SEDL Southwest Educational Development Laboratory
  Building Support for Better Schools
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Education research shows parents who take an active role in their child's education have a profound affect on student performance, drop out rates and attendance. But a 1998 study by the U.S. Department of Education shows schools in poor and minority neighborhoods see less parent and community involvement.

The reasons behind the lack of parental involvement in these communities are complex. Parents juggle competing demands and work long hours, at times holding down two jobs. Some parents don't attend community forums because they have no transportation or can't afford a babysitter. Still other parents question whether these forums are a good use of their time. They wonder whether their opinion counts and if their suggestions will be used to improve schools. Language barriers also get in the way. Parents may worry that their limited English will hinder participation or understanding.

Recruiting parents—any parent—is tough work. This step-by-step guide is designed for community organizers—educators, civic leaders and anyone else—interested in involving more parents and community members from different socioeconomic and minority backgrounds in conversations about improving public schools.

In 1999, the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (SEDL) interviewed leaders from Hispanic, African-American, Native American and Asian communities in Arkansas and Oklahoma to understand what keeps parents and others from participating in community forums. These leaders are experienced community organizers who reflect different segments of the community: churches, social services agencies, schools, government, advocacy groups and others.

As part of this effort, SEDL staff members observed a series of meetings in both states called Study Circles (see next page for an explanation of Study Circles). SEDL interviewed participants and community organizers afterward about effective public engagement strategies including how to increase participation among parents from low socioeconomic and diverse backgrounds.

After conducting more than fifty interviews and reviewing literature on recruitment, SEDL developed seven steps to help organizers have meaningful conversations about public education that include more representation from today's culturally diverse communities.

This guide is about the heavy-lifting that comes with good organizing. It offers advice on how to:

Is this guide for you?

This guide is designed for readers who want to increase the involvement of hard-to-reach parents and community members in public education. You may be a parent, a community advocate, an educator or a local business owner. No matter what your role or vocation, you care about the quality of public education. You want to ensure that schools set high expectations of all children. And, you know how critical public engagement is to these efforts.

This guide will walk you through the basics of building support for schools by engaging all members of your community with special emphasis on culturally and linguistically diverse individuals. It is not meant to be the definitive piece on organizing, but a helpful reference guide—one we hope you will keep nearby and use often. For organizations that offer training on public engagement formats, refer to Public Deliberation: A Tool for Connecting School Reform and Diversity.

A Note from SEDL

Building Support for Better Schools is the second in a series of publications produced by SEDL's Diversity in Dialogue project. This project focuses on how to engage culturally and linguistically diverse members of the community in the decisions affecting public education.

SEDL wishes to thank Calling the Roll: Study Circles for Better Schools, a program sponsored and coordinated in Arkansas and Oklahoma. Study Circles welcomed SEDL to attend meetings and interview participants, facilitators and community organizers—all of whom offered candid reflections and practical advice highlighted in this report. SEDL also interviewed additional community organizers with close ties to minority populations in Oklahoma and Arkansas.

The Diversity in Dialogue project wishes to thank: the Study Circles Resource Center, Arkansas Friends for Better Schools, the League of Women Voters of Oklahoma, the Center for Research on Teaching and Learning at the University of Arkansas, Dr. Shernaz Garcia and Dr. Alicia Betsinger of the University of Texas at Austin, and SEDL's Policy Planning Service.

  Building Support for Better Schools
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