As Floridians debate the value of a proposed "parent empowerment" bill, much political posturing is taking place. A great deal of the conversation over whether parents should be able to petition for a turnaround option centers on who controls the agenda, whether corporations are preying on parents and so forth.
Without commenting on the legislation, at least one expert on parental involvement suggests that this discussion misses the boat if people truly want to see low-performing schools improve.
"That would not be first on our list of what we know should be done to engage families to support their students' success," said Johns Hopkins University professor Joyce Epstein, director of the National Network of Partnership Schools.
Epstein said legislation directing who can make choices is mechanical, while the "more difficult task" of creating programs that help families work with schools. Her organization's research has found eight "essential elements" for effective leadership and programs of school, family, and community partnerships. These include: leadership, teamwork, action plans, implementation of plans, funding, collegial support, evaluation, and networking.
"We help district assist their schools in organized, equitable and goal-oriented family involvement programs, things families and schools can work on together positively," Epstein said. "For immediate solutions, these are stronger approaches that engage families in ways to help children do better."
The bill still has two more committee stops in each chamber of the Florida Legislature before heading to full votes.