Everyone involved in education, myself included, constantly harps on the importance of reaching out to parents, and how education is in their hands more so than even our schools. We talk and talk about needing better parent outreach, we imagine a world in which teachers have time to call parents in for meetings, we even kid ourselves into believing the parents will show up to Back-to-School Night this year, especially the parents of the students who are failing whom we really want to meet face to face.
And then reality sets in.
Back to school night is a ghost town; Teachers don’t have enough hours in the day to make five phone calls per student trying to find the one number still in service; There is no one in any sort of official capacity in charge of reaching out to parents; And at most low-income Title I schools, like at my school, there isn’t even a PTA.
Then we wonder why gains are so hard to make when the admitted most important factor in a student’s education isn’t being addressed at all.
The answer is easy, and the simplicity of it surprises me; the answer is this: Schools need a Parent Outreach Coordinator—even better, an entire Team.
If we took some time to track all the money being thrown at education, I would bet there is almost nothing being spent in a more effective manner than if we were using it to reach out to parents. Schools spend money on all kinds of ridiculous things: Stupid professional development speakers, inappropriate sex-ed plays in the cafeteria, bloated administrative costs, technology that never makes it into classrooms, and education advisory companies paid millions of dollars to conduct polls and do research only to not have it used. Even if all of these were implemented correctly and effectively, they still wouldn’t have the same impact on student outcomes as applying all that time, money, and energy to reaching out to the community and getting parents involved in their kids’ education.
So what would a Parent Outreach Coordinator do? Off the top of my head I can only think of fifty thousand things. Along with Freshmen Orientation they could orchestrate Freshmen Parent Orientation. Home visits. Phone calls for teachers. Phone calls home to all students with a D or F. Set up Parent meetings for teachers who request it. Increase the number of parents who show up to Back-to-School Night. Find parent volunteers to chaperone field trips, clean up the campus, supervise sports events, dances, talent shows. Oversee a PTA. Get parents to help with fundraising. Recruit parent speakers who have interesting careers. Disseminate crucial information on services available in the community. Link parents and students up with counseling and therapy. Have a health fair. Distribute information on nutrition. Have workshops for parents with topics like: Setting up a place in the house for students to do homework, or The importance of reading with your kids. Lead intensive interventions for kids not on track to graduate. Give out college info to parents and help them help their students navigate the application process. Or how about this: Send out notices for students who are doing just fine and thanking the family for their support.
I mean I just rattled these off without even putting much thought into it. There are all kinds of things a Parent Outreach Team could accomplish, and I would argue this would be much more effective than almost anything we do. You will notice many if not most of these things are already being done, but the problem is they are being done by teachers, counselors, and administrators who don’t have enough hours in the day to do them properly. We are fundraising, giving parents resources in the community, having meetings, overseeing field trips and football games, and everything else on top of being in front of 5 classes for six hours a day.
Schools in low-income communities have been taking on more and more responsibilities as the disparity between the rich and poor has widened over the last thirty years. We are no longer here to just teach lessons and plan out student schedules to keep them on track to graduate. We are now parents, friends, coaches, therapists, psychologists, chaperones, role models, fundraisers, volunteers, and janitors. For Real. Every day we are confronted with decisions that force us to pick one student’s problems over another. For every issue we address there are five other issues we will never get to. We know this, and it kills us. But we can literally spend every hour of every day in our rooms and never be caught up because there is always a parent to call, a student to talk to one-on-one, a unit to prepare, and papers to grade.
Of course lowering class sizes and bringing in more teachers and counselors would be the next best way to increase achievement, but instead we hire companies for MILLIONS of dollars to come mandate Pacing Guides and give suggestions about instruction. Yet these companies aren’t even the ones MAKING the Pacing Guides. That still falls to the teachers!!!! This happened at my school when we didn’t make AYP for NCLB. I can’t even tell you in words how much more effective that money would have been spent at my school by simply hiring one more teacher per department and hiring another counselor.
But what we have never done is create a Parent Outreach Team, and it is time we finally did.
That is why during this recent hoopla around the Powerball Lottery, I would like to make a suggestion. I have heard that a third of the Powerball money goes to schools, and California has recently joined in on the Powerball orgy. Can I just ask that we use this money not on speakers, or a Superintendent’s salary, or for-profit advisory companies, or new textbooks the students will hate—and use it to create something we’ve never had before but all seem to agree we need?
Everything costs money, and clearly creating something like this on the scale I’m talking about will be expensive. So we need to find the money from somewhere. What if Powerball money was mandated for Parent Outreach Teams? What if we put Parent Outreach at the top of our funding priorities instead of where it is now—nowhere to be found?
We all say it—We need Parent Outreach. Maybe I’m crazy, and the chances of this happening are one in 100 million—But I have a feeling there are some folks out there who like those odds.