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18 August 2011 - When Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was in high school, the dropout rate was 75 percent. During an Aug. 11 forum discussion hosted by Families in Schools on the importance of parent participation, the mayor attributed his success, and that of his siblings — a judge, an investment banker, and an employee at a non-profit organization — at beating the statistics to his mother, a single parent who he said would go “the extra mile” and volunteer at his school after work and attend parent teacher conferences to make sure her children were taking the right classes.
LAUSD Chief of School, Family and Parent/Community Services Maria Casillas, said new compliance driven policy is needed to change the institutions’ culture and prioritize parent and community engagement. (EGP photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo)
Families in Schools, founded in 2000, is a nonprofit organization committed to the involvement of parents in the education of their children through alliance with schools and other community programs. The organization is working to create a welcoming environment in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) to encourage teacher and parent partnerships. The forum was attended by a mixed group of educators and community organizations, as well as parents.
“It’s our goal to help poor, immigrant parents to act like upper-class parents and be involved [in their child’s education] in a substantive way,” said Virgil Roberts, Families in Schools board chair.
For every 100 California students who entered 9th grade in 2008, only 65 will graduate from high school, 25 will complete the A-G (college admission) requirements, and only 5 will enroll at a University of California school, according to a 2010 report from the UCLA Institute for Democracy, Education and Access.
To groups like Families in Schools, those numbers are far from good enough, and while recent increases in student test scores are an accomplishment, there is a sense that the gains are too small and too slow in coming. The National Education Association has shown that parents who encourage learning are more important to student achievement than “income, education level, or cultural background.” Families in Schools recognizes that parent involvement in education, both in the home and on school campuses, is necessary for LAUSD students to make any significant strides forward.
But the issue of parental engagement is not a new one, as Families in Schools President Oscar Cruz pointed out. He said discussions such as the one they held that day are meant to solicit ideas for improving communication between parents and teachers as a way to help students be more successful. Not an easy task by any measure, but one which might be gaining wider acceptance.
“I think we are at an opportune moment in the history of this school district… I do believe that there is an alignment of forces today very different from almost any time in our city’s recent history. And I do think there is an environment that understands the importance of parent engagement and the need for parent engagement to drive success and reform in improving our schools,” said Villaraigosa, who tempered his remarks by adding that there are “still a great number of parents who do not participate.”
“I don’t want to romanticize parent engagement here,” said the mayor. My mom was accountable; she knew she had a responsibility. She didn’t say ‘I don’t have a car, I sometimes work two jobs.’ She got to school…[But] It’s voluntary, we can’t force people to do it, but we want to create a culture where with the rights come roles and responsibilities…When parents start seeing other parents involved, they see they have a responsibility.”
Families in Schools wants LAUSD School Report Cards to obtain better feed back from parents in principles and teachers in order to improve accountability. If parents are better informed about how their school is doing, and how their child’s teacher is doing, they might see the need to get more involved and feel more confident about speaking up.
Many educators, including retired LAUSD Assistant Superintendent Evangelina Stockwell who spoke at the discussion, make involving parents a priority and in the past have struggled against staff and school boards to do so. There are still teachers, however, who do not welcome a parent’s input, according to one of the parents at the meeting.
“Although teachers say—and I respect teachers—that they respect your opinions [as parents] and want you to interact with them, [after] I went to talk to my son’s teacher, he went to my son and said ‘you’re a cry baby,’ look your mom just came over to talk to me,” said Maria Rosales, a mother of three who represented LAUSD parents in the discussion.
“School Report Cards” could be used to help structure teacher training, and could serve as a valuable tool to help ensure that parent engagement is no longer an afterthought, but institutionalized in the educational system.
Villaraigosa said that when his term is up, he hopes to have created “a paradigm where the next mayor has no choice but to support this partnership,” which includes Families in Schools and other nonprofit groups, as well as LAUSD officials.
smf: The question becomes whether LAUSD has farmed or contracted out (or privatized) Parent Engagement to Families in Schools – which is an outside organization heavily subsidized by BBC (Billionaire Boys Club) philanthropies like the Gates, Broad and Riordan Foundations.
see #29 in How to Tell if Your School District is Infected by the Broad Virus: A rash of Astroturf groups appear claiming to represent “the community” or “parents” and all advocate for the exact same corporate ed reforms that your superintendent supports — merit pay, standardized testing, charter schools, alternative credentialing for teachers. Of course, none of these are genuine grassroots community organizations. [see: HOW TO CREATE A FAUX GRASSROOTS ED REFORM ORGANIZATION IN 12 EASY STEPS! - Posted by Sue Peters on seattleducation2011| http://bit.ly/ejZdRT]
Families in Schools has been around for a while, it may be the original Astroturf Parent Group
- FIS was created in 2001 by the Los Angeles Annenberg Metropolitan Project (LAAMP).
- FIS merged in in 2002 with the Boyle Heights Learning Collaborative (BHLC), a community based school reform partnership of LAUSD and Annenberg.
- Maria Casillas, executive director of BHLC became president of FIS.
- Superintendent Deasy has appointed Casillas Chief of LAUSD’s School, Family and Parent/Community Services division - the District administrator/consultant/contactor in charge of parents.
- Casillas has dissolved long-standing LAUSD parent advisory groups including the District Advisory Committee (DAC) of Title 1 parents.
- According to the Annenberg website: Three successor organizations continue the work of LAAMP:
Photo caption: Maria Casillas with Superintendent John Deasy at the Vernon City Elementary Parent and Family Center opening.>>
- The Los Angeles County Alliance for Student Achievement advocates for policy issues to sustain and enhance the work of LAAMP. (The Alliance has evolved into The Alliance for College Ready Public Schools, the largest operator of Charter Schools in LAUSD)
- The Families in Schools organization supports and strengthens partnerships between schools, parents and communities.
- Management of LAAMP's teacher development initiative has been adopted by the Urban Education Partnership (formerly the Los Angeles Educational Partnership). [Not to be confused with the Partnership for LA Schools! LAEP/UEP is a Professional Development contractor with LAUSD and sponsors the Humantas small schools program. Five Public School Choice (PSC) schools in LAUSD now implement LAEP community school strategies, and two more have recently included it their design plan.]
FIS was an original sponsor-of and advocate-for LAUSD’s A-G Graduation Requirement – which mandates that all LAUSD graduates be meet the minimum requirements for admission to UC/CSU. Because of ‘fudging’ of the A–G standards (LAUSD accepts a “D” grade as passing, CSU/UC do not) only 29% LAUSD grads actually met the A-G standards in 2010.
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