To the Editor:
Chicago’s positive experience with local school councils suggests that the federal No Child Left Behind Act’s provisions for parent involvement need to be strengthened, not abandoned (“Views Differ Over NCLB Rules on Involving Parents,” Sept. 20, 2006).
The experts agree that involving parents is hard. Effective parent-involvement programs should empower parents, meet their diverse needs, and give them tools to hold schools and districts accountable for improving their children’s education. Chicago’s elected, parent-majority school councils provide a successful model that has put these elements together and made them work.
Local school councils give parents a real voice in the school budget, the annual program plan, and principal selection. A growing body of research ties active councils to significant school improvement. In fact, local decisionmaking by these school councils has been shown to yield greater academic growth than a decade of various district interventions.
Local school councils work in part because they are the law for Chicago. But even with the law, many school officials seem determined to ignore and marginalize them. District-controlled council training has been perfunctory and focused on restrictions on council activity. Local school councils have had to file lawsuits against district attempts to circumvent their decisionmaking. The balance of power is always being yanked toward the district and away from parents. We believe that the local-school-council success story could not have happened if laws pertaining to them were not enforced.
The No Child Left Behind law’s parent-involvement vision is very similar to the vision behind Chicago’s local school councils. Stronger enforcement of the legislation’s parent-involvement components would allow the potential in the law to yield the kind of success we have seen in Chicago, where parents have the opportunity to become real partners in school improvement.
Parents United for Responsible Education