The Purpose of
Parent Engagement Programs
Building Parent & Community Stakeholder
Voice, Agency & Influence in Schools
By Stephanie Leigh Robinson
​June 2017

Part II

“We are Americans, not only by birth and by citizenship but by our political ideals. . . . And the greatest of those ideals is that ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL.”
                                                                                                            W.E.B. DuBois 

The Purpose of Parent Engagement Programs
The Continuation of Concerns. . . ​

. . . lack of " essential courses in math and science " in segregated schools,   lack of AP courses (overall) in segregated schools, lack of resources in segregated schools, lack of textbooks in segregated schools , lack of discussions explaining the NAEP, TIMSS, PISA and state test scores and what schools are doing to improve the scores, lack of discussions explaining the comparability loophole and the supplement/not supplant provisions, lack of discussions focusing on best practices and lessons learned or the implementation of gold and evidence-based programming --- or even the unfair distribution of effective teachers across  districts, and, of course, the lack of enforceability factors tied to school accountability plans (i.e., fines, sanctions or penalties based on accountability research). What is needed then is an agreed upon definition of accountability, especially since the U.S. is far from classism and racism-free. . .  For example: 

             To be accountable, a person or institution must have defined responsibilities, must be
             answerable for his or her conduct with regard to those responsibilities, and must be subject to
             forms of enforceable sanction or remedial action if he or she fails to carry out her responsibilities
             without good reason. . .  Enforcing accountability is not about punishment, but is about ensuring fair

             and systematic mechanisms are in place to assess compliance by individuals and institutions
             with agreed standards of responsibility and adopting appropriate corrective action. The
             enforcement dimension is therefore complementary to the others in fulfilling the preventive
             and corrective functions of accountability.  (From: Who Will Be Accountable? --- or for more on this
             topic click   here) .

(Note: If the state and local parent program representatives have not brought up most of these concerns
"or, at least,  discussed how the achievement gap is being addressed" it is surely a telltale sign --- and a
huge hint that they are not  serving the information needs of parents and community stakeholders. Moreover, it also shows that they are not representing public school parents and community stakeholders from a rights-base d democractic  standpoint or with democracy in mind and are probably, instead,  supporting and  promoting the views of   school officials.  


Based on this incomplete list of state, district and school accountability concerns where the questions keep multiplying --- will parents and community stakeholders ask  states and local school systems to do the right thing and utilize the ESSA flexibility provisions to address many of these longstanding issues? Will parent programs build the capacity of parents and community stakeholders so they know what questions to ask . . . questions that should be a necessary part of the discussions focusing on student achievement? Most importantly, will parents and community stakeholders ask Secretary DeVos why state, district and school officials (in each state) , to date, are currently developing their own plans --- which means that they are holding themselves accountable for their own actions?
​There are so many topics that they should discuss about ESSA, including but not limited to: state per pupil spending, state indicators, state timelines, participation rates that fall below 95% on testing, attendance, graduation rates, etc, school ratings, super data groups ( How will states address the needs of each subgroup ?), rigorous research based curriculum, quality classroom instruction, etc. and their state definitions for underperforming schools, teacher effectiveness, and state flexibility. They should discuss teacher evaluations and make sure that they are not watered down but tied to student test results. Equally important, they must focus on the "quality" of the state assessments  and understand why  they must be tied to high-quality (rigorous) research-based standards. For instance, 

         State assessment systems provide essential information that States, districts, principals, and teachers                can use to identify the academic needs of students, target resources and supports toward students                      who need them most, evaluate school and program effectiveness,and close achievement gaps among              students. A high-quality assessment system also provides useful information to parents about their                      child’s advancement against and achievement of grade-level standards. The Department’s peer review            of State assessment systems is designed to provide feedback to States to support the development                      and administration of high-quality assessments.  (Department of Education, 2016)
With parents and community members involved in these discussions, etc. or taking part in --- issue formation --- state, district and school-based agenda(s), without question, will change.  In other words, with an organized presence of parents and community stakeholders paying attention to the educational  experiences of children in schools critical  concerns and issues are bound to be brought to the fore--- and, in the process,  the very democratic purpose of educating all U.S. children will  take center stage.  

Our checklist then is a starting point for parents and community members who want to be taken seriously by all school representatives. Respecting this democratic goal, however,  begins with an awareness of what parents and community stakeholders want and do not want from school officials.  First of all, they do not want school officials to speak on their behalf. This means that they do not  want manufactured or cosmetic-type school information handed to them after educational decisions have already been made at the national, state and local levels. These stakeholders, instead, want to explore and discuss real issues, in a timely manner and, at a deeper level, where the answers and solutions exist for all public school students, not just some. They want to debate subjects from a systemic level of analysis by supporting “shared public spaces where knowledge is created, exchanged and used.”  In sum, they want access to opportunity structures and processes where they can actively contribute to the conversations about effective and proven solutions  for student success.  
From this perspective, opportunities abound for the 65% of American parents who wish to support their children's education. For instance, they can collaborate with other parents and community stakeholders  by embarking on a journey that leads to "doing more" for public school children --- by  "learning more" about the public education system.  And, if they stay the course and remain committed to the public school system, they will also find that they are "the participants" whose wishes have, indeed, come true based on their very own involvement in creating new opportunities for change to happen --- opportunities that include  becoming a part of a world class "inclusive"  public  education community in the making. . .