The following is adapted from what I read to the Keep Florida Learning Committee during a conversation about how to increase parent involvement in Florida public schools. As a parent representative appointed to the committee, I felt it was imperative that I provide my perspective about this topic.
When I applied to be on this committee, one of the things I mentioned in my application was that have a lot of pride in our public school system. My parents were public school teachers, and I have worked at public colleges most of my life.
I’ve noticed that a lot of parents are not happy with the education system in our state. The reason I joined this committee is because I want to help change that – so that parents will take pride in saying their kids are in public schools and will feel good about sending their child to school each day.
I read a survey recently from Pew Research Center that stated that working parents feel more stressed and have less time to spend with their children now than ever before. We need to consider the demands that public school is placing on parents, how that is contributing to this stress, and how it affects family engagement with schools.
When parents have to relearn subjects they learned in school in order to be involved with their children’s learning, it places a huge burden and time constraint on already stressed families. These same parents see their children crying and anxious about the tests they’re being given in school, and that also affects their relationship with schools and their desire to be engaged.
As we discussed during our mindset exercise about parent involvement at a previous meeting, parents should feel comfortable sharing their concerns with their school. However, we need to realize that a lot of the things parents are unhappy with are not decisions that are made at the school level – such as the Standards and the high stakes placed on testing. This, of course, affects engagement.
One of the things on the list of considerations for our mindset exercise was the notion that parents should be involved in making decisions about their schools. Yet, out of 55 items in our deregulation worksheet, only 8 (15%) had a “yes” in the parent column, and none of those 8 things have to do with instruction.
If we really want to increase family engagement, we need to start listening – really listening – to the concerns parents are sharing about the experiences and struggles their children are having in schools and be willing to make real, tangible changes to address those concerns.
We also have to pay attention to what we are asking teachers to do. Teachers have much more administrative work than in the past, and all of that eats into the time they would normally spend communicating with parents. There are only so many hours in the day, and we know that teachers are already spending a lot of their personal time grading tests and planning class work. If we could somehow ease the administrative burden on teachers and administrators, they could spend more time on these more meaningful activities like family engagement.