Welcoming Schools: More than Good Intentions

by Oscar Cruz

In California, parent engagement has been elevated to a new level, thanks to the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), which was signed into law in 2013. Under LCFF, parent engagement became one of the eight statewide priorities all school districts must pursue in order to receive state funding.

Setting a high priority on family engagement is NOT intended to point the finger at parents and order them to “get engaged.” Rather, LCFF places the responsibility squarely where it belongs, on school districts, by requiring them to implement programs and activities that make parents feel heard, welcomed and supported. LCFF affirmed what decades of research have shown: effective parent engagement practices yield improved student outcomes on a variety of measures, from school readiness to graduation rates.

Unfortunately, the basic components of parent engagement are missing in many schools, especially in immigrant and low-income communities, where parents are often seen as the problem, not part of the solution. It is precisely in these schools that educators need to stop blaming parents, and instead improve their practices to develop a strong partnership with families for student success.

California is entering a critical stage, moving from policy development to implementation. Districts must go beyond good intentions, to developing plans that create a welcoming and inclusive school culture. When this happens, the results are amazing.

Let me give you an example. My organization, Families In Schools, has partnered with the CA League of Middle Schools, and the Moreno Valley School district (MVUSD). Funded by a federal Investing in Innovation grant (i3), the initiative seeks to improve the academic achievement and college entry and completion rate of high-need English learners in MVUSD. This five-year program provides a powerful combination of quality curriculum (English 3D), family engagement strategies, and academic/social support for students. After the first year, external evaluation found remarkable results:

  • 43% of 6th grade students who began the program in Fall, 2013 as English learners were reclassified as Fluent English Proficient by the Fall of 7th grade (2014).
  • These students achieved CELDT score gains between 6th and 7th grade that significantly exceeded historical district, county, and state gains in three of four domains: speaking, reading and writing.

Moving to authentic parent engagement in schools requires more than good intentions. This transformation requires careful planning, professional development for staff, culturally relevant tools, alignment to school-wide strategic vision, and new partnerships with community members who have strong expertise working with families.

All parents love their children and would do anything to give their children a better life. Schools must believe this mantra and truly take ownership in fulfilling their role as part of an effective family-school partnership. Read a summary of the first year findings.

Oscar Cruz – President and CEO, Families in Schools; NAFSCE Board Member