Educational Checklist for Parents & Community Stakeholders, 2018
 A few years ago, the results from a Public Agenda survey disclosed that most U.S. parents do not know the names of their school officials --- such as the name of their local superintendent or the names of their school board members.
Findings from another Public Agenda survey discovered that most U.S. parents do not know what school officials do nor do they understand "the key factors affecting public education quality" --- even though:  " 65% of parents do
wish that they were doing more to support their children's education  in comparison to only 34 percent of parents who state that they are satisfied with the way things are.” Furthermore, in spite of these statistics, most parents and community members know next to nothing about " actual school spending (rather than average district per-pupil spending), which can reveal where the most experienced teachers are working, whether racial minorities and districts’ neediest children are receiving their fair (and necessary) share of tax dollars, and if schools that get the same amount of money are getting the same academic results ."
But did any of these surveys address what  U.S. school representatives did or did not do to expose parents and community stakeholders to a "timely framework for knowledge building" linked to their information dissemination and knowledge utilization needs? Did they ask the parents and community members if their state, district or school representatives circulated an identifiable, easy to use tool, method or technique to improve their educational awareness-building efforts (overall)? Did their state, district and school representatives have a proven track record in building, on a regular basis, genuine collaborative partnerships with stakeholders to ensure that all parties
were --- and would always be --- members of legitimate, inclusive school communities? 

Delli-Carpini and Keeter believe that "the challenge to America lies in providing an environment in which the benefits of being informed are clearer, the tools for gaining information more accessible, and the opportunities to learn about politics more frequent, timely, and equitable."  From their perspective, "the ability of citizens to articulate their interests depends upon both the supply and quality of information available and the ability to understand the relationship between this information and the policy driving personal experience in this policy realm. . ."  For other scholars, " policy design and administration shape public wants, citizens’ self-perceptions,  and how individuals understand and act toward political systems and institutions, including how citizens view and relate to one another ."  (Soss, Joe. 2000, Campbell, A. L. 2002, Mettler, Suzanne. 2005)   According to Lesley E. Lavery, however, "a crucial next step in forming self-interested policy evaluations is an understanding of the channels in which a policy shapes one’s lived experience. . .  

Having access to pertinent information then is always tied to the most effective training programs for it sets the stage for programming at the systemic level of analysis, a requirement that must be met if parents and community stakeholders are to work collaboratively with educational representatives.  This means that  school partnerships and collaborations must focus on  power imbalances between parents and school representatives if they are to exist  at all and  lead to the analysis of the structures and processes that build and promote transparency and accountability in public school governance, discourse and decision-making --- tied to student achievement, etc.  In other words, critical capacity building efforts must ensure that parents and community stakeholders have access to equal power in " decision-making bodies" based on key information .   

Generally speaking, in this light, " participation, too is a function of much more malleable factors, such as institutional design, openings in the opportunity structure, alliances and new incentives."   (Note:  "As  Pateman and Mansbridge have effectively argued, simply extending processes of deliberation or participation will often reproduce the structural inequalities that already exist.")  These inclusive decision-making bodies must focus on key school-based concerns and lessons learned from the standpoint of parents and community stakeholders as well. In this sense, identifiable "good faith efforts" are associated with strong collaborations that move beyond the ineffective, surface-level goals that keep perpetuating and creating the same school-based outcomes  (over and over again) stemming from the same superficial school community relationships.   

"Reaching out" to third-party parenting experts to better understand the  importance of key capacity development goals, insights, best practices and lessons learned is a step in this direction --- an option ensuring that that all parents and community stakeholders have their key "information dissemination and knowledge utilization" needs truly acknowledged and met.  This goal is often needed but understated, if not underestimated ---  for, at its root,  it reinforces the need for true democratic engagement and/or understands that parents and community stakeholders must choose and/or make informed decisions about school-based goals without assuming that they must always side with educators. It recognizes that their ongoing task is to keep building their capacity so they can keep holding school officials accountable for student achievement. It means that they must stay focused on what drives inequitable school-based practices by recognizing that --- for good or bad --- schools are political, economic,  educational and " social- cultural structures that are the result of accumulated decisions, policies, and actions ." In this light, capacity development brings these variables into focus by creating an expanded view of equity and excellence in public schools. It covers the topics that school-based programs ignore. It empowers parents and community stakeholders to make choices about who is truly interested in representing/serving/supporting/assisting them in determining what key facts must be "factored in to an analysis of school effectiveness."  This, of course, is not the "meeting to meet" brand of parent involvement or family engagement" that expects its participants to overlook the reasons for the achievement gap or inequitable  practices in schools --- or the future life chances of children. 

This critical purpose. . . instead supports parents and community stakeholders in defining and establishing the parameters between parenting education goals and special interest group goals for they are not the same --- especially if the actual purpose of public schools is acknowledged --- for the sake of sound parenting decisions.  For instance, while unions fight for widget status in public schools; parents fight for the fair distribution of effective teachers .  While unions fight for generous leave packages; parents consider the consequences of chronic teacher absences connected to " generous leave policies and job protections enshrined in state laws and local collective bargaining agreements" for obvious reasons. This list of concerns  is long and goes on and on and on. . . 

Tracking state, district and school practices that are not tied to equity and excellence efforts, including school representatives' conflicts of interest in decision-making ----  should be a part of any platform focusing on transparency and accountability goals in schools.  Clearly, band-aid solutions and/or PR leadership opportunities without substance should never become a substitute for leadership effectiveness. This concern also applies to school representatives who have never brought up the deeper issues that keep creating school-based  structural disparities leading to school ineffectiveness decade after decade. Note: Conflicts of interest occur when state, district and school representatives use stakeholder groups to promote their own choices without providing them with the background information that they need to engage in real, in-depth discussions.  

Unfortunately, most parents of color do not know that many states promote a different set of standards or lower standards  for children of color. This state-based strategy creates school-based failure or a domino effect leading to a wide range of concerns, especially since far too many children of color have not received the content to pass state tests, etc. Parents and community stakeholders, therefore, must learn how to identify best practices tied to school effectiveness in contrast to the strategies that promote school ineffectiveness --- ineffective strategies that tend to be overlooked by a wide range of educators and parent groups. Parents and community stakeholders must expect state officials to promote a basic directive showing that informed decisions matter or timely information must also count for all parents and community stakeholders --- in which the educational needs of public school children are, without question, taking precedence over the needs of the status quo and/or special interest groups. (Refer to this  archived article for information on patronage, vendors, politicians, and unions or a multitude of "typical" conflicts of interest associated with school systems across the nation. )  

In this light, conflicts of interest are less likely to occur when parenting education programming goals are no longer controlled and dominated by educators who have been known to turn meetings into one dimensional, if not, lopsided discussions that are meaningless. (Note: Parents and community stakeholders may or may not know that they are also  competing with union lobbyists --- or that everybody associated with the public school system seems to be a member of a union and represented by lobbyists --- but public school children as Obama, Duncan, Cuomo, Kasich, etc. have stated.) Given these facts, parents and community stakeholders must remain active and consider lessons learned while keeping in mind the ESSA mandates requiring states to hold themselves accountable for state, district and school  concerns a conflict of interest built into ESSA without anyone complaining.  Historically, state officials and e ducators have never been known to criticize themselves and, thus, prefer "hands off" policies (which is a call for all stakeholders to pay close attention to ESSA state accountability plans and their implementation. . .) Currently, for instance, only two states (Tennessee and New Mexico) have state accountability plans that include acceptable interventions that actually focus on low performing schools.  Note: And yet, many states have failed to share this omission  with the public (i.e. Maryland, in particular, is still considered a top rated school system by many  --- even though it   has the second least accountable school system in the nation.).  All parents and community stakeholders must, without question, build their knowledge base (with accurate information in mind) and call their elected officials to discuss and complain about low transparency and accountability standards put in place by state education officials. 

From this viewpoint, parents and community stakeholders must be able to distinguish between different types of special interest groups with different types of goals so they are truly "prepared" to contribute to the discussions that center on positive student outcomes. These types of conversations represent a new way of communicating in which strong transparency and accountability goals depend on parents and community stakeholders reaching beyond the silence of the status quo (an entity that may not be willing to recognize the specific school-based problems originating from them) to fill in the information gaps. To address this ongoing challenge, parents and community stakeholders should keep their eyes on the prize and  explore the best possible educational solutions for children, at all times, without distractions. Starting early to understand the prerequisites for certain ideas or courses leading to certain  careers  is an important step in this process, a goal that must be addressed early in a child's educational career by making demands on schools.  When they do keep these key goals in mind , parents and community stakeholders will find that they have addressed the age old belief that talk is cheap, especially if educators talk "at" them rather than "with" them day after day, month after month, year after year, decade after decade --- with little  school improvements in sight. 

This also means that when the preferences of union lobbyists and other special interest groups support decisions and solutions that serve their members, first and foremost, parents and community stakeholders must not wait on educators to challenge union choices or wait to speak up on behalf of their children. In fact, far too many educators are complicit in promoting inequitable practices by remaining silent about these state, district and school decisions. If they did care about certain practices in particular schools, certain problems would have been identified and addressed long ago, including the reason(s) why some children continue to lack school-based resources while other children do not (in the same district). Given these examples, parents and community stakeholders must be proactive rather than reactive and understand the urgency and importance of "critical priorities or explicit priority-setting" focusing on the effective implementation of policies tied to positive student outcomes. 

According to some parent educators, these crucial steps require a type of "deep-level knowledge that they say parents do not have the time to explore and develop. But parents and community stakeholders have a huge part to play in supporting and promoting excellence and equity in schools. Their voices and demands keep school reform efforts tied to transparency and accountability in school governance, discourse and decision-making. Their participation leads to responsiveness and answerability by school-based educators in support of student achievement, especially the educational needs of low-income students (something the public school systems has not done well  since the passage of ESEA, 1965).  Their demands determine what issues and concerns are prioritized based on fairness and equality (i.e., high standards tied to a research-based curriculum for all students. etc.). Their input ensures that educational leaders are addressing and targeting real life school-based issues that school administrators do not address since no one is challenging them or making demands on them to address key concerns as parents in other countries do.  And yet, it is the job of parents and community stakeholders to take on this task if they want effective, timely change to occur.

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 spaces where knowledge is created, exchanged and used,”  they want access to opportunity spaces 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. . . . (For more information on this subject, please read our current blog that's entitled: The Purpose of Parent Engagement Programs by clicking here .)
Creating a Culture of Inquiry:
Questions for Knowledge Creation, Exchange & Use
(Please check yes or no after reading each question and then discuss your answers with other stakeholders (i.e. Do you understand what your State Constitution says about a public school education?) For a print-ready copy of the questionnaire, please contact us by email at or by phone at 202-534-1754.
1. ____ Yes ____ No
I developed, along with other stakeholders and (in partnership with) school representatives, the written parent involvement policy, which was disseminated to everyone in our school community in a timely fashion. 
2. ____ Yes ____ No
I understand the terms of engagement for parent and community stakeholder involvement  at the national, state, district and school levels, including the roles for parents and community stakeholders in public school communities and as members of advisory councils.  
3. ____ Yes ____ No
I understand the different types of interactions between educational representatives and parents/community stakeholders, including how these interactions are defined, supported and promoted. For instance, I understand how advisory, consultative and partnership interactions as well as collaborations (operational), policy deliberations and dialogues --- are defined, supported and promoted. I understand the role of  school officials and/or what they do as the conveners and facilitators of parent and community stakeholder meetings, workshops,  conferences, etc.  I also understand how school officials (as conveners and facilitators) avoid conflicts of interest in the framing of public school issues and concerns  and/or in addressing special interest groups  promoting political agendas  that fail to serve the best interests of public school students ----  and/or  fail to support the full range of parent and community stakeholder choices through their capacity building events.   
4. ____ Yes ____ No
I understand the importance of taking part in the development of agenda items and/or the specific types of issues discussed at meetings, including how the issues, concerns or problems are defined.  
5. ____ Yes ____ No
Our school encourages discourse, dialogues, debates, and deliberations before decisions are made on all critical educational concerns and issues within our state, district and school.
6. ____ Yes ____ No
Capacity development training programs are planned in partnership with parents/community stakeholders and school representatives. All parties determine the educational needs as well as the content for all parent and community stakeholder programming and written materials, including the development of any survey questions 
and the interpretation or the survey results. 
7. ____ Yes ____ No
Our state, district and school refer to parents and community stakeholders as equal partners in relationship with school representatives.  To meet this goal, school officials have explained how parents are formally recognized as equal partners in school governance and decision-making.
8. ____ Yes ____ No
Our state, district and school have created opportunity structures to support parents and community stakeholders in learning about and understanding the importance of voice, efficacy, agency, and influence and how to utilize these capabilities as a basis for strengthening our interactions  with public school representatives. 
9. ____ Yes ____ No
Our state, district and school have created opportunity structures and democratic spaces tied to transparency and accountability in school governance, discourse and decision-making.
10. ____ Yes ____ No
Our state, district and school officials have explained how power imbalances are addressed, including how power is currently defined, identified and used.  
11. ____ Yes ____ No
Our state, district and school have explained which groups have hired lobbyists to promote their special interests within public school systems, including how the actions of lobbyists impact critical decisions tied to student achievement.   
12. ____ Yes ____ No
Our state, district and school have explained how excellence and equity are embedded in all public school processes and structures based on current research or best practices in high performing schools.
13. ____ Yes ____ No
I understand the enabling environment as well as the conditions that support or impede parent and community stakeholder engagement.
14. ____ Yes ____ No
I know the names of the "Secretary of Education," "State Superintendent," "Local Superintendent" and our "School Board" members. I know what they do and how they support student achievement. I know how to contact them if I have any questions about the public education system.  
15. ____ Yes ____ No
I understand the purpose of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act or legislation, including the Every Student Succeeds Act and how it will be implemented in my state, district and school.  
16. ____ Yes ____ No
I understand what the purpose of the Title One legislation and how it is funded. 
17. ____ Yes ____ No
I understand the purpose of the ESEA parent involvement provisions, including their requirements and how they are funded.  I also understand the parent involvement compliance and monitoring requirements for states, districts and schools.
18. ____ Yes ____ No
School officials have adopted the Common Core State Standards or high-quality standards that are not vague, low, or a mile long and an inch thick.  I understand how they are aligned with classroom instruction. 
19. ____ Yes ____ No
School officials have explained their instructional culture and how teacher effectiveness is tied to student performance.
20. ____ Yes ____ No
School officials have explained how their rigorous research-based, content-specific curriculum is aligned to the Common Core Standards.
21. ____ Yes ____ No
I understand the purpose of the Common Core State Assessments and how they are aligned to the Common State Standards  (or uniform, high-quality standards) so teachers do not have to teach to the test.
22. ____ Yes ____ No
I understand the importance of textbooks that are aligned to the Common Core State Standards and Common Core Aligned Tests.  
23. ____ Yes ____ No
School officials have explained the number of instructional hours students receive during a regular school day.
24.____ Yes ____ No
I understand the process for determining student engagement or the firsthand experience of students within classrooms. This includes understanding how to determine if the subject matter content was taught and if it was based on high quality standards aligned with a high, quality curriculum, and effective teacher instructional practices. School representatives have also explained, in detail, how to determine if student mastery of a lesson has occurred  "in a timely manner" as opposed to the student merely demonstrating some progress toward a learning goal.
25. ____ Yes ____ No
School officials have explained how overall school decision-making and discourse will be tracked and monitored to support transparency and accountability in school reform plans.
26. ____ Yes ____ No
School officials have included parents and community stakeholders in the development of the school policy on violent incidences within the school and on school property.  
27. ____ Yes ____ No
School officials have explained how school budgets are formulated and allocated. They have explained school funding formulas, including how they are defined and developed but not limited to "non-property sources of revenues—such as income taxes, fees, and revenues from intermediate sources, which are typically higher in low-poverty districts than high-poverty ones and are rarely equalized through the state aid formula." They have also explained that most school board members do not have an educational background in school finance and budget analysis but they have determined how these concerns are --- or will be addressed. 
28.  ____ Yes ____ No
School administrators have explained how teacher performance trends in our district are measured and tracked.
29. ____ Yes ____ No
Our state has a database of superintendent and principal performance evaluations. This database will allow performance trends to be tracked in relationship to administrator quality and effectiveness.

 30. ____ Yes ____ No
Administrators of federally funded programs, including nonprofit representatives who receive grants for parent and community stakeholder programming have explained how these programs are implemented, and how their programming is aligned to transparency and accountability goals and objectives.
31. ____ Yes ____ No
Parent Centers are reachable by bus or subway and are located in areas that are convenient for parents rather than program administrators.  
32. ____ Yes ____ No
Parent Center Leaders always collaborate with parents and community stakeholders in planning events that are at held on the days and times, which are most convenient for parents rather than program administrators.  

Educational Checklist (attached) for: 

U.S. Parents & Community Stakeholders, 2019 - 2020