The Owl Newsletter
ISSUE 29 | JANUARY 24, 2001
PARENT INVOLVEMENT: ITS TIME TO TALK TURKEY
The Owl flew in early December to the annual conference of the California School Board Association. The keynote speaker one day was the queen of parent involvement, Joyce Epstein from Johns Hopkins University. The huge hall was packed.
Ten minutes into her speech, the exodus started as a trickle. As Ms. Epstein continued, the trickle became a river. In twenty minutes, a wave of humanity was streaming for the exits. Had someone yelled fire, the flow of folks out the doors would only have been slightly faster.
Bad speech? Sure. But that's not sufficient to explain why so many interested school board members and educators would stop listening to a respected authority whose topic was the theme of the entire conference.
The Owl's hunch . . . when Ms. Epstein took out her recipes for parent involvement, her cookbook approach provided few insights, few hard facts, and no practical help to the listeners. Being adults with the free use of their legs, they used them.
Yet every educator declares in public that whatever parent involvement is, they want it. In private, the Owl hears many educators tell parents to simply "help." Raise money. Help in the library. Escort younger ones on field trips. This is a far cry from inviting parents to join the site council or write a grant application.
PTA'S IN TROUBLE
This is the old PTA model, and it is failing. To find out just how completely it has failed, read this revealing article by Tom Toch of Brookings Institute, which appeared in the New York Times on January 7. It will show you why parents will shun well intended but superficial invitations to get involved.
If you have built real-world parent involvement in your district, the Owl hopes you'll tell him about it.
The fuzzy terminology of parent involvement itself disguises disagreements. This survey from Public Agenda that educators and parents often mean different things when they utter the phrase.
ACCOUNTABILITY REPORT CARDS CAN HELP
The Owl suggests you be prepared for more serious approaches to building bridges to your parents. Your accountability report cards (SARCs) are one place to start. If you can show that you trust your parents with candid and clear facts, you should expect your trust to be returned in kind.
School Wise Press offers help in that department. To cut to the quick, examine this sample of the parent-friendly, two-page summary SARC for an elementary school. Full-length SARCs that comply with the Ed Code in full are also available.
The Owl's bias: accountability starts with information. It's not all you need for building trust with your public, but it's the foundation you start with.
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