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Beyond education finance.

Beyond Education Finance

The nation is the midst of dramatically changing economic conditions. The demand for greater numbers of skilled workers increases while the labor force grows at only one-third the rate of the 1970s. At the same time, schools are experiencing unacceptable dropout rates and low levels of studen achivement. Many business leaders worry that if these trends continue, the United States will be unable to compete in the global economy. Such concerns are echoed in the calls for education reform, a priority issue in many statehouses. Education reform legislation has embraced many concepts, including major revisions to education finance formulas and more emphasis on site-based management. For reform efforts to be successful, however, strategies for improving student achievement must also take into account the realities that Texas families face daily.

One proven and cost-effective way of combating low studen achievement is to involve more parents in the educational process. Research clearly shows that parental participation raises student academic achievement, advances cognitive development, and improves attitude and performance. Parental involvement is especially effective in improving achievement for minorities, who currently compose half of all schoolaged children in Texas, and low-income students, who make up 23 percent of the school-aged population.

Many schools still use very traditional means of communicating with parents. Such tactics include: one-way communication from school to parent, usually in writing, about academic or disciplinary problems; threats of student punishment or failure as a means to stimulate parental action; and mechanisms that appeal to parental pride and desire for status. Such techniques generally work well with both middle-class and low-income two-parent families in which only one parent is employed. But only three out of every ten school-aged children in Texas live in these traditional types of families.

A number of logistical barriers prevent non-traditional families from being effectively involved in the education of their children. Historically, mothers have served as the link between home and school, but this function has--both married and single--reenter or remain in the labor force. Employer's inflexible leave policies and/or the lack of affordable child care often prohibit parents from attending school activities and conferences. For newly immigrated and non-English speaking families, language and cultural barriers make clear communications between home and school difficult. These obstacles must be addressed in order for the growing numbers of "hard-to-reach" families to participate in their children's learninG.

Educational researchers have identified four successful strategies for involving hard-to-reach families. First, families must be treated as an integral part of the educational process. School administrators must actively support and promote the philisophy of home-school partnerships with all families, adopting policies to encourage parental involvement. Second, school administrators, not parents, must initiate collaboration and make various types of participation opportunities available. Third, activities must be scheduled for the convenience and accessibility of parents, not schools. This may involve offering working parents time to meet with teachers and principals outside school hours; hiring outreach staff to make home visits or to speak at churches and community centers in order to reach minority and low-income families; and communicating with non-english speaking parents, orally and in writing, in their native language. Finally, every aspect of the school climate should be made open, helpful, and friendly to parents and community members. Techniques to achieve this may include establishing parent lounges in schools, offering tours and orientations for new families and monthly parent/teacher lunches, and providing periodic "good news" calls from teachers.

The business community can also play a role. With 60 percent of all school-aged children living in either two-parent or single-parent working families, employers' policies can support and make possible more effective communication between parents and schools. Flexible work schedules and policies that allow time off for school conferences and encourage employees to volunteer in their children's schools are examples of employer initiatives that would enable parents to become more involved with their children's education.

By recognizing the diversity of Texas families and moving beyond the traditional methods of involving parents in schools, both schools and employers can set the stage for improving student achievement. It is imperative to our economic future that we focus on these and other progressive strategies that will better educate our future workforce.

-- Deanna Schexnayder Manager of human Resource Studies and Leslie Lawson Research Associate Bureau of Business Research
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Texas
Author:Schexnayder, Deanna; Lawson, Leslie
Publication:Texas Business Review
Date:Feb 1, 1991
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