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 parentsany parentis tough work. This step-by-step
guide is designed for community organizerseducators, civic
leaders and anyone elseinterested 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:
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 guideone 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.
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
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 organizersall 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.