By Alison DeNisco – District Administration, February 2018
Parents rate family and community engagement as the most important driver of satisfaction with their child’s school—but districts frequently fail to offer them a voice in the education system, according to a recent study from Rice University.
Of 7,200 public school parents surveyed, only 34 percent said they were “very satisfied” with family and community engagement, while 43 percent expressed satisfaction with their schools overall.
“When we talk to principals and administrators, some of them say, ‘Parents just want a lot of extracurriculars,’ or ‘Parents just want good teachers,’” says Vikas Mittal, a professor of marketing at Rice University and the study’s leader. “What we found is that the biggest weight that parents give is actually to family and community engagement.”
Parents named school safety and teacher quality as the next most important drivers of satisfaction. Extracurriculars came in last place.
Parents want a voice
Only 29 percent of parents reported feeling that they had a voice in running their child’s school. Parents also expressed low rates of satisfaction with administration and staff members’ eagerness to ask for input. And only a minority of parents said they felt encouraged to observe their students’ classes.
What do parents want most from their schools? The leading responses included the ability to offer input on school policy, having administrators respect their opinions about students and opportunities to get involved in school activities.
“Family and community engagement is not just about cursory consultation with parents,” Mittal says. “Parents need to be able to get a better handle on what is happening with their child in the school.”
A broad concept
Administrators tend to struggle with parent engagement when facing many other pressures, including accountability, says Hugh B. Price, author of Mobilizing the Community to Help Students Succeed. Also, the concept of parent engagement is so broad that it’s difficult for administrators to determine which specific activities they should offer,
Schools should create opportunities for involvement, even through simple events such as bake sales, Mittal says.
Online forums and community meetings provide other ways for parents to connect. “Parents should be active partners in the education of their children,” Price says.
“They should be collaborating with the teachers and administrators in the building to help ensure that their children are performing, and to provide the kind of complementary support at home that augments what educators are trying to do in the classroom.”