What is empowerment? It’s the process of becoming stronger and more able to confidently control one’s life.
During the pandemic, and concerning K-12 education, empowerment has become a key factor for many families. Indeed, parents must be first in decisions impacting the lives of their most precious asset: their children. Our ability as a community to positively change the lives of children will be realized as we build bridges between homes, schools, and the broader community through educational choice.
Even before COVID-19 hit our shores, our students faced obstacles to receiving a quality education. The latest round of standardized tests, administered in January 2020 just before the pandemic, showed that test scores for 13-year-olds nationwide declined in both reading and math between 2012 and 2020. The lowest scoring students fell even further behind—a problem that the past two years of disruptions and learning losses have only exacerbated.
We must close these achievement gaps by empowering families to become better education consumers through informed school choice. That’s why my colleagues and I at Parents Challenge partner with low-income families to make sure they know their school options, available community resources, and how to support their scholars at home.
Parents do not need to be told what to do, they need to be provided with information and resources to enable them to make informed decisions that impact their children’s lives.
Colorado has so many educational options available to children, be it traditional public, charter public, private, homeschool or online. The number of public magnet schools in our communities also is increasing, along with community resources such as mentoring, tutoring, and mental health services.
Bridges are built when we give families this information, and these bridges empower families. When parents are empowered, their engagement level increases and their scholars do better in the educational setting chosen by the families.
A good starting point is for schools and educational organizations to ask families one simple question: What would help you better advocate for your child? This allows these educational organizations to reach out to community organizations that are a match, inviting them into a relationship with families.
Parents sometimes struggle with how to get their child an individualized education program or how to ask their school for resources. Some have no idea they can visit their child’s classroom and see how it supports learning at home. Others want assistance in getting technology for their home, math help for their child, or meals during a challenging time.
Building bridges between parents, schools, and community organizations empowers families with the knowledge and resources they need. It allows parents to be active partners in their child’s education, rather than passive recipients of whatever school lies in their neighborhood, or whatever curriculum local officials select. With parents taking responsibility and ownership for the school they select, they can work with a student’s teachers and counselors as an integrated team.
School choice is an empowering form of public accountability, where parents know that “one size does not fit all” and that, if an institution fails to meet their scholar’s needs, they can make a change.
Given the stakes involved in a child’s education, all parents need this power — and schools benefit from this accountability. Families should never be forced into a single school model; they should always have options available to them.
We have the ability and the responsibility as a community to showcase all that is available for our most precious assets. Children are our future — let’s give them every opportunity to succeed by empowering their parents to empower them.
Deborah Hendrix, of Colorado Springs, is the executive director of Parents Challenge.
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