Published Online: November 22, 2000
Published in Print: November 22, 2000, as Children & Families


Children & Families

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School Choice: Parents who can choose where to send their children to school become more involved in their children's education, says a paper by the Cato Institute, a Washington-based libertarian think tank.

In "More Than Grades: How Choice Boosts Parental Involvement and Benefits Children," Philip Vassallo, an educational consultant, argues that the public K- 12 system tends to marginalize parents and views them as "little more than monitors for class trips, coordinators of cookie sales, and boosters for athletic events."

But a review of studies on school choice programs, such as charter schools, vouchers, and private scholarships, shows that "choice schools support parents' involvement in their children's studies, encourage parents' participation in meaningful school activities, and engender greater satisfaction," Mr. Vassallo writes.

The studies reviewed by the author also show that parents who utilize choice programs are more satisfied with the schools their children attend.

The policy analysis is available online at 383es.html.

Parental Involvement: To be sure, parents play an important role in child-care and preschool programs. But a recent study of a nationally known effort in North Carolina to improve services for young children finds that parents are not always seen as equal partners.

Researchers from the National Center for Early Development and Learning, based at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, found that parents who serve on local Smart Start boards, which determine how to spend state money for such programs, often feel intimidated and face a variety of obstacles to being involved.

Those obstacles include inconvenient meeting times, a lack of transportation, and unfamiliarity with some of the educational jargon used by the child-care providers, business people, and educators who attend meetings.

"Parent involvement in Smart Start board decision-making is considered valuable; however, for the most part, parents are not playing a meaningful decision- making role," according to a summary of the study.

The problem, the researchers say, "won't be solved easily or through superficial approaches."

Promising practices, they write, include offering support to parents, such as help with child-care arrangements and transportation. Parents can also feel more included if decisions are made by consensus rather than by a more formal and structured process typical of public meetings.

—Linda Jacobson

Vol. 20, Issue 12, Page 6

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