Parent Engagement in Schools: Worth the Investment
  • By admin
  • October 29, 2019

By @GraceCShelton

Parent engagement is important. When all the adults in a student’s life are on the same page and united in their commitment to education, a teacher’s job becomes much easier. Parents want to engage in their child’s learning, but specific barriers can sometimes exist that hinder their ability to connect with their child’s teacher. It’s important to minimize these barriers and engage parents and the surrounding community. Some schools are more successful than others largely because of the expectation they place on teachers and parents to engage with one another. This article seeks to examine the ways parental engagement can benefit schools and how schools and districts are working to expand on these partnerships. 

Districts Seek to Eliminate Barriers for Parents 

A recent article from Education Dive discusses how districts across the country are seeking to lessen burdens and allow for more parental involvement. Currently, parental engagement is widely known to improve outcomes. However, in many districts engagement is weak. According to this article, this might be attributed to financial and bureaucratic hurdles facing parents who want to volunteer and engage more with their child’s school. It is commonly required for volunteers to undergo background checks and fingerprinting in order to work with students in a school. This makes sense—however, this is also accompanied by a $50 fingerprinting charge. For many low-income families, this cost is too high and their ability to engage with schools ends there. However, in Los Angeles Unified School District, this was reevaluated on the basis of equity. The district now covers the cost of volunteer background checks, and more and more parents are now being given the opportunity to work with their child’s school. 

In addition, the district also adopted a tiered system that requires more stringent checks depending on the level of one-on-one contact a parent volunteer will have with students. This added component aids in the struggle to remove barriers for outside participation in a way that doesn’t infringe on safety concerns. Interestingly, once the district began this new system, parent engagement increased, and parents were viewed more as educational partners. In addition, campus safety improved greatly as students were more motivated to engage in class when they were aware of parents in the building. 

LAUSD is hardly the first district in the country to begin seeking ways to engage community members. However, communication continues to remain a struggle. In the particular case of districts, superintendents must take the time to talk to their communities and let them know what the district is willing to offer for these parents and volunteers to engage. 

A Questionable Charter Success Story 

Typically, in the realm of public education, charter schools demonstrate some success with parent engagement. In the particular case of Success Academy, this is a result of a stringent screening process that only allows the most engaged parents to enroll their children in the school. The Wall Street Journal took an in-depth look at the school’s screening procedure and found that although it is technically a lottery system, parents are required to attend numerous meetings and informational sessions stressing the expectation that they will be fully engaged in the school and that “Success Academy is not for everyone.” 

This system, obviously, is somewhat controversial. Proponents argue that a charter school providing low-income families with the same rigorous application standards as an elite private school gives parents the opportunity to self-select for their students. Opponents say that the success of this school can only be attributed to its exclusionary nature and that this screening process limits access for students that might need or benefit from this school’s exceedingly high standards. One thing remains clear however, Success Academy has shown markedly high scores and outstanding levels of parent engagement. 

The process, in my opinion, is not fair or equitable but there is a lesson to be learned in Success Academy’s process: school culture and parent engagement are crucial to success. Parents are invaluable resources and utilizing them has the potential to make tremendous gains for schools. 

Engaging the Community 

In a 2009 study on community and parent engagement, researchers examined three different community and school partnerships to pull lessons for parents and schools considering broadening relationships. In this piece, researchers posit that one important reason schools lack engagement is because many disconnected families are already a part of strong community-based organizations (CBOs) and devote much of their time to volunteering and engaging there. Therefore, the researchers proposed a study where three CBOs and school partnerships are examined to pull best practices and determine if it is in the best interest of schools to engage with external partners to increase family involvement. 

CBOs use a relational approach to family engagement. Because CBOs are authentically rooted within communities, they can offer schools a unique understanding of the assets families bring to their child’s education. Researchers in this study looked at the Logan Square Neighborhood Association in Chicago, the Camino Nuevo Charter Academy in Los Angeles, and the Quitman Street Community School in Newark. Each of these cases represented a different type of collaboration (identified as community service, community development, and community organizing). 

Overall, researchers found that there are three important elements to engaging families: there must be an emphasis on building relationships among parents and between parents and educators, parents must receive help from schools and CBOs to develop leadership skills, and the school must put in effort to “bridge the gap in culture and power between parents and educators.” So, this research shows that meaningful collaborations between schools, communities, and parents is possible. Teachers must be patient and know that it takes time to build trust, schools must seek partners within the community to aid them in the process of engaging families, educators must be aware of the various needs of their community, and parents must be given the opportunity to develop leadership skills in order to form initiatives that meet their own interests and values. 

To Sum it Up 

It is easy to see why parent engagement matters. Students will succeed more if their parents and teachers work together to enhance their learning. However, there are various components to parent engagement that must be addressed. Whether it’s relieving financial burdens, seeking community partners, or holding parents and teachers to high expectations, it’s safe to say that there is no magic bullet or one-size-fits-all approach to engaging families. Schools must work with their own communities to foster relationships that could have an important impact on students’ lives. 


Tune in to the needs and interests of your parents: Contact Resonant Education today to learn how