A new National PTA certification program intended to help schools meet the parent-involvement provisions of the federal “No Child Left Behind” law issued Certifications of Excellence last week to 26 schools in 15 states.
Officials of the six million-member, Chicago-based group say the program was designed to encourage schools to strengthen parent-involvement programs, and to recognize those that are meeting high standards. Evaluations examine six areas: communication between home and school, development of parenting skills, student learning, volunteerism, school decisionmaking and advocacy, and collaboration with the community.
“We have a very open-door kind of policy,” said Diana Peer, the principal of Parkview Elementary School in Van Buren, Ark., one of the winning schools. “We are very intentional about making parents feel welcome.”
For example, the 400-student K-4 school invites fathers and grandfathers to help direct traffic at the school in the morning. Every morning, the school also holds a pupil-led assembly that many parents attend after bringing their children to school and before leaving for work. The assemblies address special events of the day, and recognize student achievements or contributions.
The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 requires that schools have ongoing communication with parents, and that they involve parents in their children’s learning.
To work toward a Certification of Excellence, schools first put together a team involving at least one administrator, a teacher, a parent, a student, and a member of the community. The team evaluates the school’s current parent- involvement programs and works to improve them.
That process of “self- analysis” is important, said Ms. Peer, who has been the principal at Parkview Elementary for five years.
“You have to decide whether you’re on target with the programs and plans that you have,” she said. “We have spent quite a bit of time on this in the last four years.”
At the 2,100-student Walter L. Sickles High School in Tampa, Fla.—the only high school winner announced last week—the parent-teacher-student association holds forums on topics that parents are concerned about, such as school safety, drug and alcohol abuse prevention, and financial aid, said Nuri D. Ayres, the principal.
She said it was harder to get parents involved before this school year because the school was running double sessions every day to cope with overcrowding. With another high school opening last year, the school was able to return to a single session last fall.
“We’re back as one family,” Ms. Ayres said. “We hope that little by little, more parents will take advantage of what is offered.”
Ms. Ayres said she hopes that the certification will help parents understand that just because their children enter middle or high school doesn’t mean they should limit their involvement in school activities or their children’s schoolwork. Some studies have shown that parent involvement drops significantly after students leave elementary school.
The PTA certification program was piloted last year, and five schools received the certification.
“Every child deserves to attend a school of excellence,” the National PTA’s president, Shirley Igo, said last October when the pilot winners were announced. “This certification program is an unprecedented opportunity for all schools to achieve excellence and be recognized for their dedication to parent involvement.”
The PTA’s standards mirror the six types of parent involvement identified by the National Network of Partnership Schools. That program, based at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, also recognizes schools that have developed strong programs for parents and maintain them over time.
“I would call this [PTA program] a good start,” said Joyce Epstein, an education professor at Johns Hopkins and the director of the network. But she added that excellence comes through making parent-involvement programs permanent.
She suggested that schools wanting to improve parent involvement would benefit by being active in both the PTA and the National Network of Partnership Schools.
Ms. Epstein commended the PTA, which has been focused primarily on education policy and advocacy over the years, for highlighting the role of parents in schools.