REPORTS & SURVEYS | APRIL 5TH, 2013
Kansas City Parents Talk About How to Improve Schools and What They Can Do to Help
Parental involvement means different things to different parents. If schools hope to boost involvement in a meaningful way, their approaches must be tailored to match the diverse needs, priorities and capacities of parents.
This report offers school and district education leaders specific ideas for engaging parents across the spectrum - whether they are comfortable shaping education policy, prefer more traditional activities or need support to improve their involvement at home. While the research, underwritten by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, explores the views of Kansas City parents, it also echoes findings from a previous Public Agenda study national in scope and raises important questions for education leaders nationwide.
We found that parents bring different needs and interests to the table when thinking about involvement in their child’s education specifically and improving education generally. They are:
While parents surveyed differ in many ways, we also found that parents can be grouped based on similar goals, concerns and ideas about education and involvement in schools that they share. We hope that understanding the characteristic thinking of these three distinct groups can help school and district leaders, educators, funders and reformers reach out to them more effectively and plan programs in the ways that best fit their needs. These distinct groups are:
Potential Transformers: parents who are poised for deeper action on education policy, though still on the sidelines. These parents say they would feel "very comfortable" serving on committees to decide school policies and advocating for school improvements by contacting public officials and the media. However, very few have been involved in these ways. Thirty-one percent of parents surveyed fall into this group.
School Helpers: parents who are willing to get more involved in traditional ways. These parents are less comfortable with advocacy roles but say they could be more involved helping out directly at their children's schools. School helpers say they feel "very comfortable" participating in traditional involvement activities, including volunteering during school trips, bakes sales or sporting events or attending PTA meetings. Twenty-seven percent of parents surveyed fall into this group.
Help Seekers: parents who are concerned about their children’s learning and are primarily looking for more guidance from their schools. These parents are unlikely advocates and they feel they are already doing as much as they possibly can at their children’s school, yet all help seekers feel they have not yet succeeded in helping their children to do their best in school. At the same time, this group is more critical of their teachers and schools than other parents and more skeptical about most initiatives to improve parental involvement. Nineteen percent of parents surveyed fall in this group.
This report offers recommendations that honor the diversity of experiences and attitudes among parents in Kansas City while providing advice to educators, funders and reformers on how to engage and communicate in ways that will move the needle on change.
In presenting these promising strategies, we do not aim to minimize the work needed to meet the challenge of engaging parents as partners in reform. Instead, we emphasize that effective engagement of parents is indeed possible when done purposefully.
Public Agenda recommends that school leaders heed and apply these important over-arching principles to engage more parents:
The project also offers concrete and practical measures that education leaders can take to engage Potential Transformers, School Helpers and Help Seekers in more effective ways. You can download these recommendations here or from the menu on the left.
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Public Agenda is a nonprofit organization that helps diverse leaders and citizens navigate complex, divisive issues. Through nonpartisan research and engagement, it provides people with the insights and support they need to arrive at workable solutions on critical issues, regardless of their differences. Since 1975, Public Agenda has helped foster progress on school reform, teacher effectiveness, achievement gaps, parent and community engagement and other K–12 education issues. Find Public Agenda online at publicagenda.org, on Facebook at facebook.com/PublicAgenda and on Twitter at @PublicAgenda.
The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is a private, nonpartisan foundation that aims to foster economic independence by advancing educational achievement and entrepreneurial success. Founded by late entrepreneur and philanthropist Ewing Marion Kauffman, the Foundation is based in Kansas City, Mo., and has approximately $2 billion in assets. For more information, visit www.kauffman.org, and follow the Foundation on www.twitter.com/kauffmanfdn and www.facebook.com/kauffmanfdn.