Powerful parents transform schools
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By GreatSchools Staff
Convincing parents to get involved
Once parents understand the positive benefits of participation, CIPL teaches them how to decipher their school's data to get a realistic picture of school performance. Examining indicators like test scores, graduation rates and teacher experience levels helps counter the natural tendency of parents to overestimate the quality of the education their children are receiving.
CIPL convinces parents of the need for schoolwide improvement by showing parents how many students at their school failed to demonstrate rudimentary skills on a standardized test, such as how many fourth graders at their school couldn't figure out the area of a rectangle - information that is available from National Assessment of Educational Progress's Nation's Report Card or their state department of education. When parents realize how poorly students are performing, there's often an audible gasp in the room.
Kerry Zack, manager of CIPL, said, "A lot of parents start out thinking only about their child's needs, but by the second day of training, they're thinking about what benefits the whole school because they realize that what benefits all students also benefits their child."
Working with administrators
Convincing administrators of the need for school improvement is another challenge, particularly those who feel that they're under siege because of budget cuts and expanded standardized testing requirements. John Murphy, former superintendent of the Charlotte Mecklenburg District in North Carolina observed, "School systems, just like most large organizations, don't change because they see the light. They change because they feel the heat."
CPIL suggests that PTAs invite parents and teachers to a three-hour session (with food and child care available) to discuss goals for their children and ideas on how to achieve them. Ideally, an impartial facilitator runs the meeting. The principal is usually asked to leave the room during brainstorming so participants feel free to speak frankly.
Not all principals welcome parent participation. "I got booted out of my school," said Deborah Stallworth, a CPIL graduate who later organized a lecture series for parents about the achievement gap at the main library in Louisville, Kentucky.
On the other hand, Cassidy Elementary School in Lexington, Kentucky, recently became the first school in Kentucky to receive a "Certification of Excellence" for parent involvement from the National PTA. Principal Richard Day explained, "I use parent involvement to promote excellence in the school. If you've got a lot of parents involved in the school, if they are knowledgeable about what you're trying to do, then you've got better reporters on what's going on in the school. Teachers know they have to be on the ball. I don't shield teachers from parents and I don't shield parents from teachers."
If enough parents indicate interest in school improvement, administrators are usually willing to listen. CIPL parent trainers like to use this example, called "Collaboration Counts":
1 parent = a fruitcake
2 parents = fruitcake and friend
3 parents = troublemakers
5 parents = let's have a meeting
10 parents = we'd better listen
25 parents = our dear friends
50 parents = a powerful organization