2009-06-05 / Top Stories

Thompson: Parents Have No Role In Education

New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr. has charged that the Department of Education (DOE) has failed to ensure that parents have a meaningful role in education decisionmaking, even where that role has been carefully delineated by State law.

"Parents are essential stakeholders in our public education system," Thompson said. "There is no group more invested in the success of our students. Yet too often in our city recently, our parents have been told to sit quietly on the sidelines as others make the critical decisions about their children's education."

Speaking at a news conference, Thompson unveiled a report entitled Powerless Parents: How the New York City Department of Education Blocks Parent Influence in Local School Governance. The report can be viewed at www.comptroller.nyc.gov.

"Clearly, a well-run education system needs and depends upon the input, passionate commitment and insight of its parents for success," Thompson said.

In New York City, there are three key ways for parents to become involved in education policy decisions affecting their children. They include: local district Community Education Councils, or CECs; school-based leadership teams, or SLTs; and parent associations.

In order to prepare the report, Thompson's staff surveyed officers of 24 of the city's 32 CECs and other parent leaders in order to determine the nature and quality of parental influence on City school governance.

"What we found was deeply troubling," Thompson said. "CECs, designed to represent elementary and middle school parents at the community school district level, are effectively blocked from exercising the powers and duties given to them by the Education Law. School Leadership Teams are likewise of very limited effectiveness, while far too many schools do not even have a functioning Parent Association or Parent/Teacher Association."

Thompson's report determined that at least 10 different provisions of the Education Law governing Community Education Councils are currently not being followed by DOE.

Perhaps most significantly, CECs are not consulted by Tweed before the opening, closing or reconfiguration of schools, or of special programs in schools, in their districts. At the same time, CECs have been largely unable to evaluate the Superintendents in their districts because the Superintendents have been reassigned to spend up to 90 percent of their time working to improve achievement in districts outside of their own.

"CEC officers we spoke with believe their influence has steadily diminished ever since the first group was elected in 2004 and that CECs have essentially become irrelevant," Thompson said. "This has all occurred as a direct result of DOE decision-making. In fact, CECs have at times needed to resort to court action to maintain parental input codified in state law, such as their authority to approve proposed changes in school attendance zones, which is a key CEC power." In the case of School Leadership Teams, Thompson said that many schools across the city do not have functioning SLTs. Many others are dominated by principals unwilling to engage the leadership team on fundamental matters such as the school's budget and comprehensive educational plan.

Education Law requires principals to solicit SLT input when writing the school based budget but this frequently does not occur. Thompson charged that DOE's opposition to an independent and meaningful role for SLTs was made clear in 2007, when a revised Chancellor's Regulation was issued that gave the principal final authority over the Comprehensive Educational Plan. However, the law clearly states that School Leadership Teams are charged with developing CEPs.

With respect to parent associations, State Education Law requires that every school have a PA or a PTA, a requirement that is supposed to be enforced by the school principal. However, the most recent data suggests that close to 18 percent of our public schools have either no parent association whatsoever, or an association with so few parent officers it could not effectively function.

Thompson's report also determined that understaffing at DOE's Office of Family Engagement and Advocacy has stymied its ability to fill the gap. There are at most only three Family Advocates per district, and some districts have only one. Furthermore, because they report to Tweed rather than the district superintendent, their ability to resolve parent concerns is limited.

In order to clarify and strengthen the role and authority of parents serving on CECs, SLTs and in PTA's, Thompson offered the following seven recommendations:

• District superintendents should work primarily in their home districts, as intended by the State legislature and ordered by a State court.

• State law should be amended to help ensure that principals collaborate fully with School Leadership Teams (SLTs) in preparing the school's comprehensive education plan and assure the SLT has full input into the schoolbased budget.

• DOE must upgrade the training for parents who serve on SLTs and CECs, in accordance with existing law, thus encouraging more parents to participate.

• Education Law should be amended to ensure that CECs are notified and have ample time to advise and be consulted before significant actions are taken that affect a district school or schools.

• DOE should put superintendents in charge of District Family Advocates.

• DOE ought to publicly disclose basic information about which schools have functioning SLTs and parent associations, along with data regarding the performance of CECs; and

• DOE should streamline the current structure for parent engagement.

Thompson believes that implementing these recommendations would go a long way toward giving parents the kind of meaningful role in the development and implementation of education policy that they deserve and to which they are largely already entitled under current law.

"Adopting my proposals would also help to begin to correct the impression that Tweed has created among parents that it is aloof at best and arrogantly disdainful of including parents in its process at worst," he said.

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