PARENTS of children attending 10 Southeast schools have reached an agreement with Westinghouse Corporation and C&P Telephone to raise money for those schools. The companies have agreed to match money donated or raised by the parents to get tutors, new textbooks, and whatever else parents and teachers think would help to better educate the children. The companies involved in the Parents Group Support Fund, as the program is called, have yet to set a definite formula on the size of the amount they will contribute for each dollar the parents raise. But Roderick Boggs, director of the Washington Lawyers' Committee, the group that brought the parents and the companies together, said the goal is to give each school from $5,000 to $8,000 by the end of the year.
The money is good news for the schools, but the big payoff lies in the potential the fund has to get more parents involved in the schools. Parental involvements in schools in poor neighborhoods is notoriously low, and more and more educators are coming to believe that it has a big impact on the way students feel about school and, consequently, on how well they do. For example, in his book "School Power," Dr. James Comer, a Yale University psychiatrist, writes about a similar but more sophisticated program to spur parental involvement in a public elementary school in New Haven, Conn. Dr. Comer's program included getting parents involved in school activities and even in the classroom as aides and tutors. The result was that, in just three years, the school's math and reading test scores rose from among the worst in New Haven -- two or three years behind national norms -- to a matter of fractions away from being on the national norm.
The Parents Group Support Fund comes with no guarantees of similarly miraculous results. But by giving parents a clear reason to get involved and tangible rewards for their efforts, the program could make a real improvement in the 10 schools, which include Ballou High School, Beers Elementary and the Nichols Avenue Elementary School. Already one school, Turner Elementary, has raised $100 for the fund. That money came from a bake sale held last month even before the corporations had made any pledge to take part in the program. But after hearing of the program and getting initial positive responses from the companies, parents said they wanted to get started so they could raise as much money as possible. Turner's parents want to use the money to hire tutors. Because none of the money in the fund can be used for administrative costs, the students at Turner will get the full benefit of every cent their parents raise and whatever matching money is contributed by the companies.
The basic idea is to give parents in a poor section of town the opportunity to do as much for their schools as parents in other parts of the city have been doing for some time. As a result of cuts in the school budget over the last few years, it is not uncommon to see parents at District public schools passing the hat to buy books or help the school with some other problem. This trend and the parents' support fund deserve all the help they can get from the school board and everyone who lives or works in the District. It is a glimmer of hope where gloom has prevailed for too long.