The challenge facing parent councils in Canada.During the 1990s, departments of education in all the Canadian provinces Noun 1. Canadian province - Canada is divided into 12 provinces for administrative purposes
province, state - the territory occupied by one of the constituent administrative districts of a nation; "his state is in the deep south" introduced legislation requiring all publicly funded schools to form parent advisory councils. A majority of schools now have councils, and by the year 2000 virtually every school will have one. The intention of this legislation is to provide parents with the opportunity and training to participate in school decisions. The establishment of formal advisory councils represents a significant opportunity for parents, yet also poses a major challenge: How can parents contribute meaningfully to school decisions that affect learning? This article describes the context of parent councils in Canada, and discusses three aspects of this challenge: 1) establishing parents' authority as decision-makers, 2) expanding parents' roles and 3) widening the constituency of involved parents.(1)
Parent Advisory Councils in Canada
Unlike most developed countries, Canada does not have a national government body responsible for education. Instead, the federal government provides transfer payments to the ten provinces and two territories, which have constitutional jurisdiction over education matters. Consequently, no national group sets the agenda for cooperation between home and school, and there is little collaboration on this issue among provincial departments of education.
Canadians take considerable pride in the equality of opportunity afforded by their education system, medical system and other social services social services
welfare services provided by local authorities or a state agency for people with particular social needs
social services npl → servicios mpl sociales . This ideology has a pervasive influence on policy-making pol·i·cy·mak·ing or pol·i·cy-mak·ing
High-level development of policy, especially official government policy.
Of, relating to, or involving the making of high-level policy: at all levels. Historically, parents voiced their concerns through informal advisory councils, advocacy groups, and home-and-school associations. School staff were generally responsive to parents' concerns; parents seldom resorted to formal grievance procedures A term used in Labor Law to describe an orderly, established way of dealing with problems between employers and employees.
Through the grievance procedure system, workers' complaints are usually communicated through their union to management for consideration by the employer. , and legal disputes were uncommon.
Recently, however, Canadians have become increasingly concerned about the quality of their schools. Compared with most European countries, Canada did not fare well in recent international studies of literacy skills and academic achievement (Willms, 1997). Conservative advocacy groups have called for the formation of charter schools with selective admission criteria admission criteria
the rules for the establishment of comparable groups in any comparison of differences in the performance or responses of the group. The criteria may be permissible age group, the previous productivity, the freedom from disease and so on. , higher standards and stricter discipline. Teacher unions and many academic researchers have called for "restructuring" of schools to give parents, teachers and students greater autonomy (Fullan, 1992). Provincial governments, faced with massive funding cutbacks, have responded by consolidating school districts, transferring more authority to principals and placing greater emphasis on parental involvement.
Councils vary among provinces in their composition and formal roles. A few provincial councils Provincial councils are organisational bodies within the Gaelic Athletic Association, each made up of several GAA counties. The provincial council is responsible for the organisation of club and inter-county competitions such as the Provincial championships, and the promotion of only include parents, but in most provinces they comprise some designated combination of parents, teachers, principals, non-teaching school staff, community members and senior students. In most cases, the councils' role is advisory; they do not participate directly in setting policy or making school-related decisions. The scope of the advisory mandate varies among provinces, and may include helping to set curriculum policies, as well as decisions about budgeting, transportation, hiring practices, and development of school improvement plans.
Parent councils frequently co-exist with home-and-school associations. These associations are affiliated with the Canadian Home-School home·school or home-school
v. home·schooled, home·school·ing, home·schools
To instruct (a pupil, for example) in an educational program outside of established schools, especially in the home. Parent-Teachers Federation, a national organization more than a century old. The Federation supports the establishment of parent councils and encourages other forms of parental involvement.
The formation of parent councils has increased dramatically the number of parents directly involved in school affairs. New Brunswick New Brunswick, province, Canada
New Brunswick, province (2001 pop. 729,498), 28,345 sq mi (73,433 sq km), including 519 sq mi (1,345 sq km) of water surface, E Canada. will be an interesting case to follow because in 1997, its provincial government disbanded elected school boards in favor of three levels of parent councils that advise at the school, district and provincial levels. Over 2,000 parents now serve on advisory councils in the province, which has a student population of approximately 80,000. That representation is more than 10 times the number of parents who served on school boards prior to their disbandment dis·band
v. dis·band·ed, dis·band·ing, dis·bands
To dissolve the organization of (a corporation, for example).
1. . The remainder of this article discusses how to ensure that parents and other concerned adults can contribute meaningfully to schools.
Increasing Parents' Authority
The formation of parent councils to increase parental involvement in school decision-making causes a shift in power and authority. There are at least three questions that need to be addressed: What is the scope of a council's authority? How will the inevitable tensions between parent councils and school staff be resolved? Can parent councils address the concerns of parents with special needs and interests, and still maintain a broad view of education matters?
Jurisdiction. The legal authority for education in Canada Education in Canada is provided, funded and overseen by federal, provincial, and local governments. Education is within provinicial jurisdiction and the curriculum is overseen by the province. is highly centralized cen·tral·ize
v. cen·tral·ized, cen·tral·iz·ing, cen·tral·iz·es
1. To draw into or toward a center; consolidate.
2. within the provinces; authority is delegated to a province's department of education. The provincial Minister of Education is responsible for administering the various legislative regulations and acts, mainly called Schools Acts. Within each province, the administration of schools is carried out in smaller units, usually called school districts, but in some cases called divisions, units or counties. School districts are defined geographically, and in most cases are contiguous areas.(2) In all provinces except New Brunswick, the citizens in each school district elect a school board, which is accountable to the Minister of Education for implementing the statutes and regulations contained in the Schools Act. Thus, school boards have some formal legislative authority, whereas parent councils, which operate mainly at the school level, are viewed as advisory bodies. In most cases, the relationship between school boards and parent councils is limited and weak.
Parent councils are most effective when school staff, provincial administrators and school board members arrive at a consensus regarding the scope of their authority. A first step towards discerning dis·cern·ing
Exhibiting keen insight and good judgment; perceptive.
dis·cerning·ly adv. parent councils' authority and control is to search out the middle ground in the Schools Act between the mandatory sections - what must be done - and the prohibitive pro·hib·i·tive also pro·hib·i·to·ry
1. Prohibiting; forbidding: took prohibitive measures.
2. sections - what must not be done. Parent councils are most likely to have influence in matters over which school boards now have some legislative authority; that is, what may be done.
Councils can use this information to help establish priorities. Under current conditions, parent councils are more likely to influence matters pertaining per·tain
intr.v. per·tained, per·tain·ing, per·tains
1. To have reference; relate: evidence that pertains to the accident.
2. to school climate, particularly those related to school discipline, expectations for academic success, student-staff relations, and the inclusion of students with special needs. They are less likely to influence matters affecting staffing, the curriculum, transportation, finances or capital expenditures.
Tensions. An important function of parent councils is that they can provide parents with a less political and less cumbersome channel than they once had to express their views about the local school. But for councils to be effective, parents need assurance that their views will be heard, and that their efforts will lead to action. If school staffs are unwilling to relinquish some of their traditional decision-making power, parental involvement is likely to decline. Teachers and principals are sometimes unwilling to share their authority over areas that they view as their professional domain. They may believe, for example, that councils tend to focus on the particular needs of a few children, rather than the more general needs of all children, and that councils' decisions are not based on a knowledge of education research or on broad education experience. Thus, tensions can arise when parents' needs are at odds with teachers' professional judgments. Moreover, nearly all aspects of home and school cooperation require more effort from teachers and principals. Councils need to appreciate that the push for greater cooperation has coincided with school staff assuming greater responsibilities - managing school budgets, employing new teaching strategies, integrating children with special needs, developing new curricula, and being held accountable under new terms See suggestions for new terms. .
Evidence of the potential for tension comes from a recent survey of approximately 2,000 elementary and secondary school teachers in New Brunswick schools (Willms, in press). Teachers there were asked to express their views about the extent to which parents should be involved in school governance. Figure 1 summarizes their views. Teachers generally supported parents' involvement in training classroom volunteers and, to some extent, setting rules for student behavior. Most teachers, however, felt that parents should have no involvement in, or only be informed about, the development of school goals, budget planning and staff hiring. Overall these results suggest that most teachers are reluctant to welcome parents' direct involvement in major decisions that affect the school's day-to-day operations.
Taking a Broad View. Parents can counter the concerns of some educators by becoming knowledgeable about key education issues. They could, for instance, seek to understand some of the research on controversial issues, or identify, and suggest emulating, highly successful programs. In essence, parents must narrow the gap between the roles of teachers as experts and parents as clients, by gaining and supplying a broad perspective for their advice on school topics.
A good example of a controversial issue is that of segregating students through specialized programs or other selective mechanisms. In many countries, students are segregated along social class lines through residential segregation segregation: see apartheid; integration. and private schooling. Some Canadian schools still practice streaming and ability grouping ability grouping
1. The practice of placing students with others with comparable skills or needs, as in classes or in groups within a class.
2. See tracking. . French immersion French immersion is a form of bilingual education in which a child who does not speak French as his or her first language receives instruction in school in French. Jurisdictions offering it
Canada programs can also contribute to segregation, both within and between schools, depending on the nature of the formal and informal mechanisms used to select students. Recently, some school districts have allowed, and in some cases encouraged, the development of "charter" schools. These schools usually offer a specialized curriculum or have a particular mission set out in a parents' charter. The problem is that many of these schools have selective admission criteria, or because of the nature of their charter, attract students who are predominantly from middle-class backgrounds, and thereby further contribute to the segregation of students. Many charter schools do not have adequate services for children with special needs and, in effect, exclude them.
The existence of such schools contradicts the principle of a public school system offering "equal access and opportunity for all students." Many parents have invoked the 1985 Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (also known as The Charter of Rights and Freedoms or simply The Charter) is a bill of rights entrenched in the Constitution of Canada. It forms the first part of the Constitution Act, 1982. , with its guarantee of equality of rights, to pressure governments and schools to change (MacKay, 1987). Considerable research indicates that students of all ability levels do better in heterogeneous classes, if they are taught with appropriate methods (e.g., Kerckhoff, 1996). Moreover, research demonstrates that if students are segregated along social class lines, students from advantaged backgrounds achieve at about the same level, or do slightly better, than comparable children in non-segregated settings. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds, however, do markedly worse in segregated systems (see Willms, 1986, for a summary). Countless schools serving heterogeneous populations have reached outstanding achievement levels. Parent councils should determine how they can best support schools in meeting the needs of all children in heterogeneous classrooms. To fulfill ful·fill also ful·fil
tr.v. ful·filled, ful·fill·ing, ful·fills also ful·fils
1. To bring into actuality; effect: fulfilled their promises.
2. this role, however, parents will need a good understanding and broad perspective on the issues of specialized programs and hetereogeneous grouping.
Expanding Parents' Roles
While Canada might be lauded for its efforts to involve more parents in school decision-making, policymakers have paid less attention to other aspects of parental involvement. This is a significant omission omission n. 1) failure to perform an act agreed to, where there is a duty to an individual or the public to act (including omitting to take care) or is required by law. Such an omission may give rise to a lawsuit in the same way as a negligent or improper act. because parents can be involved in many ways, and other types of parental involvement may be more important. For example, a large national study of 8th-grade students in the United States United States, officially United States of America, republic (2005 est. pop. 295,734,000), 3,539,227 sq mi (9,166,598 sq km), North America. The United States is the world's third largest country in population and the fourth largest country in area. found that students achieved better results in classrooms with more parent volunteers, and that parents' involvement in school-related activities at home had a particularly strong effect on students' academic achievement (Ho & Willms, 1996).
This result underscores the importance of expanding the role of parents. In addition, Epstein (1995) recommends that school-parent involvement include parent support and education, volunteering activities, involvement in school-related learning activities at home, collaboration with the community, and the establishment of better communications and relations among students, parents and school staff.
This is not to say that Canada is completely remiss re·miss
1. Lax in attending to duty; negligent.
2. Exhibiting carelessness or slackness. See Synonyms at negligent. in these areas; numerous success stories exist (McKenna & Willms, in press). For example, Canadians are using advanced telecommunications technology to facilitate home-school communication. Every Canadian school will be connected to the Internet by 1999, and an increasing number of provinces offer schools "voice-mail messaging," whereby a message can be relayed to all parents with a single call. Also, Canadian literacy programs have also encouraged parental involvement through, for example, training programs for teenage parents who want to enhance their literacy skills. Such programs can potentially yield a three-fold return: better care and literacy development for the participants' children; improved literacy for the participants, leading to greater self-sufficiency; and reduced health care and other social costs for both the participants and their children. Schools can develop comprehensive programs of partnership that build upon and extend existing practices for parent involvement. Through focused activities, parent advisory councils can play an important role in this process.
Successful parent advisory councils tend to have a clear mission, and therefore can take steps to initiate, support and coordinate various aspects of parental involvement. Many councils strive to improve education achievement, but some councils place greater emphasis on creating a caring community, offering an enriched educational experience, teaching democratic values or addressing particular social problems. Once councils are clear on their mission, they are more likely to succeed if they consider two or three ways they can involve parents. For example, one parent advisory council with concerns about academic achievement spent an entire year addressing issues about homework. Parents on the council studied some of the research on homework, examined policies used in other jurisdictions, and discussed relevant findings with parents, students and teachers. They found that students' biggest concern was not the overall amount of homework, but the inconsistencies in homework load across subject areas and during particular times of the year. The council also realized that while many parents wanted to be more involved in their children's schooling, they lacked the necessary direction from the school. The council's efforts resulted in a well-documented homework policy that brought about greater parent participation at home, and better communication among teachers, students and parents.
Widening the Constituency
Schools must consider not only how to involve parents, but also how to widen wid·en
tr. & intr.v. wid·ened, wid·en·ing, wid·ens
To make or become wide or wider.
widen·er n. the constituency of involved parents. One of the barriers to involvement is the nature of schools themselves. Schools are middle-class institutions that value middle-class language patterns, authority relations and organizational structures This article has no lead section.
To comply with Wikipedia's lead section guidelines, one should be written. (Lamont & Lareau, 1988). Middle-class parents feel comfortable relating to relating to relate prep → concernant
relating to relate prep → bezüglich +gen, mit Bezug auf +acc school staff and being involved in school activities, and they possess a wide range of strategies for achieving what they perceive to be best for their children. Studies of parental involvement in Alberta and British Columbia British Columbia, province (2001 pop. 3,907,738), 366,255 sq mi (948,600 sq km), including 6,976 sq mi (18,068 sq km) of water surface, W Canada. Geography
found that parents who were of lower socioeconomic status socioeconomic status,
n the position of an individual on a socio-economic scale that measures such factors as education, income, type of occupation, place of residence, and in some populations, ethnicity and religion. , or who spoke English as their second language, were less likely to be directly involved (Brown, 1995; Ho, 1997).
Parent advisory councils could take at least two important steps to remove this barrier. First, they can work with teachers to provide occasions where parents of differing social and ethnic origins would be more likely to participate. Many teachers have striven to adopt more authentic forms of assessment, for example, including portfolios, debates, recitals, plays and student-led conferences with the teacher and parents. Such assessment approaches not only increase students' engagement, but also encourage parents of different backgrounds to become more involved in their children's education. Because authentic assessment Authentic assessment is an umbrella concept that refers to the measurement of "intellectual accomplishments that are worthwhile, significant, and meaningful," as compared to multiple choice standardized tests. is time-consuming for teachers, parent councils can help in several ways, by serving as judges, helping to advertise school events, and encouraging parents to attend conferences and assemblies.
Schools also can initiate involvement in those areas where parents are most likely to reel comfortable, can see the benefits of involvement for their children and themselves, and feel they have a worthwhile contribution to make. Many parents may be willing to become involved in activities that promote health, for example, because it easily lends itself to a comprehensive partnership: parents can reinforce classroom learning at home, assist with decisions about school food services food services Hospital services A 24/7 department in a hospital that provides for the nutritional needs of inpatients–eg, those needing special diets, preparing meals and transporting them to the floor and, through the cafeteria, the hospital staff and , and help provide supplemental breakfast and lunch programs.
Both parents and educators view schools as places where all children should have an opportunity to learn. Parent advisory councils can play a significant role in helping educators and parents achieve this aim. To do so, they must increase their influence in matters that directly affect children's learning, expand the roles in which parents are involved and widen the constituency of involved parents.
1 The authors are grateful for support received from the New Brunswick Department of Education and the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) is an arm's length Canadian federal funding agency. Offering numerous funding programs with a 2006-2007 budget of CAN$306 million for grants and scholarships, and CAN$538 overall, (Grant No. 410-921569). The Atlantic Center for Policy Research in Education is supported by the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research Founded in 1982, the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research is a virtual institute dedicated to collaborative advanced research and scholarship of relevance to the Canadian and global community. and the University of New Brunswick The University of New Brunswick (UNB) is a Canadian university located in the province of New Brunswick. The university has two main campuses: the principal campus founded in 1785 in Fredericton and a smaller campus which was opened in Saint John in 1964. . Opinions reflect those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the funding agencies. We are grateful to Elizabeth Sloat and Helen Thomas Helen Thomas (born August 4, 1920) is a noted news service reporter, a Hearst Newspapers columnist, and member of the White House Press Corps. She served for fifty-seven years as a correspondent and White House bureau chief for United Press International (UPI). for suggestions on a draft of this manuscript.
2 Some provinces, however, have separate districts serving denominational de·nom·i·na·tion
1. A large group of religious congregations united under a common faith and name and organized under a single administrative and legal hierarchy.
2. and nondenominational non·de·nom·i·na·tion·al
Not restricted to or associated with a religious denomination.
Adj. 1. nondenominational - not restricted to a particular religious denomination; "a nondenominational church" schools, and English- and French-speaking schools. In these provinces, some of the districts overlap geographically. References
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Metaphysical or psychological system that assigns a more predominant role to the will (Latin, voluntas) than to the intellect. Christian philosophers who have been described as voluntarist include St. Augustine, John Duns Scotus, and Blaise Pascal. and public education. Manuscript submitted for publication.
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Oise (wäz), department (1990 pop. 733,200), N France, in Picardy. Beauvais is the capital.
Oise, river, Belgium and France
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A lengthy, formal treatise, especially one written by a candidate for the doctoral degree at a university; a thesis.
1. , University of British Columbia Locations
The Vancouver campus is located at Point Grey, a twenty-minute drive from downtown Vancouver. It is near several beaches and has views of the North Shore mountains. The 7. , Vancouver, BC.
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cursed by the crew because his slaying of the albatross is causing their deaths. [Br. Poetry: Coleridge The Rime of the Ancient Mariner]
king of the dwarfs; his malediction spurs many events in the . Canadian Journal for Exceptional Children, 3(4), 118-127.
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Mary McKenna is Assistant Professor, Department of Adult and Vocational Education vocational education, training designed to advance individuals' general proficiency, especially in relation to their present or future occupations. The term does not normally include training for the professions. , and
J. Douglas Willms is Director, Atlantic Center for Policy Research, University of New Brunswick, Fredericton.