Parental Engagement Declines; Texting Service Slow to Take Off

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Since the mayor and the chancellor announced a pilot mobile outreach program on the first day of school just 2,000 parents have signed up in a system with more than one million students.

But the Department of Education would not characterize the outreach effort as faltering. It is, rather, one piece of an overall parent engagement strategy. For example, there will be parent outreach events in each of the five boroughs next month, according to a D.O.E. spokesperson. Still, the city efforts to include and inform parents have faced trouble.

According to the 2012 Mayor's Management Report, only 466,000 parents attended parent-teacher conferences last year, a huge drop from five years ago, when over 1.1 million parents attended the annual conferences. There was also a 60 percent decline in parents attending workshops with their schools' parent coordinators over that same time period. The Wall Street Journal reports that city has cut back the number of parent coordinators for budget reasons.

The Mayor's Management Report says the declining trends are explained in part by improvements in data collection and tracking launched in the 2012 school year, "which more accurately tracks meaningful interactions between parents and their schools’ Parent Coordinators."

Meanwhile, the text messaging service is trying to reach parents and caregivers where they, or their phones, are. By texting NYCSchools to 877-877, phone owners are able to receive updates about parent teacher conferences, report cards and testing dates. Messages have already gone out about high school fairs this month.

The service is only available in English for now, which may explain why more families haven't signed up. About 14 percent of the city's million-plus students are still learning English. The D.O.E. said it would consider expanding to other languages down the road.