Members of the Maryland State Board of Education were receptive to the preliminary recommendations of the Maryland Parent Advisory Council (M-PAC), which included the appointing of a parent member to the State Board.
Establishment of a parent representative position is the most visible symbol of a wide ranging state initiative to get parents involved in education. Responding to recommendations from the (M-PAC), a statewide group studying ways to improve parent involvement, Maryland also plans to establish Another recommendation that demonstrates Maryland’s desire to depart from the status quo is the establishment of benchmarks for effectiveness and progress of parent involvement that would be reported on the annual local and state “report card.”
In addition, the state is seeking to introduce training and professional development for educators in working with parents and the public and then implementing quantitative measures of Similarly, the Council’s common belief that what gets measured counts is reflected in the call for parent involvement satisfaction parent satisfaction with parent-school/staff interactions as part of being factored into principal and staff performance evaluations. Training and professional development for educators would need to be provided prior to this component being enacted. These are among the nearly two dozen recommendations that fall into five themes: accountability, training, leadership, partnership, and communication.
Next steps include the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) providing training to help improve parents’ skills as their children’s first teachers and advocates and to prepare parents to work more effectively with school officials at all levels. These plans emerged as a result of public meetings and deliberations by M-PAC, a group of 125 parents, educators, and advocates appointed in the fall of 2003 by State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick. Dr. Grasmick established the Council to . Her vision for this Council was to assist her and MSDE in providing assist MSDE in fostering meaningful parent involvement as part of the Department’s statewide plan to raise student achievement.
“Maryland is becoming one of the nation’s leaders in this area, and one of the the first states to mandate parent participation at the highest levels of government,” says Linda Hodge, president of the National PTA, who shared her enthusiasm with the State Board for the work of M-PAC and how it is a model for what National PTA would like to see other states do. “What’s totally unique is the fact that Maryland turned to parents to help develop its involvement plan. This is more than a symbolic effort. It is a critical step to securing parent and community involvement that moves beyond the notion of volunteering time in local schools to being at the policy table where decisions are made about everything from graduation standards to student assessments. I commend the state superintendent for her vision in establishing and supporting the work of this Council and the state PTA president for her leadership.”
Mrs. Hodge repeatedly reminded the State Board that she is pointing to Maryland as a place where others can learn how to turn family involvement policies into actions.
“The state’s overall strategy is a major step toward helping Maryland’s parents take on a more meaningful role in addressing the complex issues of school improvement,” said Esther Parker, president of the Maryland PTA and chair of M-PAC. “M-PAC has been an extremely valuable learning process for all parents, educators, and advocates involved. We may all have started the process wearing different ‘hats’ but collectively we made decisions based on what was best for the families and students.”
“We’re working to change the culture of education in Maryland by departing from the status quo of education reform as a top-down process,” said Dr. Nancy S. Grasmick, Maryland’s State Superintendent of Schools. “Maryland wants to make certain that parents are vital partners in ensuring the long-term health of their public schools and active participants in their children’s academic success.”
Following Mrs. Parker’s presentation of M-PAC’s preliminary recommendations to the State Board, the proposal will make its way directly to the public through a series of public forums in each of the state’s 24 school districts. Superintendent Grasmick will then take certain recommendations, such as the call for the Parent Member on the State Board, to the Maryland General Assembly, where she believes strong parent support will help push the measure through. If Governor Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr. signs the measure, then the position could be filled by gubernatorial appointment by 2006. The Board currently contains 11 members with full voting privileges, as well as one student member who serves a one-year term and does not vote on personnel issues.
“For many years, communities in Maryland and across the nation have been struggling to put in place the infrastructure necessary to inform and receive information from parents on how to improve their children’s schools,” said Dr. Grasmick. “This new initiative will offer parents a chance to forge stronger partnerships with schools and districts, where both groups have the methods and means to work together effectively to address key issues at the local level.”
By adding a parent to the State Board, as well as inaugurating M-PAC, the state is working to gain more firsthand input on how to improve the working relationship between parents and teachers, administrators, and school personnel. Dr. Grasmick will look to the Council to help generate some big picture ideas on how to get these groups to work in concert to achieve common goals, and then will work to develop courses, modules, and other training methods to help implement those ideas.
“Giving parents an equal voice in determining the quality of their children’s schools makes us feel like real partners in reform, instead of a rubber stamp,” said Kirstie Durr, the mother of one Harford County public school students and a member of M-PAC, “I look forward to working with Dr. Grasmick, the Council, as well as my child’s school and other parents here to help make schools better.”
M-PAC members representing all 24 Maryland counties and Baltimore City are available for interviews.