Thursday, January 29, 2009

Parent Consultation? @Dialogue @ Curriculum

In a recent focus group interview, parents responded to several questions. Some parents in the all Latino group answered in Spanish. Prominent & recurring topics were concern about academic achievement and the support students need to succeed. Most were ill-informed about the curricular requirements beyond vague notions that their children are required to take basic core curriculum courses. But all, to a person, showed great interest and concern.

Curriculum Consultation
Because these were parents from an economically disadvantaged Title I high school the school receiving those federal funds is required to consult with parents. But, to consult, that is to have informed dialogue, school personnel must explain and provide comprehensible information.
In a previous article, "Raising the Bar on Parent Engagement," I noted that dynamic and informed parent engagement is required for educational reform to benefit all children. "The No Child Left Behind Act gives parents increased influence over the education of their children in public schools, and curriculum is central to that education. But are parents and other laypersons unable to inform the technical aspects of education?" (2007)
One analogy can be found in health care, which is certainly technical, complex and seemingly inaccessible to the layperson. But in spite of layperson technical ignorance, contemporary enlightened doctors want patients to be informed about their health, their medical options and have more control over what happens in their health care.
Education also can be made more accessible to families and laypersons. Just as a patient does not have to become a doctor to have clear understanding of his/her body, or the meaning of a medical diagnosis and the possible paths available to better health, likewise a parent and a student can have a clear understanding of what helps and hinders his or her learning, what different options are available to learn and what alternatives could prove more compatible to the child’s learning and academic achievement.
In this way, families and communities can hold their schools to high standards and success for all students. As educators, we must have ongoing conversations with families about standards and how children can be supported to learn. Bilingual forums in lay terms inform and enable families to learn about the specifics of standards, how they are measured, and how they are assessed and can empower them to ask the right questions. We, my colleagues and I, know this first hand because we do this often and experience wonderful dialogues with families that represent the gamut of social class, education and experience. See: Authentic Consultation,
Latino Parent Engagement in High School Math , Engagement Sounds Sparks and Movements
Quality Schools Action Framework
IDRA’s Quality Schools Action Framework, our institutional change model, includes the following as key elements:

  • fair funding,

  • governance efficacy,

  • parent and community engagement,

  • student engagement,

  • teaching quality, and

  • curriculum quality and access (Robledo Montecel, 2005).

Parent and community engagement is: creating partnerships based on respect and a shared goal of academic success and integrating parents and community members into the decisionmaking processes of the school.
Curriculum quality and access is: the educational programs of study, materials and other learning resources such as technology and their accessibility to all students. It also relates to assessment and accountability – the school practices related to fair and unbiased assessment of students and degree that schools take responsibility for the academic success of all students.
These two factors should not be dealt with in isolation. In point of law, school personnel have an obligation to consult with parents and community members about students’ access to a high quality curriculum.

So: Title I Must Continue Informed Dialogue
Whatever changes and modifications are made to the new federal education law as the new congress convenes, it will be important that the consultation with informed parents continue as a requirement. We recommend that all schools support authentic dialogue and true listening of the families whose children are served by public schools. Families can be and ultimately are the strongest and most consistent advocates for the educational success of their children.

(This post is a slightly edited & tweaked version of an article just published in the IDRA January 2009 Newsletter Parent Consultation and Curriculum – Meaningful Dialogue)

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