We Involved Parents_We Failed To Evolve With Them

In today’s tumultuous world, individuals are seeking social perspicuity concerning taxation, unemployment, governmental improprieties, and civil rights. Through all the verbal debates, no one can hear the quiet rebelling voices of a few parents and children as legislators continue to propel testing as the “absolute” in a child’s learning experience; parents lack the wherewithal to confront the issue. When will the American people collectively become vocal advocates for the education of its children? Better yet, when will educators become proactive and gain the trust of parents by inviting them into the education arena? If we empower our parents by offering the necessary tools and trainings to become active partners in their child’s education, we emancipate them to establish a community of forward thinking individuals who value education.

Education reform codified the principles of accountability practices in order to narrow the academic gap between individuals of low socio-economic status, subgroups, and diverse ethnicities. Unfortunately, while striving to narrow the achievement gap, the parent involvement gap widened.

The Elementary Secondary Education Act of 1965 reauthorized as the No Child Left Behind Act became law in 2001. It explicitly grants parents the opportunities to know their child’s weaknesses, strengths, the academic performance of the campus, and the right to provide input in the development/revision of campus policy and planning. At best, parents have been involved, but not engaged or empowered.

The Reality About Involvement

Apathy toward education continues to increase among parents. Disregarded as a viable entity in reducing the dropout rate, participating in student continuous improvement, and engaging students in achieving academic goals, parents have become disillusioned to the fact that they are participants of a diminishing educational process called parental involvement. The words parent/guardians hear from campus staff and administrators are, “…we want to partner with you so to create success for your child.”

The reality is that verbal expressions failed to coincide with educators physical actions. Parents often come into the school office, stand at the front counter for what might seem to be an eternity, and when the clerk or other staff person happens to look toward the counter, he/she offers four disingenuous words, “Can I help you?” The parent/guardian does not receive a smile, no vocal expression of kindness, and does not receive affirmation that the school is here to serve. The parent/guardian leaves with feelings of emptiness rather with feelings of comfort as a partner in their child’s education.

By definition, the word involvement suspends the thought of a high-level commitment between two or more parties. For the sake of being simplistic, I will use the following examples: If at a dinner party, a couple enthusiastically announces they are involved with one another. Automatically a flurry of questions and images begin to infiltrate everyone’s thoughts. One might ask, “… is either one of them married?” “…are they having an affair?” Better yet, “…what is their level of involvement?” The term parental involvement elicits a lack of strength and resolve between individuals to maintain consistency and focus in accomplishing a goal. Parental involvement produces what the terminology suggests, a low-level commitment between individuals who partially communicate in order to maintain a consistent plan of action.

In contrast, the term engagement encompasses those attributes that extend beyond one’s individual needs. When a couple announces their engagement, it often sounds like this: Everyone, we have an announcement. We are engaged! Without question, one receives feelings of excitement for the couple as they sincerely display a commitment to one another. There are no selfish pretenses or thoughts of elevating one’s self. The term parental engagement elicits strength and a resolve between individuals to maintain consistency and focus in accomplishing goals. They help one another excel to the best of their ability.

A Time of Disillusionment

In 1957, the Russians launched Sputnik, a Soviet satellite. The United States accepted the challenge to establish itself as a viable nation in the race to space campaign. Mathematics, known as new math by parents, and science, refocused attention to the need to prepare our nation’s children for a future in space. Then in 1963, the thirty-fifth president of the United States, John F. Kennedy died from an assassin’s bullet. The nation reeled from the news and individuals, particularly the young people, felt Russia was about to declare war on the United States. Then in 1965, the Elementary Secondary Education Act (ESEA) in response to Sputnik, initiated the upgrade of school facilities, innovative programs, and open classrooms for a short period. Prior to the ESEA, parents experienced a more nonchalant atmosphere and were able to communicate more freely with their child’s teacher concerning curriculum issues. With the establishment of the new reform act, parents became disillusioned with the fact that they lost connectivity with their child’s school.

The September 10, 2010 presentation entitled, The 95/5 Dilemma, by Dr. Daniel A. Domenech, Executive Director of the American Association of School Administrators, highlights specific data that demonstrates school reform positively impacted student success.

“The unfortunate byproduct of this effort, however, is that the lowest performing five percent of our schools have come to define the other 95 percent. This is what I call the 95/5 dilemma.”

Dr. Domenech states that the graduation across the nation rose to 90 percent and out of that percent, 80 percent of the students extended their education; the Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll proclaims that “77 percent of parents in this country assign a grade of A or B to the school attended by their oldest child; forty-nine percent of Americans assign a grade of A or B to the school in their community; both of these numbers are the highest percentages ever recorded in response to these questions. The national high school graduation rate has increased to 75 percent. The student dropout rate has been declining since 1972; the NAEP fourth and eighth grade math and reading scores have never been higher. Yet, despite these gains, public education remains under attack. Teachers and administrators are looked upon with suspicion and are seen as impediments to change, rather than as part of the solution. We have come to feel isolated and under siege,” states Dr. Domenech.

In response to Dr. Domenech’s presentation, Foster Watkins, Ed.D, Retired Educational Administrator and Professor in Higher Education, Atlanta, Georgia states:

“… Painfully, I must admit that I recall too many principals in the 60s-80s who said “Send me your children, and stay out of my hair, we will take care of ‘things’.” How could we, as educators, been so wrong at such a critical time in the history of public education in America? I do not see much on the “horizon” in America at this time that will redirect us toward a society based on “personal and collective accountability” that from the beginning communicates high expectations for parents and their children.”

The reform act encouraged academic awareness, but failed to garner communication and input from parents. Although unintentional, marginalization of parents began the downfall of the ESEA parental involvement guidelines. Federal policy affords parents and guardians the right to seek resources, create positive connections with their child’s school, and receive strategies and training to reinforce their child’s learning. The 1965 definition of the term parental involvement became a mere shadow of its original interpretation.

Parents did not make the transition with their children into the 21st century. If one analyzes what has happened, we find that educators did not put the cart before the horse; they actually left the horse in the corral. They believed that parents who worked too closely with the schools would be counterproductive to the educational process, and lacked the necessary aptitude to understand educational jargon or academic processes. Educators felt they did not have the time to coddle parents; their job is to educate children. This notion permeated every campus and classroom in the nation.

Between the years 1965 and 1980, the United States excelled and surpassed other competing countries in the “race to space” and in the world market. Our nation’s education system was phenomenal; we put a man on the moon! That facade was short-lived, children were displaying inadequacies in core curricular areas—math, reading, and science. Also during this period, the nation continued to address underlying physical and emotional issues of segregation that fashioned a splinter in the fiber of educational advancement, causing parents to become more disillusioned. Although not legal until 1993, homeschooling was becoming a viable solution for parents in educating their children. Some distraught parents risked moving to other areas of town so to avoid registering their child in school and detection by the school system. As it became more prevalent, education administrators became increasingly aware of the financial deficits taking place as these parents deregistered their children from traditional education.

Parents, in all the turmoil of a system that should be one of the most stable institutions in the nation, have become disengaged and marginalized.

Engage, Empower, Evolve

Parents cannot effectively engage their children in learning if educators fail to engage parents in the process. The premise behind the 1965 Title I Parent Involvement Policy now known as the 2001 NCLB Parent Involvement Policy is to invoke bilateral participation between educators and parents. Most importantly, the statute is in force to create a unique partnership so parents have first-hand information concerning legislation, district planning and goals, and campus planning, training, and curriculum issues. Parents and educators need to evolve together so children receive maximum benefits of learning. Although NCLB provided the requirements for which parental involvement is standardized, it is evident that we have Left Most Parents Behind (LMPB). As we review the education reform act of 1983, “A Nation at Risk,” the separation between parents and educators became a chasm within the education system.

This following statement from the report made an impact on all educational institutions:

“… If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves.”

Also, based on the publication, analyst Paul Copperman has noted the following conclusion:

“Each generation of Americans has outstripped its parents in education, in literacy, and in economic attainment. For the first time in the history of our country, the educational skills of one generation will not surpass, will not equal, will not even approach, those of their parents.”

As abhorrent as the statement suggests, one needs only to analyze the ESEA of 1965, the 1983 reform report “A Nation at Risk,” and the 2001 NCLB Act. When it comes to the academic world standing, the United States accepts every challenge to raise its world standing in mathematics and science. Of all the components addressed in the aforementioned documents, the coalescence of parental engagement and academics is void in planning the success of educating children.

With all the attention focused on curriculum, parents were not engaged in establishing educational expectations, instructional goals, or planning. Of everything the United States schools have accomplished, a fundamental guideline of how to engage parents has been “touch and go.” There is accountability that measures the success of students, but unfortunately, parental engagement has no accountability platform. In reality, parents have not had the opportunity to evolve as quickly as the educational system; educators created barriers and depicted parents as inept and unable to understand what is required in the classroom; the thought that parents would gain too much power, squelched communication; parents ask too many questions which causes many problems.

Reflect on the history of education as you envision it:

1. How many school events focused on providing parents the tools to assist with their child’s education?

2. How many school events provided parents training concerning legislative education updates, campus curriculum issues, campus planning, or workshops that addressed brain research and how children learn?

3. Other than making copies, and being room moms/dads, what specific education related tasks have parents assisted teachers and students with on their campus?

Chances are that answering the previous questions did not result in positive responses. If asked what events gave rise to public discord and strong debates, the answers would not take much thought. Public events such as “Occupy Wall Street,” marches on the nation’s capitol, the ”99%,” and public dissatisfaction concerning taxation, unemployment, and civil rights, quickly come to mind. When was there a time when the populous gathered in mass to demonstrate discontent toward the nation’s educational deficiencies? One reason may be that the populous does not understand accountability, legislative educational issues, curriculum, funding, budgetary issues, or more importantly, not understanding what it takes to receive a great education in today’s world. The fact remains, no one has taken the proactive stance to inform, engage, and empower the populous to “step up to the plate” on behalf of our nation’s children. In order to increase educational success for all children, everyone from parents, educators, community, businesses, and politicians must evolve together in the educational process.

We the people are the collective holders of the most precious institution in the nation—education. It is as if going to war, everyone must know the goal, have the ability carry out the plan, create an impenetrable barrier, and evolve together to gain and sustain improvement.