In today’s economically and culturally diverse society it is vitally important that educators and community leaders find clarity on each other’s role in supporting our students’ academic achievement (Anderson-Butcher et. al., 2010). This need is only intensified when we consider the context of the required school reform actions brought on by No Child Left behind (NCLB) and Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) accountability measures. However, the formation of effective school and community partnerships is usually defaulted to the responsibility of the schools and often are not established due to communication and expectation barriers (Hands, 2010). With increasing reports of economic disparities between parents and communities of high performing schools and those of schools in need of academic achievement improvements, various factors have served as barriers to strong school and community partnerships.
A common factor impeding the formation of strong schools and communities partnerships is the lack of contextual understanding of the dynamic nature of the interactions between schools and their surrounding environment (Hands, 2010). Hands (2010) states, “While schools and communities are distinct entities, the borders between them are permeable” (p.191). This is demonstrated very clearly in larger school districts with diverse economic and cultural communities. Each community has diverging expectations of support from the schools which influence the school’s efforts and expectations of the community (Goldring & Berends, 2009). The cycle of influence can change as the school leadership or community resources change.
A key factor in revealing some of the school and community expectations can be observed through the collection and measurement of data regarding parent and community opinions and views on being involved in the decision-making process. Proper collection and use of the data from tools such as climate surveys can be useful in informing an array of school reform and school improvement efforts. According to Thapa et. al (2013), “In the United States and around the world, there is a growing interest in school climate reform and an appreciation that this is a viable, data-driven school improvement strategy that promotes safer, more supportive, and more civil K–12 schools” (p.357). Public opinion surveys could also be employed to identify community priorities, attitudes, and opinions. In my district, several of our schools and programs, such as our Career and Technical Education (CTE) program have established advisory committees to welcome community involvement in many educational decision-making efforts. As a result, we have been able to not only gather a deeper understanding of the communities perceptions of the district, but we have also shared the responsibility of contributing to the success of our students and academic programs.
Encouraging parental and community involvement in the decision-making process of an instructional improvement committee can definitely be both beneficial, but it would require a higher level of accountability. Often we can become so engulfed in the state accountability measures that we lose sight of how we are accountable to our first level customers, students and parents. In my district, we are required to have parent and community involvement on our Campus Improvement Committees (CICs), but it is interesting to me, how that involvement actually plays out. I am fascinated by how differently we, educators and educational leaders, define parental involvement. This is also because every community has different means and constraints that impact their ability to be “involved” in the schools. In my experiences, these differences in community coupled with our differences in defining involvement often lead to a disconnect in expectations and communications.
As an urban educator, I have witnessed many expectation discrepancies between school and community that end up negatively affecting students. For example, many teachers and administrators, due to a lack of expected parental involvement, have found it necessary to provide various supports for students and parents that go beyond the traditional K-12 setting. In my humble opinion, this action, in the larger sense, has done more damage than good. Now I am not saying that when a school gets involved in grassroots efforts within the community that all students and parent are harmed, but I do believe those types of efforts have adjusted the communities expectations of the school’s responsibilities. This could lead to a different kind of scrutiny when schools are not able to effectively take on these additional burdens, and it causes some communities to feel absolved of some of the need to be an active participant in the education of our students.
On one hand it is evident that developing partnerships between schools and the community have a significant impact, but on the other hand, the process of establishing partnerships is a challenge due to the differences in expectations, resources, and other contextual influences (Hand, 2010). To this end, both schools and the community need to work together to share the responsibility of working through these differences to find common ground and ultimately improve student achievement in every community and intended by NCLB.