinate parent involvement for the district.

That contract has indeed come to pass, and they’re opening seven “parent centers.”

From what I read, the Parent Network sounds like they do good work, but I haven’t heard from anybody on the ground there. I’d love to hear from people in Detroit about their experiences.

What Might Aesop’s Fables Say About Glitzy Media Parent Involvement Campaigns?

I’ve been reading more lately about a campaign called Be There, which appears to be provided by a public relations agency to school districts (supposedly at no cost) and is designed to promote “parent involvement.”

Based on what I have read, the main focus seems to be a fairly glitzy media campaign of posters, public service announcements, and videos.

I’m sure that everybody is very well-intentioned — both the provider of the campaign and the school districts participating. However, I’m always concerned about efforts like this that are focused on media talking “to” people, instead of of emphasizing a priority of genuinely developing reciprocal relationships of people talking “with” each other.

The beginning of our book, Building Parent Engagement In Schools, speaks to this point in this way:

The Jay And The Peacock

A jay venturing into a yard where peacocks used to walk, found there a number of feathers which had fallen from the peacocks when they were molting. He tied them all to his tail and strutted down towards the peacocks. When he came near them they soon discovered the cheat, and striding up to him pecked at him and plucked away his borrowed plumes. So the jay could do no better than go back to the other jays, who had watched his behavior from a distance; but they were equally annoyed with him, and told him:

“It is not only fine feathers that make fine birds.”

(from Aesop’s Fables )

This fable is about a bird who thought that a few feathers could make him be something he was not. This book is about why and how it is in schools’ self-interest to have a parent engagement strategy that does not settle at having a few parents on a school site council, or even a large number coming to a Back-to-School night… This book is about providing specific ways that schools can avoid the same trap as the jay. Tempting as it may be, and as challenging as it may be to do more, a few parents (or even many of them) coming to a meeting or periodically turning-out large numbers of parents to a school event and calling it parent engagement does not make it an effective parent engagement strategy.

I might add that a media campaign doesn’t make it one, either.

ATT Announces $2 Million Donation To “Parent Engagement” Effort

AT & T has just announced a partnership with United Way designed to support parent “engagement” in high schools.  They’re contributing $2 million.

Their press release says:

In November 2009, 20 awards to local or state United Ways will be granted through this initiative to identify best practices for family engagement to boost high school graduation. The 20 sites will use funds to increase family-community-school partnerships to build successful learning in high school, and will explore texting tools as part of that work.

“Families In Schools”

Families In Schools has a lot of useful resources on its website, as well as writing the Education Advocacy Blog. Here’s how they describe themselves:

Families In Schools (FIS) was created in 2000 by the Los Angeles Annenberg Metropolitan Project (LAAMP) to continue the promising work initiated by the Annenberg Challenge in Los Angeles. The research by LAAMP and others on this subject confirms that when parents are engaged in the education of their children, performance on a variety of academic indicators significantly improves. In shaping the work of the organization, FIS was guided by Dr. Joyce Espstein and by Dr. Anne Henderson, two renowned experts in the field of parent involvement.

As the research bears out, there is a strong case for seeking parental involvement and engagement in the education process. Yet most educators need assistance and support in planning and implementing effective strategies and programs. To help them, FIS has created a “pathway to parent empowerment” that addresses the needs of parents from pre-k through 12th grade and provides programs, curriculum, and technical assistance at each level. Our programs and technical assistance are aimed at strengthening the capacity of schools, districts, and agencies who work with parents, as well as the capacity of parents by providing direct services to them through a variety of training opportunities.