Parents Can Influence and Change School Policy

Common Parent Obstacles and How You Can Overcome Them

Bored looking family.
School policy can seem boring or dull, until you understand how important your role is in shaping it. andresr via Getty Images

Do you know what one thing about the way US schools are organized stands out from other developed nations in the world?  

Our entire nation's school system was founded at the local grassroots level.  

The national governments of other countries declared all communities would have schools, and how the schools were run. Here in the US local communities came together and opened schools for their children long before the national Department of Education was created. American schools were - and primarily still are- run by local school boards.  

From its very beginnings, the entire US school system has been based on individual people giving voice in their local communities. It is a uniquely American approach stemming from our ideas of democracy and representing each citizen. 

With these roots, you can imagine how important it is to have parents, grandparents, aunts uncles and community members involved in shaping local school policy for schools to effectively meet the needs of local students.

But, parents don't always feel like they are able to or should get involved in their local school's policy - similar to the way some people do not vote. All too often, parents who are really concerned about their local schools don't do anything to improve them. Here are three common reasons why along with some further information which may help you decide you can get involved after all.

 You Don't Think You Have the Time

You are busy. After all, you are raising children. When people like you think about getting involved in policy, they picture themselves going to lots of meetings, attending speeches, and reading massive tomes of data reports.  

Most of the time, it isn't like that. For certain policy roles, like getting elected to the local school board, that's probably what it will be like. If you become a school board member, you will learn about and vote on all sorts of school administration details.  

But you don't have to be an elected leader to make your voice heard. Leaders need input from community members. It is not only the school board who needs to hear from the community but any elected official who will be voting on issues important to the school. Keep reading for some quick tips on how you can make your voice heard.

You Don't Know About the Issues 

You can't do something if you don't know what to do, or even where to begin. You need to have some background with what questions and issues your local schools are facing so that you can form an opinion or idea of what your community should do.

Just knowing what the issues are is often the only missing piece for many school parents. School parents are the community members that see the homework, talk with teachers, and raise the children that are currently going to the schools. School parents have the perfect background to understand how school policy issues will affect their children and the school. 

Local news media often cover local schools and the issues they face, since schools are such an important part of any community. Local school news rarely makes headline stories since it is hardly ever exciting, even though it is important. Go beyond headlines and look or listen for school media coverage. It only takes a few minutes of reading a week to get up to speed on the local school issues.

You can also find out more about issues affecting your local schools from your school's PTA or PTO. The National PTA website has a wealth of information on school policy issues that affect the whole nation.  Many state and local PTA's also have information tailored to their level. Not all PTO's have policy positions, but those that do often have materials that quickly explain what the local issues are.

You Don't Understand How to Make Your Voice Heard

Once you have an opinion, you need to know how to be heard.

Generally speaking, you can take their concerns and ideas to whichever group sets that policy or makes a particular decision. Often this information is included in the news media coverage of the schools, or in the policy information available through school policy groups.

If you have something you want to share about schools, you can make a difference by contacting whatever group will be making the decision related to your concern. This could be as simple as sending an email or making a phone call to your local school board members. Email and letters are also effective with state and federal representatives.

Not every school policy and rule are created strictly through policy groups.  Many schools today welcome parent input through a variety of parent committees. One option is school site council, which oversees the school budget and ways to improve student learning.  There may also be positions for parent representatives to be on a hiring committee for new school staff, or to help select new school curriculum.  Each school district is different and will offer different opportunities.

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