More than 250 parents, grandparents, caregivers and community members from 17 states gathered in the Department of Education’s auditorium on May 26 for a dialogue with a panel of senior ED officials.
The 90-minute discussion touched on meaningful ways to support family engagement in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), supporting children with special needs, and the allocation of Title I funding in schools. The standing-room-only forum was full of energy and passion, providing a platform for parents to express their concerns, comments and questions to Department officials who are responsible for developing, communicating and implementing federal education policies, and others charged with enforcing civil rights laws.
Central to the discussion was the idea that everyone must take responsibility for the education of America’s children, and that parents have the most important role. Several weeks before this forum, at the first annual “Mom’s Congress,” Secretary Duncan identified three roles that parents can play: as partners in learning with their students, as advocates and advisors who push for better schools, and as decision-makers who can choose the best educational options for their children. When parents demand change and better options for their children, he said, they become an effective accountability backstop for the educational system.
Secretary Duncan has proposed that the Department do its part in supporting parents by doubling that amount of federal money for family involvement, from the current 1 percent of Title I funds that states receive to 2 percent. Assistant Deputy Secretary Jim Shelton, whose Office of Innovation and Improvement oversees the Department’s resources for parents, explained to the May 26 forum that the Department wants school districts to think differently about how they systemically make the school environment welcoming to parents and ensure there is two-way communication between school and family.
One parent who attended the forum summed up well a parent’s responsibility toward his or her child’s education and toward the child’s teacher at school.
“I am my child’s first teacher,” said George Camacho, a father from Detroit. “I don’t want the teacher—or, rather, teachers—raising my children. I want to be the one raising them. But I want teachers involved by engaging my children, and then I will do my part at home.”
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