Parents as Partners: What is the Role of Families in School Collaboration and System Coordination
Creating meaningful parent collaboration that improves student achievement means moving beyond the traditional goals of expanding family involvement training. It begins with the hard work of actively engaging parents in decision making about their children’s education. It also begins with programs that prepare teachers for their roles. After two decades of educational reform initiatives and research that affirm the importance of families as partners, parents of students with disabilities are still frequently left out of educational decisions about their children. However, recent change in education legislation is reaffirming the role of parents in education. The IDEA 2004, the NCLB of 2001, and the Higher Education Act Amendments of 1998, all strengthened the role of parents in their children’s IEPs and transition plans, in school decision making, and in teacher preparation.
Together, the IDEA 2004 and NCLB set expectations for parent–professional partnerships that are unprecedented for the public school system. Parents were given important roles in identifying and evaluating their children with disabilities, and in the development, implementation, and revision of their educational programs. IDEA 2004 encouraged parents to become more involved in their children’s education, and additionally, to work in other ways as partners with educators and policymakers (Christie, 2005; Henderson et al., 2003). Parents are encouraged to be involved in policymaking at the state and local levels as members of advisory panels and in developing school improvement plans.
As defined by IDEA 2004, “related services” are supportive services provided to a student with disabilities to assist him or her to benefit from special education (20 USC 1401 (22) and 20 USC 1401 (26)). The law authorizes several types of related services that may be provided directly to the parents of students with disabilities to help their children progress in school. These include counseling of parents regarding hearing loss and audiology services; planning and managing a program of psychological counseling for children and parents; group and individual counseling with the child and family; and parent training (Mountain Plains Regional Resource Center, 2005).
In summary, IDEA and NCLB convey three messages to parents, teachers, and service providers: (1) the importance of the parent–professional partnership in service delivery and improving educational outcomes for children and youth; (2) the inclusion of the family unit (system) as the target for intervention and support by the schools and community agencies; and (3) the importance of strengthening the families’ role in decision making and educational improvement. IDEA 2004 and NCLB require schools to transform the traditional notions of parent involvement from signing report cards, reading newsletters, and chaperoning holiday parties, to include activities such as participating in school decision-making processes, providing input to teachers about how to assist their child, and forming meaningful partnerships with the school community.
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