Tuesday, June 01, 2004

  No Child Left Behind aims at a dialogue with parents
In fact, says the seasoned community activist, "I really didn't realize parental participation was part of [NCLB]."

It's been a problem for the implementors of the new education law. Some of its key provisions prompt states, districts, and schools to notify parents about everything from their children's progress to their options for transferring out of low-performing schools.

But a study to be released this week, based on conversations with 26 grass-roots organizations, suggests that as of yet many parents - even those involved in their children's schools, remain unaware of these options, or bewildered as to how to exercise them.

Yet at the same time there is evidence that some districts and schools are making conscious - and promising - efforts to reach out to families as a direct result of NCLB.

If nothing else, NCLB has codified the crucial role that parent involvement plays in academic achievement, a role researchers have been promoting for some time.

Yet while a multitude of information, detailing everything from reading scores to graduation rates may be available, parents and organizers say few families know where to look, or how to parse the vast quantities of data once they do find it.

One problem may be with the way all this information is disseminated.

Many districts rely on websites. Yet to view a website, points out Lauren E. Allen, senior program director for accountability at the Cross City Campaign for Urban School Reform, a national network based in Chicago, a parent must have access to a computer - and know how to navigate the Internet.

Even the old-fashioned, paper letters can be confusing. Without a forum to "engage in face-to-face question and answering," says Ms. Allen, parents often feel lost.

"Testing, accountability, teacher quality - these are not bread-and-butter issues," she adds. "They're complex."

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