Get Involved with More Than Just Bake Sales at Your Child's School
Byline: Denise Raleigh
Charlene Haar has written numerous articles about the role of parents in public schools.
As president of the Educational Policy Institute, a research organization in Washington, D.C., Haar has written "Cutting Class: The PTA Plays Hooky from Educational Reform," "The PTA Goes Kaput" and "Beyond Bake Sales."
She recently released a book, "The Politics of the PTA - New Studies in Social Policy." She writes that fewer than a quarter of the nation's schools now have active Parent Teacher Association membership - less than half of the membership in 1966 - because parents' energy intentionally has been channeled into support services like chaperoning trips, organizing bake sales and fund- raising.
From my initial experiences with some of our local parent groups more than 10 years ago, I might have agreed with Haar that service is the main mission of parent groups. But many of those groups have become more involved with education and school issues in the last decade.
Though Naperville Unit District 203 parent groups haven't been aligned with the PTA for more than half a century, the district's Home and School Associations weren't always a place to get involved in school issues. The tax cap and various initiatives have helped change that to a degree.
Most Indian Prairie Unit District 204 schools have PTAs, but they also have convened task forces of parents to deal with meatier issues such as school boundaries and finances.
District 204 recently won a "What Parents Want" award from SchoolMatch. District 203 recently won awards from the National Network of Partnership Schools at Johns Hopkins University for programs such as the business and community partnerships, school beautification projects, family science nights, coffees with the principals and parent involvement on a school technology committee.
While consistently winning these awards is wonderful for public relations, it is more important to recognize that students benefit when the programs take place.
Our local parent groups proved a lot about involvement these last few years as they led in-depth community discussions about school finances. We should cultivate similarly lively conversations on academic issues as well.
State school Superintendent Robert Schiller is creating a task force to review student assessment and school accountability. He's asked Mike Skarr, president of the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce, to serve on it.
Parents could be more of a factor in assessment accountability if they were given better data. Parents recently received their children's Illinois Standards Achievement Test results. The data provides a snapshot of your child's test scores, as well as the school's, the district's and the state's score. What it doesn't say is whether your school's or district's test scores are generally moving upward, downward or remaining consistent over time.
The school report card, mailed to parents later in the year, will contain some of that general information. Did you know that the percentage of May Watts Elementary School students who met or exceeded state standards was 87 percent in 1998-99, rose to 92 percent the following year and was 95 percent in 2000-01? …