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Published in Print: April 4, 2007, as More Parental Power in Revised NCLB Urged

More Parental Power in Revised NCLB Urged

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The No Child Left Behind Act has expanded parents’ power over their children’s education and given them more information about student achievement than ever before. But Congress ought to take further steps to promote parental involvement when it reauthorizes the 5-year-old law, parent activists told a Senate panel last week.

The federal law should guarantee funding for parent resource centers, authorize schools to spend federal money to hire family-service coordinators, and give states the power to enforce the parental-involvement sections of the education law, the advocates told the Senate health, education, labor, and pensions committee on March 28.

“Schools are not taking these provisions seriously enough,” Wendy D. Puriefoy, the president of the Public Education Network, said of the law. “Significant changes are needed.”

Under the NCLB law, districts are required to involve parents when they are writing their plans to comply with Title I and other programs in the law. They also must develop a parental-involvement policy and hold regular meetings with parents explaining what the district is doing to meet the law’s achievement goals for students in reading and mathematics.

Although parental advocates considered those requirements to be significant improvements over previous versions of the law authorizing the Title I compensatory education program, they suggested that Congress should do more.

In addition to Ms. Puriefoy’s request for states to be given the power to ensure districts are fully complying with the parental-involvement measures, other experts suggested that portions of the $12.7 billion Title I program be set aside to pay for services to help parents.

Parents’ Role

Schools should be able to use Title I aid to hire a person to identify students who need health and social services and work with outside agencies to ensure such services are provided, Daniel J. Cardinali, the president of Communities in Schools, an Alexandria, Va.-based nonprofit group that helps schools provide services schools need, told the committee.

If schools fail to meet their student-achievement goals for adequate yearly progress under the NCLB law, they should be required to explain how they would address the welfare and health needs of their students as part of their plans to improve student achievement, Mr. Cardinali said.

Interventions such as rigorous curricula and highly qualified teachers “will not be able to be effective if the basic social services for children are not met,” he said.

Schools also should be required to write plans that explain the educational interventions they will provide for every child, said Kathy Patenaude, the president of the Rhode Island PTA.

Teachers should review plans with parents regularly and the meetings should be “ongoing, meaningful, and two-way,” Ms. Patenaude said.

In a set of recommendations released before the hearing, the National PTA urged Congress to set aside a portion of Title I’s annual appropriation to finance parental information and resource centers. The statewide nonprofit organizations currently receive $39.6 million appropriated in their own line item in the budget for the federal Department of Education.

By setting aside a portion of Title I money, the parental centers would have a steady funding stream and wouldn’t have to lobby annually for an appropriation, the National PTA says.

Although few senators attended the hearing, several suggested that they would support expanding parental involvement when they reauthorize the NCLB law. Congress is scheduled to renew the law this year, but many observers expect lawmakers will postpone action, perhaps until 2009.

“We must … explore new and innovate strategies to engage parents and communities in helping kids succeed in school,” Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., said in a statement. Sen. Kennedy, the education committee chairman, did not attend the hearing.

Vol. 26, Issue 31, Page 23

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