The Maryland Board of Education voted unanimously yesterday to support a wide range of initiatives designed to increase family involvement in public schools, including a requirement that at least two members of the state board have children enrolled in the system.
The initiatives were presented to the board yesterday in a report by the Maryland Parent Advisory Council, a group of 125 parents and educators appointed by State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick in 2003. The initiatives also have been endorsed by the National PTA and U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, state officials said.
M-PAC's plans call for changes, big and small, in five areas: communication, training, leadership, partnership and accountability.
Some of the most significant changes would occur at the state level. The group wants a department devoted to overseeing leadership, training, monitoring and support for family and community involvement and partnerships. The state also would be responsible for developing a survey for school systems to assess how well they involve families.
The group also asks state education officials to urge school systems to include family involvement in evaluations of teachers and administrators. And Maryland's annual report card would include targets for parent participation.
"This report puts validity [in the idea] that we've got to go out of the box and reach these parents," said Esther Parker, head of the Maryland PTA and M-PAC.
The initiatives were spawned in part by a 2003 survey of almost 1,700 parents, educators and community members by the State Department of Education. The survey showed that nearly 60 percent of respondents saw weak family involvement at their schools.
More than half said there were significant barriers -- chiefly time and transportation -- to participating in school programs; 37 percent cited cultural and language roadblocks.
But Jo Ann T. Bell, vice president of the State Board of Education, said yesterday that she was concerned that M-PAC's initiatives do not address those problems directly.
"If we really want to engage a large number of parents, we need to go to that group, that living room," she said. Otherwise, "we're still not going to reach the parents that we're really trying to reach and speak to."
The report twice alludes to the state's increasing racial diversity. It says that state education officials should inform parents of their rights using a variety of languages and that schools should train staff in cultural proficiency.
Parker said that addressing the needs of minority families is implicit in the report. By using creative methods to communicate with parents, she said, schools will draw in groups that had been disengaged.
She said some school systems have begun joining with churches and other community groups to reach black and Hispanic families. The PTA also has been talking with ministerial alliances, she said.
"The parents we are dealing with have changed," said Warlene Gary, chief executive of the National PTA. "We have to find the people who are closest to the kids and work with them."
Parker said it probably would take several years to implement all the M-PAC initiatives. The group spent more than a year developing its plans before giving a draft report to the state board in February. It then took the draft to each of the state's 24 school systems for comments. The final report was presented yesterday.
"The road map has been drawn," Parker said.