Blog Feature

By: Margo Ensz on January 30th, 2014

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Rethinking Parent Engagement in Urban Schools

Grade Level: Secondary (7-12) | Featured Topics: Industry News and Trends | Featured Topics: Student Engagement | Academic Subject: Interdisciplinary

Why do some parents, especially those in urban areas, feel a “sense of exclusion” and unwelcomed in their children’s school?  According to a 2013 article titled “Parent and Family Engagement: The Missing Piece in Urban Education Reform,” low income parents are more likely to provide support that is more indirect and “behind-the-scenes.” Marginalized families “need more home involvement by educators that addresses basic family needs and builds trusting relationships than more school involvement by parents.” One school in Washington D.C. implemented a program called Tellin’ Stories in an effort to eliminate barriers and increase family involvement.

The program “fosters a greater understanding and awareness of cultural and ethnic differences” in order to create a community between parents and within their children’s schools. Tellin’ Stories seeks to build community between families across race, class, language, and cultural boundaries. 

The district that implemented Tellin' Stories created this table of traditional assumptions regarding parental involvement and engagement, then articulated how the Tellin’ Stories program adapts those traditional assumptions in an effective, engaging way that empowers parents. 



Schools determine how parents are involved. Parents’ roles are limited to fundraising, chaperoning and attending PTA meetings.

Families and school staff together decide meaningful ways for parents to be involved in multiple roles: as teachers, supporters, advocates, decision makers, ambassadors and monitors.


Parents need to have specific skills to be resources.  Many lack the capacity or willingness to be involved.  (deficit-model)

All parents are resources to their children’s schools.  Schools must recognize and cultivate the knowledge and strength of each family.


Starting point: Hold a PTA meeting and have parents sign up for committees.

Starting point: building trust through sharing our stories.


Diversity is a challenge.  School culture  must be imposed on the educational community.

Diversity is a strength.  School culture and leadership must reflect the diversity of the school community, and racism must be addressed.


School knows best, is solely responsible for decision-making, and passes knowledge on to families.

Everyone has knowledge and has children’s best interest at heart. Collaborative decision-making.


A system-chosen standardized test determines accountability.

Families, schools and communities hold each other accountable.


Parents who are not visible at the school are not contributing to their children’s education

Parents who help their children at home to be ready for school each day are contributing to their education.


Underlying message: parent involvement is not important for school success.

Parent involvement/family-school collaboration is required for school improvement


Models and expectations of parent involvement differ from school to school. Research shows that most parents want to be involved in their child’s classroom, but feel that the expectations in place exclude them or simply are not aligned with their family schedule, structure, or culture. Reaching out to parents and reevaluating how your school welcomes, involves, and engages student’s families is in your best interest, as parental involvement and engagement can be considered as important to student success as their time in the classroom. For a visual representation of the effects of parental involvement on student performance, check out this infographic

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