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The Los Angeles Unified School District has put its money where its mouth is to boost parental involvement, and is showing results.

The district last year allocated $1 million, a fraction of its $4.9 billion annual budget, to open a Parent Community Services branch. Now, it's spending a similar sum to answer questions, advise parents on organizing groups, and offer training in ways to help their children.

Last year, reports Superintendent Sidney A. Thompson, the district opened 109 parent centers in schools, provided 2,000 workshops to parents, drafted a districtwide parent-involvement policy, and published The Parent Press to improve communication.

Surveys examining the first-year effort showed that parents' overall satisfaction with the district increased from 71.2 percent to 84.3 percent, Mr. Thompson writes in The Urban Educator, a publication of the Council of the Great City Schools.

"By proactively welcoming parents and providing the resources to help them do what only parents can do for and with their children," he writes, "we've been walking the walk that educators are forever talking about."

Other urban districts are following the same path. The Minneapolis public schools have opened an office of family involvement and established formal family-involvement standards spelling out clear expectations for the district, schools, classrooms, and families.

The office sponsored a rally this month to coincide with parent-teacher conferences. At Lincoln Elementary School, parents signed pledges to support their children's achievement.

In San Francisco, the district sponsored its first "parent-empowerment conference" to engage parents in discussions of curriculum, new education standards, and their rights to a wide range of services.

A nationwide poll of parents' attitudes has found strong support for a balanced approach to teaching reading--blending phonics and skills with books and stories. More than 85 percent of the 1,009 respondents to the poll, conducted this month by Louis Harris and Associates for Scholastic Inc. and the National Association of State Boards of Education, endorsed this mix.

Although 52 percent of those polled thought students weren't reading well enough because schools don't place enough emphasis on phonics and skills, there was plenty of blame to go around. More than 80 percent said parents are not encouraging their children to read at home, and 75 percent said children are distracted by television and video games.


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