Education Salon on Parent Engagement April 2014

LAEP’s latest Education Salon tackled one of the longest standing and critical topics in public education, genuine parent engagement, which reflects one our Six Core Elements, Parents as Partners. “Seeking an Authentic Voice: The Role of Parents and Communities in School Change in Los Angeles,” took place April 16th at the  Cal State Northridge campus. The night was moderated by Susan Auerbach, Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies and featured panelists deeply engaged in parent advocacy work. The event included a compelling discussion on how state policies and school governance facilitate or stall true parent engagement. Panelists included: Oscar Cruz from Families in Schools, Mary Johnson from Parent U-Turn, Patty Lopez from Padres Activos en el Valle de San Fernando, Georgia Lazo for LAUSD’s Intensive Support and Innovation Center, John Rogers from UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education and Access, and Gabe Rose from Parent Revolution.

The group was presented with a variety of questions that touched upon new budget accountability plans, school cultures, structural inequalities, and how school site councils are often the only decision making body in which parents are included. Mr. Rogers discussed how the importance of parent engagement is tied to the dramatically deepening level of inequality in our country. With dropping wages for the lowest earners, these parents are left with little to invest in their child’s education, highlighting both the importance of and connection between quality public education and higher education for all, especially for inner city youth. Ms. Lopez also stressed the importance of parent advocates on the ground. She lamented that often, administrators have the last word despite thoughtful recommendations from parents. With true training for the community, parents would be able to learn their rights and responsibilities.

Mr. Cruz spoke on the shift toward the Local Control Funding Formula being implemented across the state and how transparent and effective implementation of this policy is inherently linked to providing quality parent trainings and building leadership. However, he noted less than 1% of the LCFF multibillion dollar budget is allocated towards these activities. He posed the question: with LCFF forcing Districts to put a numeric value on their activities, do these numbers truly reflect their values? Ms. Johnson argued that some recent policies seem to do a generalized picking and choosing of who gets funds from the District. They need to be inclusive of all parents and this could start with using a needs assessment for each school to implement the local control accountability plan.

Mr. Rose added that public education needs to be more democratic though the school site council is often the only channel for parent voice. However, there is a huge need for bottom up school improvement. Ms. Lazo closed by encouraging schools to consider that the school site council is not the only space that can nourish parental engagement and to look beyond superficial compliance with those meetings. How can each school serve its children holistically, build communities of care, bring joy back into schools, and make parents genuine partners? She concluded that this vision does require rethinking everything from how the schools’ budgets are allocated to how schools treat and partner with parents.

LAEP is grateful for the partnership from CSUN and Brown in putting this event together and for everyone who attended that shares in the deep passion we have for transforming schools into inviting and enriching places for both students and families.