The Purpose of
Parent Engagement Programs
Building Parent & Community Stakeholder
Voice, Agency & Influence in Schools

Part II (For Part I Click here)

Politics & Parent/Family Engagement Programming

“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, Part II 
( The public must choose who runs the parent centers , not state departments of education who were asked to identify their partners.  States, of course, are charged with addressing "parental needs and the best means for delivery of services to address such needs." Unfortunately, we also know that states, to date, across the nation have yet to acknowledge that nonwhite school districts received $23 billion less than white school districts in school funding. We also know that many states are currently lowering their standards for black children and are guaranteeing that the achievement gap widens, etc. (Also, ask your state officials about  supergroups, a gaming of the system tactic that is used to (1) improve a state's ranking and to (2) serve as a ploy to hide how states, districts and schools are really educating all of their students.) In fact, in the past,  some states lowered their standards for all students,  an act that confused the parents who discovered these decisions after the fact or when the lower standards were already put in place. These states never did explain why they made these decisions --- even though they knew that the students would, one day, still have to pass certain courses to meet the demands of college admission standards and/or their careers.  

It is, therefore, a conflict of interest for the states to "identify" and choose the organizations that it will work with if they do not know how to address parental needs themselves. In other words, they lack the know-how or to identify the organizations that must address the wide range of parent concerns tied to student achievement. "Parental needs," of course, include holding states accountable for positive student outcomes. They include making demands on states when it comes to improving the quality of schools. Will the states help parents and community stakeholders accomplish these goals? Will the states make demands on themselves in response to the needs of parents or will they view this need as an unimportant parent priority at the state and local levels? As it stands, this type of undisguised conflict of interest (which amounts to a flawed policy and/or the gaming of the system, a fact that keeps confirming the need for educational structural change at its root) is a reminder of states' rights and/or why the Articles of Confederation never worked out --- for there is no " clean division between the states and the federal government" (Congress, etc.).  (States, after all, are not stand alone entities. Thet cannot choose their own congressional members. They cannot "instruct" American citizens on how to vote.)

In this light, states, all across the nation, which represent the "U.S. Public School System" must still abide by ESSA, the national education law and meet "parental needs and the best means for delivery of services to address such needs --- with some sense of morality. They can even use the ESSA flexibility provision to use funds to better serve public school children." Yet, only 12 states have received funding for statewide parent/family engagement centers proving that parents are truly the missing links in states, ditricts and schools. Given these facts, the lessons of the past pertaining to states as well as the current lessons show that the aforementioned fact should be considered an understatement. Parents must ask  ---- what does it say about a school system that excludes parents or reduces their engagement to pretense involving conflicts of interest when they are the ones who make the school system possible by sending their children to public schools? What does it say about a school system that does not ensure that parents have access to "crucial information" (rather than sugarcoated information) in a timely manner so that they can  make informed decisons on behalf of their children?

Is it time to try something new then since the states keep showing the public that they lack the background knowledge to respond to the needs of parents, especially when it comes to race relations? Is it time to acknowledge that this longstanding problem that was evident in 1965 is still evident even now? Is it also safe to say that they have competing priorities that make it difficult for them to fulfill their public servant duties? These are the questions that must be asked if parents are to be served. For more information on "their" leadership approach to "information dissemination and knowledge utilization," please consider the ESSA state accountability plans in which states were asked to hold themselves accountable for their own actions . . .etc. Also, please remember that both houses of Congress were controlled by Republicans when ESSA was enacted.

It is, therefore, the public who must take on this role of identifying who should serve them  --- for the sake of the educational needs of public school children.  

The Continuation of Concerns from Part I. . .

. . . 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. Parents and community stakeholders must, therefore, find out about anyone who says that they represent them and question, challenge and make demands on these school representatives and entities . They must also ensure that these entities represent them from a a rights-base d democratic  standpoint or with democracy in mind or in a way that does not substitute school officials'  voices for their voices. (For more information about this topic, please refer to these statistics as well as this  article  and this   one  and this one.  )


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 so many state accountability plans boldly focus on the preferences of educators rather than the preferences of parents with many states promoting different standards for different subgroups of students ( 

Furthermore, many states are, in essence, shamelessly creating the conditions for the achievement gap by intentionally overlooking the need for timely, targeted interventions for their students, a strategy that 
requires educational leaders to pretend that they  are not underserving their students and/or allowing them to attend (undesignated) low performing schools in their states. It does not seem to matter to them that this type of policy harms the present and future educational and career opportunities of their students.(" --- Moreover, weak oversight efforts allow states  to cover up poor leadership practices more often than anyone could possibly imagine. . . for the sake of their own reputations. Needless to say, these are clear examples or signs that parents and community stakeholders were not involved in the final decisions pertaining to the state accountability plans. (Note: Some politicians are also complaining about the school accountability plans. Please refer to: "Questions for School Leaders" or the "What's New" section on the menu for more information.)
Clearly, the business as usual culture of the public education system remains in place even though sixty-three years have passed since the Brown vs. the Board of Education decision --- which demonstrates that race is still an issue and where the bar is "still" set far too low for school officials who must promote excellence and equity goals for all public school students. As a result, even with the submission of the state accountability plans there are many ESSA topics that parents and community stakeholders must continue to bring to the attention of school leaders --- topics that must remain on the agenda at any and all meetings to be discussed, questioned and challenged for they work against positive student outcomes.

With this goal in mind, these agenda items include but are not limited to: state per-pupil spending, state indicators, state timelines, participation rates that fall below 95% on testing, etc., chronic teacher absenteeism that leads to chronic student absenteeism, graduation rate schemes, 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. Furthermore, they must discuss teacher evaluations and make sure that they are not watered down but tied to student test results. They must focus on instructional leadership . 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 udents. 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 who have historically watered down their concerns. 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. . .
By Stephanie D. Leigh Robinson