Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Parental Minimization Is Not An Effective Parental Engagement Strategy

Dr. Mike Robinson

Perhaps my ambition to see an educational system where parents, teachers and school administrators are in partnership for the academic success of all students is more a dream that a possibility. Over the past several decades, research and a myriad of news reports have reflected on the value of parental engagement, while at the same time criticizing the lack of parental involvement. The benefits of parental engagement are well researched and documented.

This argument is juxtaposed to the increase bashing of teachers and their unions which have reached epic levels. Efforts to silence, marginalize, and destroy teacher unions have dominated news headlines for the past several years. The apex of such actions having taken place in Wisconsin, where Governor Scott Walker worked tirelessly to break his state’s unions to include teacher unions, by dismantling collective bargaining rights for state employees.  Governor Walker’s actions are just a drop in the bucket of the methods used to eliminate inclusion and engagement among a specific constituent base. However, these methods pale in comparison to those used to eradicate the position of parents and families when it comes to the educational systems in America.

The systemic efforts by a variety of entities to silence and completely eliminate the voices of parents who are striving to have an authentic role in the academic lives of their children have been shameful at their least to bordering on outright violations of one’s civil rights at their worst.  Parents are typically bashed by the media for their lack of engagement in the lives of their children. Reports describing the lack of parental involvement are seldom based on any long term studies; typically suggesting a vast majority of parents, just awake in the morning and after a large steamy cup of narcissism send their children off to public schools to be raised by teachers and school administrators and if time permits the teachers are welcome to educate their children.

Once the media has finished, teachers, school administrators and civic leaders pile on; many offer assertions regarding parental involvement within the schools with little statistical data to support their claims. Seldom does one hear or read of the variety of ways in which schools attempt to engage parents/families prior to proclaiming parents just do not want to be involved, because they do not attend Back to school night, PTA meetings or a Parent Teacher Conference.

When you hear of the great successes taking place in schools and overall in school districts, one can rest assured there is a strong and healthy relationship between home and school. Families and school personnel are working on the same page. In these successful models of high achieving schools and school districts, parents have a voice in school leadership.  When parents are used as allies, teachers and administrators have a new found freedom to speak openly and frankly about student performance.  While there are many examples of such effective relationships that have turned poor performing schools into beacons of student achievement, the sad fact is the number of school districts that do not have or even desire to have a strong relationship with parents are driving the negative discussion about parent involvement.

Dr. Mavis Sanders, a renowned researcher, scholar and author in the area of parental engagement and more specifically the relationships between communities and schools, stated that if schools really want an effective parental engagement environment, they will have it, if they do not want a parental engagement program in their system, they will not have it.  Dr. Sanders’ statement is powerful, as it professes school districts either desire to have parents in their schools or they do not.

Certain school districts use a myriad of methods, techniques and systems to control parents as they continue to drive a message that parents do not understand. The leadership within this type of school system is well versed in creating communication systems which pretend to offer two-way communication. However, the reality is these systems are riddled with hidden layers that contain a culture which states to parents “you do not understand education and to some extent parenting itself”. Many of these schools have suggested and championed laws that would criminalize aspect of engagement, specifically those they have defined types of engagement they want parents to perform as the true forms of parental involvement.

Failure to attend a PTA meeting or missing a Parent Teacher conference is being considered violations of the law. Failing to fit into a mode which is typically narrowly defined by schools regarding parental engagement could have incarceration as a consequence.  There are now States advocating schools actually grade parents as to their level of involvement. Yet these same systems cringe at the thought of having parents’ grade teachers or that an educator’s evaluation is attached to their student achievement.

Parental Minimization can result in parents, families and community stakeholders becoming frustrated, confused, angered and disillusioned about their community school. The results of such efforts are dramatic, parents and communities become disengaged, they reduce their level of involvement with their school district and in extreme cases, parents seek to find alternative educational opportunities. This is defined as “Give Out”, a process by which parents seek to remove their children away from a school system that is simply not friendly to parents and students. The ultimate result of parental minimization is declining enrollment and an increase in low performing schools.

Next week: How Parental Minimization and the lack of student achievement drives the desire for home schooling or parent directed education.

 Dr. Mike Robinson is the creator of the National Men Make A Difference Day for Student Success and the host of Parent Talk Live. Dr. Robinson is a leading voice/expert on parental engagement and community outreach in education. He is also the CO- CEO of Forest Of The Rain Productions, an Internet communication company, whose mission is to expand the voices in and about education.

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