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Feds Issue Guidelines on Parental Involvement

Ohanian Comment: I have mixed feelings here. On the one hand, it's more interference from the Feds. On the other hand, I know how poorly many schools communicate with parents. In fact, they go out of their way to intimidate parents and humiliate students. We have the World of Opportunity in Birmingham picking up the pieces from how the schools acted there. And Birmingham is not unique.

The Department of Education has released its clearest statement yet detailing how states and school districts should communicate with parents under the No Child Left Behind Act.

"Parental Involvement: Title I, Part A: Non-regulatory Guidance," from the Department of Education.

The "nonregulatory guidance" on parental involvement under Title I provides a long list of actions that states, districts, and schools should take to inform parents of children from low-income families of their rights under the federal education law. Everything from updating parents on their childrenís progress to notifying them about when their children are eligible to transfer to other schools or receive tutoring services is addressed.

The release of the 55-page document marks the first time in the history of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that federal education officials have specifically defined "parental involvement," said Darla A. Marburger, the Education Departmentís deputy assistant secretary for policy in the office of elementary and secondary education.

"Oftentimes, whenever you leave the definition open, there is a great range in the quality of how people choose to define parental involvement," Ms. Marburger said. "This really gives schools more focus ... in order to partner with parents."

The guidance focuses on parents of students who qualify for the $12.3 billion Title I compensatory education program. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, students at all public schools are expected to meet state-set standards of proficiency by the end of the 2013-14 school year. The law requires steady academic progress for all students, including those in such subcategories as minority-group members and English- language learners. But Title I schools that repeatedly fail to make "adequate yearly progress" face consequences such as allowing students to transfer to better schools.

The guidance, which is dated April 23 but was released last week, was not issued as a formal federal regulation. Like much of the agencyís interpretative advice on the No Child Left Behind law, it is called nonregulatory guidance and includes no mechanism for enforcement, said Nancy Segal, the Washington-based legislative manager for the National PTA.

"Itís great to have these requirements, but without enforcement, it will be hard to get states [as well as schools and districts] to comply," Ms. Segal said. In fact, many of the parent-outreach efforts were required under the 1994 reauthorization of the ESEA, she said.

Reaching Out
The guidance says schools should, whenever they can, provide translations of printed information to parents who donít speak English. When it comes to parents with disabilities, states and districts must provide help, such as sign-language interpreters or printed materials in Braille.

The direction also includes a timeline of parental-notice requirements that lays out when parents should receive information on such measures as Title I meetings and school district progress reviews. The document details what information individual student assessments and school report cards should provide and how to set up Parental Information and Resource Centers, or PIRCS, which the law says should provide training, information, and support to parents.

Also, it lists print resources that give advice on drawing parents into the school improvement process and includes samples of parent-information policies.

"Itís an interesting model, but almost impossible to complete across the board," said Richard M. Long, the executive director of the National Association of State Title I Directors. But he said the advice was "useful to move away from the idea that parental involvement means just a committee and a meeting."

The guidance does not emphasize ways of turning parents into partners with their schools, said Paul Weckstein, a co-director of the Washington-based Center for Law and Education. In particular, the guidance does not address a requirement in the law that parent involvement be evaluated every year, which could be crucial to improving such efforts, Mr. Weckstein said.

However, Marcela Garcini, a senior field organizer for the Washington-based Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options, known as Hispanic CREO, said the direction will be invaluable to her as she travels the country educating parents on their rights. She said it was helpful to have a document to show parents exactly what information they should be getting from schools.

"The parents are willing to work with the school system when they know the reason and know what theyíre talking about," Ms. Garcini said. "This material is wonderful."

Funding Transfers
Under the law, districts must set aside a portion of their Title I allocation for parental-involvement activities. The guidance says the law permits districts and states to use money from other ESEA programs with a parental-involvement component, such as Reading First or the 21st Century Community Learning Centers, to help pay for parent-involvement efforts.

But Reggie Felton, the director of federal relations for the National School Boards Association, said that while it was nice to see such flexibility, "communities have to be conscious that this has to be balanced with whether they invest in instruction or in the process to inform."

— Michelle R. Davis
Guidance on Parental Involvement Issued
Education Week


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