If parents of English Language Learners matter…

I’ve already noted before that simply stating that you are fighting for education reform is problematic since the definition of what education reform is, or what successful education reform looks like is fluid and differs from person to person, student to student, parent to parent. But that last classification – parent to parent – is quite important.

A press release from the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) on March 19, 2013, however, gets to the root of what I see as an integral element to any effective education reform initiative: parental involvement. As anyone in academia knows, the nature of research and of receiving funding to perform research can be very myopic, focusing on very specific details of an issue. The title of the press release in this case says it all: Enhancing Education for English Learners through Parental Involvement.Little Graduate

Parental Involvement. Across the spectrum of education reform initiatives is the assumption that parents are involved with the academic involvement of every child out there. This assumption is unfortunately quite flawed, and a failed assumption that spans all social-economic demographics. Parents, however, are the secret sauce in creating successful students, regardless of how you define success.

Are there potential problems with that drive towards success? Of course, but maybe it’s time we realize no one is perfect, but we’re all trying to do the best we can. Sometimes, however, parents need extra efforts from school districts to feel as if they have a voice at the school, or to feel somehow less disenfranchised. In other cases, parents might need a little extra education to understand exactly how important their involvement is.

As Diane Ravitch notes in “The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” and other studies by group such as the NEPC have shown, the principal reason for the success of educational alternatives like charter schools is the self-selection that occurs by parents. As the headmaster of the charter boarding school in “Waiting for Superman” says, while greeting new students to the school around two-thirds of the way through the film (paraphrasing), “Congratulations, you’re here because someone, a parent or caregiver, cared enough to make sure you made it here.”

I suspect if the research in the above study that was applied to English Language Learners were applied to other sub-groups of students, the same findings would result: being aware of distinct cultural groups of students, and engaging the parents of those students is paramount to the success of those students.