3 Ways to Engage Families in Gaining Equity in Public Schools

Public schools have a problem with engaging families, students, and teachers in conversations around equity and policy.  

Gina Pascual’s Edutopia article “Using a ‘Less Is More Approach’ to Engage Parents” highlighted three ways to engage parents, but honestly, her recommendations do not go far enough. Pascual excluded some cold hard facts that impact parent engagement. Let’s not forget that parent liaisons/coordinators aren’t paid livable wages to carry out the work oftentimes restricted by federal guidelines. Also, Title I funds are too restrictive to allow for the true essence of family engagement to take place in public schools. For example, Title I funds are restricted to academic initiatives only and don’t fund family engagement initiatives that are non academic, many which fall in the area of social emotional learning. Resources such as access to the Internet, counseling, mental health support aren’t supported by Title I funds for parental engagement Part A.  

Too often, public schools aren’t effectively engaging parents, families, or communities. It all starts with communication. Public schools’ staff communication with parents is one of the top issues blocking effective engagement. For example, some information sent from schools comes across as if they’re telling parents how they should parent. Pascual’s article gave three ways to engage parents including: 

  • Give parents just a few hands-on activities that they can incorporate into their daily routines
  • To remove any barriers, give parents everything they need
  • Introduce one concept at a time

Is it the school’s place to influence the routines of families outside of school hours?

In speaking with Atlanta parents through an advocacy group, Atlanta Thrive, leaders say schools haven’t been getting engagement or equity right for a while. Kimberly Dukes, Atlanta Thrive Founder, says policies in APS regarding equity and engagement need much improvement. Dukes and Atlanta Thrive parents are asking the Atlanta Board of Education the hard questions around what public schools can do to improve equity and engagement. I believe that the school board and APS school leaders should consider these ideas on engagement focused on building better educational outcomes. 

3 Ways to Engage Families in Gaining Equity in Public Schools. 

  1. Include parent and student advocacy training in family engagement programs that specifically review policies connecting to and impacting teaching and learning. 
  2. Connect community and civic engagement to efforts of having the funding formula changed so that public schools can properly fund individualized learning for each student. 
  3. Address the school to prison pipeline by a) acknowledging the system and racial bias in behavior, discipline, and attendance policies and b) creating alternative ways of correction behavior besides suspension. 

Policies should be data informed and value driven. Too often, public school policies are focused on data that negatively reflects the academic and social progress of children of color while equitable resources to correct the issue are provided.

Policies and educational practices based on ways to engage families in public schools can’t be cookie cutter models to achieve equity. Giving parents a few hands-on activities they can incorporate into their daily routines is a good idea, but how are our policies supporting this and those who help provide support? We see statements like, “give parents everything they need and remove barriers,” and this makes us feel good. However, what in the policy actually speaks to what’s being removed and what’s been provided? 

The challenging part of this for schools is that policy makers and educational leaders are not actively engaging parents in policy development that advances equity work and reduces risk. 

What’s the risk? 

Our children, particularly students of color, disabled, LGBTQIA+ and other identified groups in which public school systems have a history of failing or pushing out through behavior, discipline, and attendance policies, are at risk of not receiving a good education. 

Parent leaders in organizations like Atlanta Thrive or from APS Go Teams are demanding equity for education because too many children are at risk of not completing school. If there is an equity problem in the City of Atlanta, then certainly there’s an equity problem in the public schools in the City of Atlanta. Over the last few years, articles and research speaks to why Atlanta is one of the most inequitable cities in America for Black and brown people. There is definitely still an urgent need for equity in Atlanta, and all Georgia schools. 


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