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August 06, 2009

Parents a Silver Lining for Schools as Great Recession Persists

Originally posted at The Huffington Post.

Special Report PhotoIn the midst of the worst recession in 70 years, everyone is worried about school quality. Schools across the nation are facing devastating cutbacks, threatening everything from teacher's aides to enrichment programs to classroom supplies.

Is there any good news? A new GreatSchools/Harris Interactive national study suggests that there can be — in the form of increased parent involvement. Nearly two in three parents, 64%, believe that, because of the recession, it is more important for them to volunteer at school now than before. The majority of parents, 53%, plan to volunteer at their children's school this year, up from 44% last year — a 20% increase. The trend is most pronounced among African American parents, 60% of whom plan to volunteer, a nearly threefold increase from the 23% who say they volunteered last year.

Six months ago when addressing a joint session of Congress President Obama encouraged Americans to volunteer in their communities and declared that "responsibility for our children's education must begin at home." Parents, it appears, want to answer the president's call to action.

But they face barriers. When asked about the main challenges they face to being more involved in their children's education, about half of parents, 49%, cited the lack of opportunities offered by schools or teachers.

Now, more than ever, both parents and schools need to reinvent parent involvement, removing barriers and creating opportunities to tap into the power of parents. Schools need to reach out in multiple ways, yes with traditional back-to-school nights and parent-teacher conferences — offered at times to accommodate working parents — but they also need to take advantage of new ways to connect. With Broadband adoption at ever-increasing levels, schools should offer long and varied parent involvement menus on their websites from which parents can choose volunteer opportunities both in-school and at-home (prepping for classroom projects, doing community outreach, etc.). Schools should survey parent skills and passions and create opportunities to tap into them. Easily-accessible and clear learning standards and assessment information are more vital than ever to empower parents as partners in their children's learning.

So much is in parents' hands: setting high expectations, building character traits for success, starting early with college and career planning. Instead of feeling bound by school-created opportunities, parents can do their part by recognizing their role as the drivers of their children's education. From specific actions such as reading at home and helping with homework to maintaining a general sense of accountability and expectations for achievement, parents hold the keys to their children's success.

The majority of parents want to share their time, expertise and resources to support their children's education. Now we need to work together to make it happen.


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GreatSchools, you are doing a Great Job mobilizing parent participation at school - THANK YOU!

At VolunteerSpot.com we share your mission and help make the Pledge a reality by giving teachers and parent leaders a free and simple time-saving tool for coordinating volunteers. Making it easier for parents to say YES to volunteering means more parents turn out to help in the classroom, library, and lunchroom, and at fundraisers like school carnivals and book fairs.

We invite GreatSchools parents to please check out VolunteerSpot and save time recruting, scheudling and reminding volunteers this school year.

Thanks for getting involved!


I really am concerned for the non-Title I schools that have already been getting by with nothing but parental support. Now with increased budgetary cuts, there will be an increased need, and the reality is that in some schools that have been successful, there will be an increased need.

Can the parents who are already putting in 10+ hours a week do more, certainly. But at a certain point, public schools are becoming co-ops, and a free education is hardly free.

Well said - well written. Parental involvement is key. But rather than relying too much on the schools to "create the opportunities", I have experienced the power of parents just making a point of meeting each other in the drop-off line, during school games, and other casual opportunities. If those parents are like-minded, and if someone suggests it... you'll start sharing ideas on how to get more involved. Maybe a mini parents club? Maybe deciding to organize a cupcake fund-raiser, holiday party, etc...

There are lots of ways, and a lot easier to get started if you find others to do it with.

Your article pinpoints one of the major disconnects between parents getting involved -- meaningful volunteer opportunities in the school. At my kid's school, in a high involvement community, there can be people on waiting lists to get a volunteering opportunity. And in schools where parent volunteering is on the upswing, it's vital that someone takes the time to articulate volunteer roles and jobs. This can end up being an additional workload for teachers, and when that happens, volunteering can fail simply due to the problem of coordination, e.g. making it easy for both teachers and parents, communicating with a dispersed parent volunteer force, and signing them up. When these organization and communication hurdles can be addressed, volunteering is simplified without any need of instant payday loan.
Maybe the first and most important role to take on in these communities of rising volunteerism is for parents to work with teachers to define what's needed, then create a schedule of opportunities. This can be done class-by-class or via a school-wide committee.
We encourage people to use our site, to accomplish their volunteer mobilization (we're free, easy and robust) but mostly, we just hope that all those new volunteers will be put to work in a meaningful way -- because if they aren't, they may sadly join the 20 million volunteers who drop out every year due to poor volunteer coordination.

Schooling and parenting topic detailed with useful information and nice concepts.

Gotta love those silver linings. Without them things would be too bleak to continue, sometimes, I swear.

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