Engaged parents can transform failing schools

The solution to turning around persistently failing public schools continues to perplex reformers (“How Parents Helped Transform a Los Angeles School,” The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 14).  Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa maintains that engaged parents is the answer by citing the example of Twentieth Street Elementary, one of the lowest-performing schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

There’s no doubt that when parents band together to form partnerships with the schools their children attend the outcomes can be heartening.  But unfortunately not all schools have parents who are willing to get involved.  When I was teaching in the LAUSD, schools were required to have Open House night. Despite widespread publicity, turnout was abysmally low.  That was especially the case for those students who were in danger of failing.  Follow-up phone calls and registered letters did nothing to change the situation.

My point is that what worked at one elementary school will not necessarily work at another.  There still is no magic formula.

(To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)

5 Replies to “Engaged parents can transform failing schools”

  1. It’s a chicken and egg situation- what came first, the good student or parent involvement? It was always so that the parents of good students showed up and the parents of less good students did not, in general.
    Sometimes the parents don’t care. Sometimes the parents cannot come because of jobs, smaller children, lack of transportation and sometimes they don’t know about the opportunity to meet teachers.
    The schools don’t have any clout over parents but I wonder if maybe there could be a ‘contract’ signed by parents, child and school where each commits to doing as much as each can to having a good school year.
    As an aside, I never wanted my parents involved in school and sometimes ‘forgot’ to inform my mother of school meetings. I know many kids do this.


  2. dkhatt: Good point. Charter schools require parents to sign a contract spelling out their responsibilities. No wonder they’re so successful. But traditional public schools are the schools of last resort.


  3. The WSJ article is behind a paywall and there is only one other article re the school on the internet — a confusingly-written puff piece for the school.

    Would be very surprised to find that “getting parents involved in the school” significantly improved academic outcomes. At a minimum, the “getting parents involved in the school” would have to include training the parents re better at-home parenting techniques.


  4. Labor Lawyer: I agree with you. Yes, parental involvement is important, but it is more easily said than done in a way that helps students learn. How do we define “parental involvement”? Does it mean simply attending open house and signing report cards? Or does it mean sitting down every night with children to impress upon them how important learning is by example? Success Academy requires all parents to sign a contract spelling out exactly what they must do on a daily basis with their children or put enrollment in jeopardy. How many traditional public schools can do that?


  5. Perhaps yours is a rhetorical question, but seems that traditional public schools could offer/require that parents sign (and abide by) such a contract.

    The school could not expel the student if the parents refused to sign or abide by the contract, but the school could reassign the student to a class of students all of whose parents refused to sign/abide by the contract. That would at least give the concerned/functional parents and the students of the concerned/functional parents the opportunity to be in a class were all/most of the other students in the class were also children of concerned/functional parents.

    This would, in effect, create the same segregation/tracking within the neighborhood public school that occurs when a charter school opens and siphons off the children of the concerned/functional parents leaving the neighborhood public school to educate the children of the unconcerned/dysfunctional parents.

    The advantage of your parents-sign-contract-or-kids-go-to-the-alternate-classroom approach is that the children of the concerned/functional parents would remain in the neighborhood public school and would therefore enjoy the superior teachers, curriculum, facilities and support services that the neighborhood public school provides rather than the inferior teachers, curriculum, facilities and support services that they would have had at a charter. And, of course, having the parents sign the contract will tend to make the contract-signing parents a bit more involved.


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