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Parents know best—or, do they?

Parents know best: If I had nickel for every time I heard that phrase growing up.

For school leaders, it’s a popular refrain to fall back on, especially when trying to make tough decisions.

But even if we assume that parents have their children’s best interests at heart, that doesn’t necessarily mean they know what students want, or need, in the classroom.

So, what happens when the goals of parents and the goals of their children are out of sync?  And what can these differences tell us about the importance of collaboration in our school communities?

These were among a few of the questions that administrators in one prominent Texas district considered after a recent survey revealed key insights about the importance of student voice in school decision-making.

On the same page
Klein Independent School District created the survey to gather input from parents, students, and teachers. The plan was to use the feedback received to help the incoming superintendent outline a blueprint for his first 100 days in office, and beyond.

After reviewing candid survey feedback from some 2,000 students and nearly 1,300 parents, it was clear to administrators that parents and students shared similar opinions of the school district.

For example, 46 percent of parents compared with 47 percent of students rated the district as excellent. When asked what criteria other than standardized testing they wanted their school’s performance to be judged on, students and parents chose similar criteria: high academic expectations, the ability to graduate college and career-ready students, and strong community engagement, among other key benchmarks.

At a recent town hall discussion, new superintendent Bret Champion used the survey findings in a conversation with local community members, asking them to comment on what stood out the most from the survey, why the information is important, and what the district should do as a result of the findings. (Watch: Champion’s presentation on Facebook. Discussion starts at the 7:00 mark.)

Different ideas, priorities
Though students and parents agreed on many key points and themes, a deeper analysis revealed that specific priorities were quite different.

For example, a higher percentage of students prioritized extra-curricular activities and quality technology resources than did parents.

Yet more differences were revealed when survey respondents were asked to identify the biggest challenges facing the district.

For parents, the No. 1 priority was to de-emphasize standardized testing. Surprisingly, where students were concerned, standardized testing didn’t even crack the top-five.

Students, turns out, were more concerned about having a voice in school-based decisions.

Their top-three challenges were, in this order: dealing with a rapidly growing student population, collecting feedback from students, and celebrating diversity in schools. The fourth priority? Recruiting high-quality teachers.

As you work to make smarter decisions for schools this year, are you using parent and student feedback to inform your decisions? Do you have a process for gathering and analyzing information from different stakeholders? Tell us in the comments.

Want a better way to weigh feedback from parents, students, staff and others? Here’s one way to make sure every group has a say.