ESSA and the progress of education policy toward parental engagement


Parent engagement is a critical component of student success, especially in large urban areas. Schools and local districts are increasingly investing in connecting with parents and families in ways that recognize their cultural backgrounds and unique needs.

In particular, educators are working to connect families to critical resources such as medical care, legal aid, housing support, financial literacy, language development, and access to higher education opportunities. This work allows educators to deepen the value of schools as institutions within all communities, especially those communities that have been historically marginalized.

These initiatives bring families closer to schools, which leads to greater academic and social success. However, while parent engagement has increased since it became a policy initiative in the No Child Left Behind Act and the previous reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), there is still substantial work that must be done to ensure that parents are fully engaged with their child’s education.


Education is a family affair

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) continues the emphasis on parent engagement. Unlike previous authorizations of ESEA, ESSA provides working blueprints indicating what parental engagement should look like, along with the collection of critical data aimed at supporting parent-based initiatives. These data allow schools and other educational organizations to invest in practices that will support families and their children.

Our organization, PUENTE Learning Center, is using this policy to create initiatives that will involve parents in their children’s education. It also allows us to design adult programs like English as a Second Language classes as well as workforce skills training that can improve the lives of these parents.

For example, we can design classes for parents so they can attend school at the same time that their children are in class. For working parents, we design workshops around their needs, or create after-school programs that cater to the schedules of the entire family.

Additionally, states like California that have an existing Family Engagement Framework can strengthen these very same initiatives through the data driven levers espoused within ESSA.

Parent engagement is not just a policy

PUENTE stands for People United to Enrich the Neighborhood Through Education. We believe in an approach to learning that is centered on the whole family. For us parent engagement is not just a policy incentive; it is an organizational pillar.

For the last 20 years, we have worked diligently to engage families in schools and provided them with learning opportunities to improve their social conditions. And over the past few years we have begun to collaborate with local schools and other educational institutions in East Los Angeles that are working diligently within the community to engage parents in their child’s education.

ESSA is in many ways a testament to the progress many educators are already making in deepening their commitment to helping children achieve their dreams. Policies like ESSA and initiatives like California’s Family Engagement Framework can work together to make schools a deeper and more fruitful extension of our communities.

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