Getting parents on board

Our view : Alonso has creative approach to boosting involvement

June 12, 2008

Baltimore schools CEO Andres Alonso likes to think big, and he doesn't mind taking risks. In less than a year, he has announced the financial empowerment of principals and deep cuts to the school system's bureaucracy, stood up to the teachers union in a dispute over planning time, and proposed paying students to improve their school performance. This week, Mr. Alonso took one of his most ambitious steps yet, unveiling a comprehensive plan to increase the woeful level of parental involvement in a system where only about a quarter of the schools have an active parent-teacher group.

There is much to like in Mr. Alonso's proposals, which go substantially beyond previous school system efforts. He wants to give parents input in evaluating principals, funnel money to community groups tasked with boosting parent involvement, and make grades and teacher e-mail addresses available online.

The school board this week approved spending about $1 million in public and private funds to engage community-based groups in mobilizing parents. Significantly, renewal of the groups' contracts would depend on their success on measures such as increasing the number who return surveys or participate in school-based events. This is an innovative and thoughtful approach to a vexing problem.

Mr. Alonso has promised that one of his priorities would be a serious effort to get parents more involved in their kids' education. Baltimore is getting used to this kind of follow-through from its schools chief.

It won't be easy, though. Educators are familiar with the paradox that the schools least in need of help tend to have the most-involved parent groups. Lack of parent participation is a perennial dilemma for Baltimore and other big-city school systems, where many families are stressed by poverty, crime and substance abuse.

Mr. Alonso can't solve all of the city's problems, but bringing more parents into school is a worthy goal.

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