“With [ESSA], we reaffirm that fundamentally American ideal—that every child, regardless of race, income, background, the zip code where they live, deserves the chance to make of their lives what they will.” — President Barack Obama
On December 10, 2015, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act, reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), our national education law and longstanding commitment to equal opportunity for all students. In developing plans and implementing ESSA, stakeholder engagement – including parents – plays a crucial role in improving student outcomes in our schools.
Family engagement is crucial at the national, state and, particularly, local level where you can make a difference in your child’s school and classroom.
“Engagement” is about more than families’ one-way receiving of information and sponsoring fundraisers at school. It’s the opportunity for families to be active and integral participants in their children’s education. As examples, school districts have established parent councils to advise the Superintendent, offered workshops on navigating the school system, and implemented Academic Parent Teacher Teams to encourage greater conversation between teachers and parents on learning expectations and strategies to improve achievement.
Re-think family engagement, not to add burden to already-busy parents or work to teachers’ increasingly packed school day, but instead to build relationships between two crucial components of a child’s life together –families and school personnel –to further support their successful education, well-being and development.
As a parent you have plenty of options, depending on availability, interests, skills, and personal constraints, to be engaged. Look for opportunities that work for your family.
- Establish positive relationships with school administrators and teachers. If you haven’t met your child’s teachers yet, request a short meeting or send a quick email to introduce yourself and let them know you are there to support your child.
- Meet with teachers about academic and social development goals for your child. Ask what your children should be able to do at his/her grade level. Ask what you can do to support learning at home. Share ideas of how the teacher can better support your child in class. If your child needs special education services – ask for a thorough explanation of options and services available. Check the Parent Checklist to get started.
- Attend PTA or parent organization meetings and find out about the issues in your school. Ask questions if others aren’t bringing up the things that matter to your child’s success or your community.
- Volunteer on a committee that focuses on an activity or issue important to you, whether it is school transportation, safe places to play after-school, teacher diversity, bullying or academics.
- Voice your opinion to local and state Boards of Education and local, state, and national elected officials on things that matter to your family. Write letters, make phone calls, or attend public meetings. Check local jurisdiction or state government websites for contact information and meeting schedules.
- Each state, by law, should have parents engaged in the process of developing and implementing ESSA for the 2017-18 school year. Check your state’s education website to find out about your parent representative and the developing plans.
Being engaged in education doesn’t require endless free time or multiple degrees and in-depth knowledge about schools. You just need a concern for your child and a little bit of time to act on that concern. You’re ready! #GetEngaged!
Frances Frost serves as the Family Ambassador, U.S. Department of Education. Find her on Twitter @FamiliesatED.