Streams

Want to Improve Schools? Make Parent Involvement Meaningful

Thursday, December 22, 2011 - 02:49 PM

Truly involving parents and communities in our public schools, and the decisions that affect them, is essential to improving our school system.

While parent involvement is crucial to a child’s educational success, the reality is that such involvement is not always present for various reasons. However, the larger communities in which a student’s school and home are located also play an instrumental role in nurturing educational achievement, as expressed by the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.”

Unfortunately over the past several years, the Department of Education has consistently failed to meaningfully empower and involve these important stakeholders in its decisions about schools. Nowhere has this been more evident than in the Education Department’s decisions and proposals regarding closing or phasing out schools, and opening new ones.

During the Bloomberg administration, the Education Department has closed more than 100 schools and opened more than 500 new schools. While I disagree with the Education Department’s policy of phasing out schools, the unilateral way they have chosen to do so has been most damaging.

Schools are community institutions and, like other institutions within a community, will only be successful with strong community support. By choosing to close and open schools without the input and involvement of the local communities, the Education Department is not only discouraging the involvement of parents and communities in our schools, but also creating an atmosphere where support for new schools is severely compromised.

Most New Yorkers have come to realize that the Panel for Educational Policy lacks independence and objectivity, and approves all Education Department proposals regardless of the circumstances, valid issues raised or unanimity of opposition by stakeholders.

While the Education Department promotes its “early engagement” meetings with the stakeholders of “struggling schools” as a commitment to engaging communities, these meetings occur just weeks before the release of phase-out proposals which disregard the community input gained from them.

If these meetings were truly about helping schools and considering community input, they would occur years before any decision, in order to determine the types of supports necessary to improve school performance.

Making significant decisions about schools without genuinely accepting input from parents and local communities demoralizes and discourages those who are most actively involved in our city’s schools.

These stakeholders are a tremendous resource for engaging other parents and community members, providing valuable insight for a central Education Department that is often oblivious to realities on the ground, while generally supporting schools.

Instead of empowering and utilizing these stakeholders, the department has conveyed the message that they lack meaningful influence or input in decisions that affect their children’s schools.

Achieving robust parental and community involvement in schools is a serious challenge, especially in neighborhoods like those of Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights that I represent -- where school closures are most common.

Alienating already involved parents and community members in neighborhoods like these is especially damaging and counterproductive to increasing this participation.

If the Education Department is going to tout a commitment to engaging parents and communities, it must change the way it interacts with these stakeholders. They must be empowered to be partners in decision-making, with their input truly incorporated into school decisions and proposals.

Their energy can be constructively channeled to create an unparalleled support that would only benefit our 1.1 million students.

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