On May 7, parents will be “drawing a line in the sand” and asking the California State Board of Education to hold all schools accountable for authentic parent engagement practices. In partnership with organizations across the state, Families In Schools will be coordinating a bus trip of more than 50 parents/caregivers who will be traveling to Sacramento to testify at the State Board meeting. The parents/caregivers have a simple message: parents want to have a role and a voice in their children’s education.
National leaders in this field of research, such as Anne Henderson, Karen Mapp, Joyce Epstein, and many more, have clearly demonstrated that when schools engage parents, student achievement increases and school culture improves. Parent engagement practices can no longer be seen as merely “check-the-box” requirements to receive state or federal funding. Conducting a community forum here or there or adding a space for public comment at a board meeting have proven to be insufficient strategies for truly partnering with families. Authentic parent engagement is much more than that – it is about creating a welcoming and supportive culture at the schools and instilling the values in school staff so that all parents/caregivers are welcomed and respected as equal partners and decision-makers.
Parent engagement practices across the state continue to be highly uneven, uncoordinated and misaligned from student achievement goals. Sadly, the most basic indicators of authentic parent engagement are missing in many school communities. This is particularly true in immigrant, low-income communities and communities of color where barriers such as language, lack of work flexibility, financial limitations, and limited knowledge of school systems are often seen by schools as excuses to blame parents/caregivers rather than reasons to adapt or enhance policies and practices.
Authentic parent engagement cannot be optional nor can it be left to be defined by rotating superintendents or principals. California must be BOLD and listen to the voices of parents/caregivers; and “draw a line in the sand” by establishing clear expectations on how every school should partner and engage parents/caregivers, especially those families of the students targeted by LCFF.
The development of the LCFF evaluation rubrics is a critical opportunity for California to take action. State regulation indicates that the rubrics will serve as a tool to evaluate strengths and weaknesses in district plans, inform on the types of supports and assistances provided as related to state and local priorities, and identify the conditions when intervention from the state is warranted. Ultimately, the rubrics are the cornerstone of the new state-wide accountability system, which should be used to keep districts accountable for meeting the spirit of LCFF. Consequently, it is imperative that the State set the standard for what authentic parent engagement should look like at every school by including parent engagement metrics and indicators in the rubrics that all districts should address.
Families In Schools has developed a set of recommended metrics and indicators that we want to see incorporated in the LCFF evaluation rubrics to measure BOTH the engagement of parents in the Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) development process and the practices districts are implementing to improve their partnerships with parents on a day-to-day level. The proposed metrics and indicators were drawn from research, existing frameworks, interviews with school districts, input from parent/caregivers and educators, and family engagement experts. These measures establish a clear expectation of how schools should engage, outreach to and partner with all parents, especially those whose students are low-income, English Learners and foster youth.
The future of LCFF is at stake. The bureaucracies of districts, the political dynamics and financial pressures, will always serve as reasons to do the bare minimum in engaging families. If this happens, district Plans will continue to be written behind closed doors, funds will be distributed based on special interests, and parents will continue to be seen as the problem for low school performance. The expectation is that LCFF was supposed to change all that.