The report from Public Agenda, "Ready, Willing and Able? Kansas City Parents Talk About How to Improve Schools and What They Can Do to Help," indicates that parental involvement means very different things to different parents, with some drawn to advocacy and school reform while others are more comfortable participating in time-honored tasks like helping with school clubs, sports and bake sales.
While the research explores the views of Kansas City parents, it also echoes findings from a previous Public Agenda national study and raises important questions for education leaders nationwide.
Parents surveyed are divided on what kind of parental involvement will do the most to strengthen public schools: 52 percent say it is improving the quality of parental involvement at home versus 42 percent who say that it is getting parents more directly involved in running schools. Parents are also split on whether better teachers (27 percent chose this), more money (34 percent) or more parental involvement (34 percent) would do the most to improve their own children's school.
Just over half (51 percent) of the Kansas City region's parents acknowledge that they could be more involved at their child's school if they tried harder, though parents are divided on how they prefer to be involved. Many parents (27 percent) say they could help out more in traditional ways at the schools their children attend and nearly a third (31 percent) seem ready to embrace broader roles in shaping how schools operate and advocating for policy reform. Some parents (19 percent) are primarily looking for more guidance from their schools on how to help their own children succeed. In addition to exploring the similarities and differences among parents, the report includes a set of concrete and practical measures that education leaders can employ to engage parents in more effective ways.
Public Agenda recommends that school leaders heed and apply these important over-arching principles to engage more parents:
The report offers specific ideas for engaging different types of parents, whether they are comfortable shaping education policy, prefer more traditional activities or need support to improve their involvement at home.
Overall, parents surveyed are supportive of their principals and teachers. Seventy-seven percent say the principals and teachers at their child's school are connected to the community and have a good feel for what's going on there. Sixty-four percent of parents surveyed say their school goes out of its way to encourage parents to get involved.
Many parents surveyed lack knowledge about important school issues. Nearly four in 10 (37 percent) do not feel well-informed about where their child's school ranks academically compared to other area schools. Only 40 percent of parents say they know "a lot" about their children's teachers, and one-quarter is unsure whether or not their child's school made "adequate yearly progress" the year before.
The study identifies three distinct groups of parents:
Schools in Kansas City and elsewhere need to consider the needs and priorities of these three groups as they seek to not only increase parental involvement but also engage parents in school improvement.
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Join in a free webinar at 10 a.m. CST on March 6, 2014, to learn more about this report.
Those who advocate for the best possible education for Kansas City K-12 students are invited to participate in this important online information-sharing session.
Leaders of Public Agenda and The Upper Room will recap key research findings and provide recommendations for how to involve more parents in K-12 education in Kansas City.