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ESSA's Impact on Parental Involvement

Talking about parent engagement is easy. Working to ensure parents’ voices are heard, well, that’s another matter.

Most schools are great at outbound communication—at getting their message out. But that’s only half the battle. Where they struggle is on the other side of that equation—at listening to what parents and community members say about their approach.

Being only half good doesn’t cut it—not anymore.

The federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) challenges schools to improve inbound communications by prioritizing community engagement. The thinking is simple: many hands make light work. Give parents and others a more vocal role in education and get the benefit of their influence and knowledge to accelerate student and school performance.

So what does this mean for your school or district? How can you take advantage of the law’s newest provisions to leverage the power of your community?

A recent Education Week analysis sheds some light on what the changes might mean for your schools. Take heed.

Engagement, not involvement
If the now bygone No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), encouraged “parental involvement in schools,” ESSA mandates it.

One ESSA provision requires districts to set aside 1 percent of their Title I funds to encourage parent and family engagement. Schools benefitting from Title I funds are required to develop evidence-based parent engagement strategies.

As Jacki Ball, governmental affairs director for the National PTA, told Ed Week: “Our key priority is to make sure parents and families and PTAs are at the table with school districts while they are planning their implementation of the new law—that parents can be there and can be meaningfully involved and not just checking the box.”

Engagement centers
ESSA also rebrands NCLB’s Parental Information Resource Centers. Now called State Family Engagement Centers, these outfits are tasked with parent outreach and professional training. While just three states currently operate such centers, the hope is that more will come online soon.

Says Jane Groff, Executive Director of the Kansas Parent Information Resource Center: “For me, it’s very exciting because it provides an opportunity for us to really scale up our work and build capacity across the state.”

New accountability measures
ESSA, not unlike its predecessor, has endured its share of criticism. But there are some consensus positives to the legislation. Among them a concerted effort to measure school and student performance beyond traditional standardized tests.

For example, the new law requires states to consider at least one indicator of “school quality” when measuring and reporting results. In many cases, these indicators will come through community surveys, such as school climate and engagement.

As states and districts work to implement ESSA, there is reason for excitement. With more leeway to implement school turnarounds at the state level and an concerted emphasis on parent engagement, now might well be the time to rethink how you listen to your school community.

For more on how ESSA expands parent and community engagement, check out Ed Week’s full analysis.

As ESSA moves forward, your school or district has no choice but to give parents and others a louder voice in education. Here’s one place to start.