Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Families Must Connect & Organize - Linked In Responses

I've been posting announcements from my blog for Linked In Groups. Members from the Hispanic Research Inc. have responded.

The hook from the blog: ….Thats it: no charisma, no lengthy training, no book-learning: passion & compassion and the trustworthiness that causes others to take collective action. Families must connect and organize around their vision and dream for our schools. It's also at the core of the definition of a leader in our IDRA Family Leadership in Education model. The locus of this action is so far away from the bake sale, the parent convention and convention exhibitors you can't even see the marquee. Any questions?http://parentleadershipined.blogspot.com/2009/03/citizens-must-organize-and-make-leaders.html

Researchers: How do you connect the dots: parent leadership in education = children's academic success?

Two Responses: Ricardo Lopez President at Hispanic Research Inc.

I am extremely passionate about this subject. I am a huge believer in parent leadership when it comes to education and know very well that there is a direct correlation between parent involvement and student success- but then again, I am a big fan of the National PTA and know its roots and its mission. I was president of a NJ elementary school PTA unit for almost six years and have been an active participant at the town's board of education meetings. I have also attended several NJPTA conventions and have been a PTA member for over 25 years. And what does that all mean? It means that I am very odd! Seriously, it is odd enough to find men that are active in parent leadership roles; but to find a Latino father that involved? Extremely rare! And here lies the root of the problem.

Connecting the dots, as you say, is very difficult because most Latinos are completely unaware of the fact that parental involvement is directly related to student success. If Latino parents understood the reality of this simple correlation you would see an immediate boost in the number of Hispanic leaders in education. I am convinced because I have spoken to thousands of Latinos across the country and know that our people always place the children as the top priority; in fact, in a recent study I asked Latina mothers across the country what their own *personal* goal was in life and the almost unanimous answer was “for my children to succeed.” Now, I also know that telling Latino parents about the importance of parental involvement is not enough. They need to understand that parents can actually be a catalyst for change and that their involvement is welcomed. This is a very tough sale!

Why is it difficult for U.S. Latino parents to believe in parental involvement? Because many of the “uninvolved” Latinos are new immigrants that do not understand how the American public school system works. In talking to parents I've learned that Hispanics often see the schools as institutions that are to be trusted with the education of the children- never to be questioned. That attitude is even more profound among Latino parents with low levels of education because they do not feel confident enough to participate in the academic process. In addition, many Hispanics who grew up in Latin America do not trust advocacy because in the experience from their country of origin, advocacy efforts are often thwarted by inefficacy, bureaucracy, and corruption. They are also unaware that in this country the public actually controls the public schools through the electoral process and everyone has the right to address the public school leadership. The whole system is extremely foreign to new immigrants who are busy enough trying to make ends meet and adapt to their new American life. Besides, many Latinos are very happy with the schools because they see them as ten times better than what was available to them in their home country... “why get involved when the schools are good already?”

There is no doubt that parents will follow the actions of others; and I do believe that one leader can create a wide ripple effect. I experienced this first hand with my PTA involvement. I was not the first father who was president of this particular PTA unit. I got interested because I saw other fathers involved. Don't get me wrong, the mothers were still the majority (and probably better PTA leaders); but everyone appreciated the male involvement and it changed the way our PTA was viewed by the Board of Education. We were not seen as a fundraising unit for the school; we were a true (and very effective) advocacy group.

How can research help? I think information is key. We need to better understand why Latinos are not more involved. We need to learn how to drive the message of the importance of parental involvement in the success of our children. After all, most Latino mothers see the success of their children as their own goal in life.

Second Response: Rose Marie Garcia Fontana Sole proprietor of Garcia Fontana Research

Aurelio and Ricardo, I couldn't agree more with you. As an educator for over 20 years, I worked closely with parents, especially Latino parents. For four of those years I helped the California Migrant Education division with parent empowerment efforts. Many Migrant Education programs have strong models of developing parent leadership in very real, meaningful ways- not "window dressing".
The key problem is exactly what Ricardo says: Latinos do not understand the American public education system. They don't realize how fractured and complex education policy and practices are. For example, in California alone there are approximately 1000 school districts, each one doing it's own thing, supposedly guided by the Education Code, but in reality, each district is its own universe. Teachers' unions, school board politics, harsh economic realities, lobbyists in Washington, state politics, all impact what happens in schools, and most parents are clueless.

I once conducted a parent seminar for a group of Migrant Education parents, and I drew a "mind map" of all of the entities that impact children in schools. When I finished the drawing, after eliciting comments from the parents, one mother commented, "Señora Fontana, parece una telaraña". That's a pefect metaphor- the U.S. public education system IS a tangled web and parents and children, especially immigrants, do not understand its complexity nor that they have rights.

All too often, schools are not education agencies, they are employment agencies- kids don't come first, jobs do.
There are wonderful schools and educators out there, but parental involvement is rarely a priority.

I personally prefer the term "parental empowerment"- "involvement" is too vague a term. Driving home the message of how important it is for both parents to be actively connected to their child's school is a challenge. Currently I am not in Education, as I am a freelance qualitative researcher, but I have very vivid memories of my work in the trenches.

Arriba y adelante....

My initial response: Research in Parent Leadership and it's impact on school improvement and student achievement still needs a very targeted research focus. We already have a substantial amount of research on the impact of 'parent as first teacher' interventions although there needs to be more that comes from the 'valuing', 'asset mapping' and 'funds of knowledge' perspective. I'm looking for the studies that document particular parent leadership development approaches and connect-the-dots to show institutional impact and student achievement outcomes. Translating for, explaining to and connecting parents with the school system is a necessary step, but we need the data that shows how and when parent leadership and collective family action leads to transformation of our schools, especially those in poor neighborhoods. A few more blogs coming up on this one, for sure.

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Lena Khalid said...

Good tips. Agreed that Families MUST connect !

lisa said...

Really enjoy your post. I agreed that parents play a very important role in children's success. Waiting for your next post.

Thanks for sharing..
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