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Parent involvement: what the law says

The No Child Left Behind Act sets an ambitious definition of parent involvement for districts and schools receiving Title I funds. In Section 1118 of the law, it defines the issue as “the participation of parents in regular, two-way, and meaningful communication” about student learning, including activities to:

  • Assist in their child’s learning;
  • Help parents become “full partners” in their child’s education;
  • Build the capacity of parents to participate in their child’s learning;
  • Help parents better grasp state and local standards;
  • Provide opportunities for involvement among parents with limited English skills or disabilities; and
  • Provide materials and training to help parents promote learning at home.

In effect, said the National Coalition for Parent Involvement in Education (NCPIE) in 2004, the law requires every Title I school to have a strong written parent involvement plan in place and “sustain” a high level of involvement. How well are schools meeting these demands? The coalition gives schools and districts a mixed grade, in part because there are few enforcement provisions. “Nothing happens to a school if it does not have a policy, follows the provisions of the law, or fails to implement the policies,” it states.

Steve Sheldon, research scientist at the Center on School, Family, and Community Partnerships at Johns Hopkins University, summed up his beliefs similarly. “Given that the current educational policy climate in the U.S. emphasizes accountability and “data-driven” decision making, the fact that schools are neither required nor encouraged to collect data about their efforts to engage families, or the extent to which families are partners in their children’s education, is problematic,” he said (Family Involvement Network of Educators, 2011).

As Congress considers reauthorizing ESEA/No Child Left Behind, then, one of the questions to consider would be the flexibility school systems need to determine how any parent involvement activities, including data collection, fit into the overall student achievement priorities and budget of the school system.


Posted August 30, 2011. Copyright Center for Public Education.

This sidebar is for a report written by Chuck Dervarics and Eileen O'Brien. O’Brien is an independent education researcher and consultant in Alexandria, Virginia. Much of her work has focused on access to quality education for disadvantaged and minority populations. O’Brien has a Master of Public Administration from George Washington University and a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology from Loyola University, Chicago. Chuck Dervarics is an education writer and former editor of Report on Preschool Programs, a national independent newsletter on pre-k, Head Start, and child care policy. As a writer and researcher, he has contributed to case studies and research projects of the Southern Education Foundation, the American Council on Education, and the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education, often focusing on issues facing disadvantaged populations. Dervarics has a Bachelors degree from George Washington University.

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