Black Parents Must Be Engaged in School Turnaround

It never fails. Each school year we start strong with family engagement, only to be left asking, where are the parents?

As inner-city teachers, each school year we get excited about welcoming our new families. However, it’s hard to avoid the realization that it will be the last time we see or hear from the majority of the parents. Unfortunately, many schools struggle with keeping parents engaged—especially in predominantly Black schools.

I’ve been doing the work of family and community engagement for over six years across Metro Atlanta. I can tell you that parents are present. They are working, they are contributing, raising and supporting their families. But it’s different for Black parents. Black children have been disenfranchised in American schools for decades.

There are a lot of variables that lead to the lack of parental presence in many struggling and low-performing schools. Of course, many parents simply have work schedules that conflict with school events and meetings. Some parents may be only slightly older than teenagers themselves, and many parents are also products of failing schools and have never seen examples of what productive relationships between schools and families can look like. All of these factors contribute to the absence of parents from school.

Take a moment and think from the perspective of the families at your school. Does your school feel truly welcoming? It’s time to lift up our “students”, not label them! Imagine if our Georgia students weren’t labeled by standardized tests. We must acknowledge that all of our students aren’t being labeled and who exactly is. For some Georgia parents, they can’t begin to imagine what success looks like when survival is the only option for their child.

Data on the number of students impacted by cheating scandals in Georgia show that Black boys were had the highest percentages of students who didn’t finish school and/or who ended up having to get a GED due to struggling in school. High stake standardized test puts unnecessary pressure on school leaders, teachers and students.

Black boys have been stereotyped for years in schools through data produced by standardized tests. I remember the pressure and stigma placed on Black boys for not being able to excel on standardized test. I remember teachers during my time in school and in schools I have worked at make statements around how Black boys can add but they can’t read.

Discipline impacts how standardized tests are designed and implemented. The school to prison pipeline brought awareness to how private prisons used standardized test data for Black boys as early as third grade to determine how many beds to make for prisons based off if they pass out now. I mean talk about the pressure of being sentenced to prison if you don’t pass the “test” in third grade.

We have to be more intentional about supporting, empowering and including Black parents in the decisions regarding their child’s education. Here’s how to start strong:

1. Build real relationships.
It starts with building relationships! School leaders and educators have to be intentional about engaging parents and families.
2. Start early.
Reinforcing support and resources for more early learning centers in areas of at-risk and failing schools.
3. Share tools for teaching and learning.
Building effective academic support programs for parents to continue education at home.
It’s important to remember that families are a child’s first source of education. They learn language, conflict resolution, how to treat others and most importantly how to respect and love themselves from the adults around them before they even enter school.
4. Establish clear expectations
In order to maintain a strong partnership with parents, schools must have clear expectations and processes to hold parents accountable. Accountability best serves the organization and parents when there are clear expectations of them.
5. Fight for equity.
We have to be change agents in and out of the classroom. Social injustices contribute to the presence of failing and underperforming schools.
School turnaround cannot be done without parents. Strategies provides to parent from schools should include engaging ways to excel learning at home. If we don’t have parents excited about learning the school turnaround work won’t make it to the finish line.

It’s hard to imagine equity in education for Black boys in the State of Georgia when they are constantly placed into a sub group and labeled as low performing. I hear statements like this often from Black parents regarding their sons educational experience and the impact standardized testing has had on them.

Standardized tests have been used to categorize, separate, discriminate and create bad cultures for schools. Case in point, the cheating scandals that we saw around the State of Georgia a few years ago and not just in Atlanta.

Parents have to be empowered to hold their school leaders, community leaders, elected officials and even other parent leaders within the community accountable. It takes a village to raise a child—that’s all of us but we have to know the role that we play and why it’s important to the success of our children.


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