Parental Involvement in Schools

Parental Involvement in Schools

Businesses know that listening to their customers is the key to their success, and this is also true for other types of organizations.  Parents are deeply concerned about the education their children receive, and school administrators and Board of Education members need to be actively listening to and working together with them as they advocate for the strongest-possible schools.

 

The Countywide Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC) fielded the first comprehensive survey in at least seven years this spring to identify what changes parents want to see made in our public schools.  Over 4,000 people (86% of whom were parents of students) took the time to rate how they felt about 36 different potential concerns.  Many wrote detailed comments explaining how they felt, and 1800 of the survey respondents said they were potentially interested in working with the CAC to search for solutions to these problems.

 

Overall happiness with the schools varied substantially by high school feeder system.  However, the top issues parents were concerned about were remarkably consistent across the county.  There were five issues about which more than 50% of all respondents said they were very concerned – large class sizes (60.4%), bullying in schools (55.9%), the need for better science education (52.7%), the desire for an elected Board of Education (51.2%) and the emphasis on test taking (50.2%).  In addition, 64.2% of African-American parents were very concerned that minority students are not achieving at the level of Caucasian students.  Full results are available at www.cacsurvey.com.

 

CAC members agreed to search for innovative solutions to most of these top concerns.  In our first two exploratory meetings, we discovered some interesting areas to research further.  For example, Anne Arundel County elementary students appear to be spending up to an hour more per day studying language arts than the national average.  This leaves far less time to study science and social science than is typical in the rest of the country, and could account for why only 14% of our 5th graders and 10% of our 8th graders received advanced scores in science on the state’s 2011 MSA tests.  If we want our region to lead the nation in the cyber-security and biomedical fields, we need to do a better job developing the scientists of the future.

 

Unfortunately, as the CAC began its work on these issues, the Board of Education decided to disband the current CAC.  Instead of having a grass-roots organization with representatives from each school, the Board has appointed 29 people to serve as the Countywide CAC Executive Committee.

 

In the closing weeks of last school year, parents felt ignored as major changes to the Talent Development program were implemented and a plan to eliminate separate advanced classes for high-achieving freshmen was proposed for Annapolis High School, both with little or no parental input.  Having the Board of Education hand-select the people who are supposed to represent the interests of parents and citizens to them raises additional concerns about the school system’s openness to true parental involvement.    

 

The issues raised in the survey are serious ones deserving of further study and parents are eager to help.  We encourage the Board of Education to work with parents to search for innovative solutions to these issues.  We also encourage the Board to develop systems through which the opinions of parents whose children will be affected by changes can be solicited early in the decision-making process.  It is only through working together that we can meet our shared objective of building the strongest-possible school system. 

 

Joanna Conti is the Previous Chair of the Countywide Citizen Advisory Committee.

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