What Schools Want Parents to Know (page 2)

— The Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement
Updated on Jul 9, 2010

Informed Parents Are a School’s Best Customers

Some parents are unfamiliar with thinking of themselves as “customers” of their public school system. But in fact they are, since federal and state laws require that all children be provided a high-quality, public education. Research reinforces the value of this consumer notion, indicating that parents’ expectations for the level of education their children will attain and parents’ satisfaction with their children’s school are consistent predictors of both academic achievement and social adjustment (Reynolds, Mavrogenes, Hagemann, & Bezruczko, 1993).

Like other consumer-based enterprises, schools do better when they hear from customers with questions, comments, and constructive criticism. Asking questions promotes the two-way communication that is a critical part of effective parent involvement. It also helps challenge schools to continuously improve their efforts to reach parents. Some conversation starters for parents include the following:

  • Is there help is available if my daughter is struggling?
  • What are the school’s safety and discipline standards?
  • What courses does my son need if he’s thinking about applying to college?

Parents will find that most teachers are eager to share information about what students are learning or what resources are being used in lessons.

Just as parents relish getting a call from their child’s teacher “just to say hi” or to note something positive their child has done, teachers appreciate hearing from parents in a proactive way. When parents call a teacher or schedule a meeting to ask “What unit is coming up next?” or “Are there any materials I can get at the library to support what my child is learning?” and not just “Why did my child get a failing grade on this essay?” they are signaling their willingness to be a part of the team effort to educate their child.

Working Together Creates a Better School

In recent years, many schools have changed their view of involvement from the notion of “parent as helper” to “parent as partner” by developing ways to share decision making with parents. Participating in school advisory councils, interview committees, or policymaking groups give parents ways to work with schools to solve problems and achieve common goals.

Studies indicate that creating these opportunities encourages parent involvement and may even have a positive effect on student achievement. A survey of more than 400 parents of high school students in Maryland revealed that their attitudes toward their children’s schools are positively influenced by efforts schools make to promote partnerships with them. They are more likely to come to the school if the school encourages them to be volunteers and participate in decision making (Sanders, Epstein, & Connors-Tadros, 1999).

Researcher Don Moore (1998) studied the relationship between the Chicago Public Schools’ local school councils and student achievement in reading. The councils, mandated by law, must have a majority membership of parents whose children attend the school. Among other activities, members select the principal and develop and approve the annual school plan and budget. Using 27 indicators—including the degree to which the council contributed to the school’s instructional program, leadership, and climate—Moore rated the relative strength and weakness of the council in his study schools. He found that schools with significant increases in scores had strong school councils, while those with declining scores or flat scores had weak councils.

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