PTA Issues Parent-Involvement Standards for Schools

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Creating frequent communication between home and school, including parents in their children's academic assignments, and providing parents with volunteer opportunities are among the ways schools can improve parent involvement in education, according to a list of standards released here last week by the Chicago-based National PTA.

The six standards are accompanied by sample activities and measures that schools can use to judge whether their efforts are paying off.

"Parent and community involvement are essential ingredients--perhaps the most crucial components--of building stronger schools," Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley said at the news conference held to release the PTA standards.

The standards, which are being distributed to the 25,000 local PTA presidents, as well as every school principal and administrator in the nation, have been endorsed by more than 30 national groups, including the two major national teachers' unions, the elementary and secondary principals' associations, and several parent organizations.

The standards are based on the six types of parent involvement identified by Johns Hopkins University education researcher Joyce Epstein. She has been studying and fostering effective partnerships between schools, families, and communities for 14 years.

Though all of the standards are equally important, Ms. Epstein said, the one that focuses on student learning is the most difficult to implement because teachers are left to design assignments that require interaction between parents and children.

"This requires every teacher to be a participant in this partnership," she said. "Otherwise, the principal can do everything."

She also cautioned schools against setting unrealistic expectations.

"The misperception is that any of these will lead to higher test scores," she said. "This is not a substitute for other school improvement and reform efforts, like a better curriculum. You can't put it all on the parent's back."

A National Goal

Congress added the goal of increased parent involvement in schools to the list of national education goals in 1994. That means that states must show what they are doing to address the issue when they submit plans under the Goals 2000: Educate America Act.

At the time the goal was adopted, Mr. Riley launched an initiative to improve parent involvement with the support of businesses and church groups.

Because such involvement is a new goal, only limited national data on the subject have been collected.

According to the 1996 progress report on the goals, no information was available on whether more parents were attending conferences with teachers or were becoming more involved in school policy decisions. And the results of parent surveys on how often they took part in school activities were not considered statistically significant.

At last week's news conference, Carole L. Kennedy, a school principal in Columbia, Mo., and the president of the Alexandria, Va.-based National Association of Elementary School Principals, pointed out that it can be difficult to build relationships with parents, given the demands of work and home.

She added that just because parents aren't visible in the school doesn't mean they can't be involved in their children's education.

Copies of the standards are not directly available to the public, but those interested in receiving copies are encouraged to talk to local principals and PTA presidents.

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