Meaningful family involvement in schools can make a huge difference for a child’s learning and for driving improvement in the school system as a whole. Extensive research has shown that students with involved parents have higher attendance, social skills, grades, test scores, and graduation rates. We learned a lot more about this topic when we attended a presentation about parent engagement at the City College of New York as part of their Colloquium Series on Data and Data Driven Instruction.
Norm Fruchter of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform presented the session, entitled “How do parent & community groups use data for organizing?” Fruchter’s documentary, Parent Power, explores how parents and community groups leveraged data to advocate for educational improvement in New York City schools from 1995 to 2009. The film tells the story of a group of parents from the South Bronx who came together after learning that only 17% of their students were reading at grade level in elementary school.
Through impact-driven campaigns, these parents built citywide momentum to improve the quality of education in low-income communities alongside community groups and partners like the Annenberg Institute.Their achievements include the Lead Teacher program, developed in partnership with the union, to improve teacher effectiveness by giving the strongest teachers the opportunity to support their peers.
Since the events depicted in the documentary, parent engagement and advocacy have gained greater recognition from city leaders. This fall, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that community schools and parent involvement will be key to his education plan, stating: “Schools work best when parents feel welcome, when they are involved – and when they participate in their children’s education, regardless of what language they speak at home.”
Around the country, advancements in internet access, social media, and technology for education since 2009 have changed the way parents and communities advocate for their children’s education and collaborate with districts. New feedback channels enable two-way communications between educators and parents. Home visitation programs are helping build relationships between teachers and parents, and online communication platforms such as FreshGrade and ClassDojo can maintain the connection by providing parents with just-in-time information about their child’s progress. As school choice expands in many districts, district sites and independent sources such as GreatSchools have grown to meet parental demand for data about school quality. Researchers in the Aprendiendo Juntos Council are studying how to meet Hispanic and Latino families where they are with technology so that they can more easily engage in their children’s development.
Some districts are beginning to not only involve families in their individual child’s learning but also invite them to the table for district planning and decision-making. In Washington, DC, the district has prioritized parent and community engagement in its recent school improvement efforts, with support from the Flamboyan Foundation. In addition to in-person sessions, the district asks parents for their input on the budget using online community engagement platform MindMixer. Based on feedback in the last budget cycle, the district increased its investment in support staff to “to better address the social and emotional needs of students” in middle grades, among other improvements.
Since the South Bronx parents first organized to improve education for their kids, many districts and organizations have taken steps to change the way parents access data about their child’s learning and advocate for change. We’re excited to see parents, community organizations and districts in New York and across the country continue to build partnerships and leverage digital tools to improve how students are engaged in learning every day.
Christina works for Mobility Labs, where she collaborates closely with partner organizations to develop digital products that meet the needs of teachers and education leaders.