Parental Involvement seems to be the holy grail of education. We all want it and know that there are major benefits when you get it, but it seems too elusive, particularly in struggling low-income communities. In a recent reading for my Achievement Gap class, â€œFamily Involvement in Middle and High School Students Education,” the authors recommend creating more small schools because “teachers at small schools are able to communicate with parents more frequently and provide parents with the information and knowledge they need to support their children in school.”
I definitely see benefits to having a smaller teacher to parent ratio, but I doubt that this is a realistic systemic recommendation particularly in entrenched, large schools in low-income communities. With budget cuts in our nation’s most struggling school districts and with the recent revelation that small schools aren’t all that they’re cracked up to be, class sizes are growing and the divide between parents and teachers will continue to grow. Should we then add more to teachers’ plates by requiring them to maintain tight communication streams with their students’ families? Conversely, how can we think about unbundling this strategic piece off of teachers’ responsibilities while still maintaining a steady flow of information that parents need.
I don’t mean to sound mechanical, but I think technology can play an integral role in providing steady, reliable and consistent information about a student’s progress to parents. I actually think technology can empower teachers to do this better and more efficiently than ever before. Why have we clung to the physical quarterly report card system when we can check get instant access to current trends in both the world news and our own personal social circles with the click of a button? Imagine having a system that allows parents to track their students’ progress academically and behaviorally in a Facebook-like instant stream. And imagine if you can communicate with both teachers and administrators in such a system. This vision isn’t too far off because the technology exists. However, it won’t do any good for our current systems, but if we can start to embed some of the principles of a system like this–quick feedback, instant and consistent communication between parents and schools, parental buy-in–we may be able to start unbundling this piece from teachers’ plates.
What we do need in the meantime are schools (regardless of their size) that create a culture of community rather than compliance. Parents often have an antagonistic relationship with schools, and they may only come to school because of behavioral issues. I can’t tell you how few of my students’ families came to open houses (maybe less than 30% of our students). The parents don’t see it as relevant because they’re frame of school is what they have known: compliance. How then can we start to involve parents and family members in a way that gives them quick feedback on their students, and instant and consistent two-way communication streams? Answering this question may lead us to that holy grail.