More parent involvement sought for state schools

New policies urged to strengthen relationship with communities


News from around the Baltimore region

February 27, 2005|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore school board says parental involvement is "critical" to students' success. Anne Arundel County's board encourages schools to create an environment that is welcoming to community members. And in Montgomery County schools, the board has a goal of strengthening "family-school" relationships.

Last week, however, a statewide parent council told the Maryland State Board of Education in a report that community involvement in schools is inconsistent from area to area and needs to be encouraged through changes in state policy.

School systems across Maryland have long maintained that they want parents to be informed and engaged in their children's education. But schools have had varying degrees of success putting those goals into practice, according to community advocates and state education officials.

The report by Maryland's Parent Advisory Council, or M-PAC, is the state's first attempt to establish a yardstick to measure how well schools communicate with and involve parents, and it included several recommendations.

"If you're saying parent involvement is key to children's success, why aren't you evaluating that?" said Esther Parker, president of the Maryland PTA and chairwoman of the parent council, which is made up of 150 parents, educators and advocates from the state's 24 school systems.

The council's recommendations also seek to give parents a larger role in education decisions made at the state and local levels and hold schools accountable for community involvement.

State schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, who formed the council, said she supports its findings.

"I think we've given a lot of lip service to parents," Grasmick said. "I honestly feel this is the first time we've had such a profound and substantive set of recommendations that would put parents in a very important position relative to their children's education."

The council's recommendations will be finalized after a series of public hearings across the state. They include urging the state to adopt policies requiring that:

At least two state school board members be parents of public school students.

Parents be included on all education-related task forces or committees formed by the state or local school systems.

The Maryland State Department of Education develop courses to train teachers and administrators to create a welcoming school atmosphere.

State education officials assess how well school systems involve their communities and report the results along with standardized test scores in the annual Maryland Report Card.

Linda Hodge, president of the national PTA, said no other state has come close to Maryland's initiative to involve parents in education.

"To see what you're doing in Maryland, that you're actually [considering] implementing policy, is really exciting," Hodge told Grasmick at last week's meeting. "You are at the forefront of making parent-involvement policy work."

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