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Getting parents involved.

Byline: The Register-Guard

Until now, the Chalkboard Project has primarily been an exercise in pulse-taking - finding out what Oregonians think of their schools and identifying barriers to improved achievement. Now the foundation-backed project is launching its first policy initiative, with the goal of encouraging parental involvement in schools. The target is well chosen, and the Chalkboard Project is a good vehicle for the effort.

The Chalkboard Project began in 2004 when five of Oregon's biggest private foundations decided that the state's future, and the future of the businesses that had created their wealth, depends upon schools that deliver an education that is among the nation's best. Through surveys and community meetings, the project set out to learn what stands in the way of making Oregon schools excellent, accountable and efficient.

Such an undertaking would ordinarily be expected to produce a political agenda - a set of proposals for increased funding and policy changes. Yet the 2005 legislative session came and went without the Chalkboard Project enlisting on either side of the education budget wars. Instead, the project has offered 15 recommendations for addressing concerns about school quality. Among these concerns are some that can't be fixed by passing laws or increasing school budgets - such as the need for increased parental involvement.

The correlation is clear: When parents are involved, their children do better in school. Such involvement creates a bridge between the school and the home, allows parents to spot problems or opportunities early, and improves communication among parents, teachers and children. Yet the Chalkboard Project's surveys found that parents aren't getting enough information about what's going on in their children's classrooms, and often don't have the time to volunteer.

The Chalkboard Project will try to do something about this problem. It will give grants to 12 Oregon middle and high schools to create programs that will allow parents to track their children's attendance, homework and grades online. It will work with the state Department of Education to ensure that all schools have written policies on parental involvement - policies that are already required by federal law. It will seek ways, such as tax credits or other incentives, to encourage employers to support parents who wish to spend time in their children's schools.

These are small steps, but each responds to a large problem. The Chalkboard Project's surveys show that while the importance of parental involvement is widely understood, many parents feel poorly informed about what's happening in their children's schools. While schools are required to have policies on parental involvement, most parents don't know whether such policies exist. Parents cite inflexible work schedules as the most common obstacle to spending time in their children's schools, and nearly all say they would volunteer if their employers encouraged them to do so.

The Chalkboard Project, standing outside the government and the education system, is well-positioned to provide leadership on this issue. It can award grants, exercise influence in the business community and provide a neutral analysis of what works and what doesn't. By tackling such fundamental issues as parental involvement, the project is showing that it can make an important contribution to raising achievement levels in Oregon schools.
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Title Annotation:Editorials; Chalkboard Project hopes students will benefit
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Oct 5, 2005
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