Increasing Parental Involvement

December 1998

A year ago I was consulting with a school district regarding a new School-to-Work initiative they were just beginning to implement. When concerns arose from parents in the district who were fearful the program would seriously threaten the academic mission of the school they were shocked. "We worked through this program in a variety of committees for over a year," one administrator told me, "and now we may have to scrap it." When I asked him how many non-staff parents had been involved in those committees, he admitted that none had. They had never even thought to include them.

More than ever, parents are not blindly trusting their local districts to do what's best by their children. Failed academic reforms, the rhetoric of the so-called culture wars and ineffective social initiatives have eroded the trust many parents used to have in the public schools.

California voters last month rejected Proposition 8, a school reform initiative that among other things would have strengthened parental influence in the public education process. Even though it failed, the initiative garnered 37% of the vote, over 2.5 million votes. The teacher's union spent over six million dollars against the initiative, and exit polls showed many voters felt it covered too many areas and would have been cumbersome to implement. But the message shouldn't be missed--parents want to be partners in the education of their children.

Since parental involvement is one consistent factor in student success, administrators should jump on the chance to connect with parents, especially those disaffected by the culture wars. Go beyond tapping them as fund-raisers or classroom volunteers. Include them at every level of planning and policy-making and you will find them powerful advocates in your community. Don't forget to include a broad cross-section of parents, including those groups you think are least supportive or parental efforts will only look like a public relations ploy.

A Common Ground workshop can be a valuable tool to not only to demonstrate to parents how important they are to the school , but also to help them understand how to assist the district in working for the common good of all students, not just their own.



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