Giving Parents Options: Strategies for Informing Parents and Implementing Public School Choice And Supplemental Educational Services Under No Child Left Behind
September 2007
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Pursuing additional outreach strategies

The following strategies are offered as ways some districts have enhanced parent outreach efforts by involving others, branding "products," and developing supplemental materials.

Getting others involved. While there is much that districts can do to inform parents about their public school choice and SES options, they need not rely only on themselves to spread the word. Rather, districts can and should enlist the support of others. Below are venues through which districts can engage school-level personnel and the greater community in outreach efforts.

Involving schools and school staff. For many parents, their child's school is the primary place where exchange of information about education occurs. With this in mind, districts should ensure that schools with eligible students are actively providing information about public school choice and SES. Indeed, in many cases schools have assumed a central place in reaching out to parents.

Using communication channels at the school. Schools can get involved in the outreach process rather easily and immediately by using existing channels of communication with parents. For instance, schools have included notices about these options in school newsletters and other regular communications with parents, including student report cards, and have also made information available on school Web sites. Schools have also used back-to-school nights, open houses, and other similar events as forums for distributing information about public school choice and SES. Schools also often provide information about these options in "new student packets" for families of students who are entering or transferring to the school.

Some schools also make information about these options available to parents in the schools' front offices, and train administrative assistants so that they can answer questions parents may have.

Making it work

Districts can facilitate these kinds of outreach efforts across their schools by preparing and distributing informational materials to school principals and staffs. Some districts provide schools with CDs from which they can make copies of materials at their discretion. In any case, districts should be careful to ensure that there is uniformity in communications at the school level so that parents are consistently receiving the same message.

Creating parent liaisons or choice-SES coordinators at school sites. Another way that schools can support the flow of information about public school choice and SES to parents is by establishing parent liaisons or choice-SES coordinators. Such liaisons or coordinators can be responsible for organizing and carrying out school-level outreach activities, and can serve as designated points of contact for parents with questions about public school choice or SES. In some instances, schools might already use parent liaisons for other purposes, in which case choice and SES responsibilities could be absorbed by this position. In others, the role of liaison or coordinator could be assumed by an assistant principal, guidance counselor, teacher, or administrative staff person.

The use of school-based liaisons or coordinators is on the rise across the country, with districts assigning a wide variety of responsibilities to these positions. For more information about roles that liaisons or coordinators could play with respect to SES in addition to providing information to parents, see "Using SES coordinators at school sites" on p.33.

Involving teachers. As teachers are often a parent's first point of contact regarding their child's education, they can play a critical role in making parents of eligible students aware of their options. Teachers know the strengths and weaknesses of their students, and should be encouraged to include information about options when communicating with parents about their child's progress, for instance, during parent-teacher conferences. This may prove especially helpful to parents of students who teachers know are struggling during the regular school day and stand to benefit from extra help. At the high school level, teachers as well as guidance counselors may also be able to provide information and guidance to students directly. Personal attention and assistance from teachers and counselors may motivate students and families to consider their SES options and make an informed decision. For more information about high school students' participation in SES, see "Serving high school students" on pa. 36.

If requested, teachers could also provide information on the programs of the various SES providers serving the district to help parents select the provider that best suits the needs of their child. In doing so, teachers should be as objective as possible. If a teacher is affiliated with or employed by a provider serving the district (including the district, if it is also a provider), he or she should be sure to consult with the district and the provider about what information is appropriate to share with parents. In cases such as these, it may be preferable for the teacher to direct parents to a liaison or SES coordinator for information about their options.

Giving advance notice: Using "feeder" schools. Some districts engage elementary and middle schools whose students will become (or remain) eligible for public school choice and SES upon graduating and be starting at a new school the following year. Staff at these "feeder" schools can, toward the end of the school year, provide students and parents with information about the options that will become available to them upon entering their new school, so that they can be on the lookout for notices that should arrive as the next school year approaches.

Leveraging the community. In addition to more localized outreach efforts undertaken at the school level, districts have also sought assistance from the broader community by partnering with parents, faith-based and community organizations, businesses, and other stakeholders.

Engaging parent advisory groups. Whether affiliated with the district or not, parent advisory groups, including parent-teacher organizations, are important players in efforts to provide parents with information and advice about education options and services. Districts should consider seeking out the support and assistance of these groups to spread the word about public school choice and SES. Rooted in the community, such advisory groups possess a unique ability to reach parents and can be key partners in developing and implementing an outreach campaign. For instance, parent groups in some districts have formed volunteer corps to canvass neighborhoods—often their own neighborhoods—and provide information to families about their options. Another cost-effective practice, "foot patrols," can make individual visits to eligible students' homes and can be particularly effective when staffed by parents who themselves have children participating in public school choice or SES.

Enlisting community organizations. When it comes to penetrating deep into parent communities, community organizations, including faith-based and nonprofit groups, may be of equal or greater value. Districts should know which organizations are particularly supportive of empowering parents and should consider soliciting the time, spirit, and relationships with parents that these organizations uniquely possess for use in outreach efforts. Some districts have found that partnering with churches and other places of worship can be particularly effective in making parents aware of options for their child's education.

Reaching out to municipal organizations and local businesses and business organizations. Districts have further expanded their reach into the community by soliciting the support of municipal and local business groups. Municipal organizations, such as police departments and social service agencies, can be surprisingly effective outreach partners by disseminating information about public school choice and SES among their employees and by making information available at the organizations' offices and on Web sites. Local business groups, including individual private businesses and business associations such as hotel and hospital associations and chambers of commerce, are also often supportive of efforts to inform and empower parents and can be instrumental in parent outreach.

Making it work

Outreach partnerships with the business community can be strengthened when districts take care to share with these partners the results of their investment. Whether it be on the number of families reached, the number of students participating, the amount of funds spent, or the effect of student achievement, following up with these groups and providing them a sense of the impact of their involvement can help solidify a positive working relationship and lead to increased support in subsequent efforts.

Relying on SES providers. Districts should not overlook an obvious ally in parent outreach: SES providers. SES providers have an interest in informing parents about their SES options, and districts can tap the SES providers with whom they are partnering for outreach assistance. Districts can make general information about public school choice and SES available to providers for distribution. In addition to their responsibility to notify parents of approved providers, districts can also facilitate providers' ability to share more specific information on their individual programs, as this can further increase awareness of SES in the community. Of course, prior to doing so, districts and providers should mutually agree on acceptable outreach practices, and providers should be sure to adhere to local and state policies in this area where applicable.

For information on involving providers in the SES enrollment process, see "Involving SES providers" on p. 21.

Branding your "product." "Branding" means to create for a product or service a distinctive identity that renders it recognizable in the marketplace. Districts have benefited greatly from applying this basic marketing practice to public school choice and SES. Some districts have employed distinct designs, layouts, fonts, etc., in public school choice and SES materials in order to increase familiarity, and other districts have also chosen to color-code materials so that parents clearly know what to look out for. As parents are likely to be more responsive to what is familiar, branding these options through consistent presentation can be particularly effective.

Using simple terms and catch-phrases. Districts can further increase their chances of reaching and engaging parents by using simple terms and phrases. For instance, when advertising SES, some districts have used the phrase "free tutoring" instead of "supplemental educational services," as the former is both easier to understand and harder for parents to miss or forget. Other districts have attempted to catch parents' eyes by giving SES a dollar value, i.e., by referencing the maximum amount that the district may spend on services for a student.

Using supplemental materials. Even after a district has developed a clear and user-friendly parent notice and has undertaken a comprehensive parent outreach campaign involving a variety of activities and stakeholders, parents still may have unanswered questions about public school choice and SES, or may need assistance in choosing from among their options. To ensure parents are fully able to make informed choices, districts might consider preparing the kinds of supplemental materials described below. Of course, districts may also consider including some or all of the information that would be contained in these kinds of supplemental materials in flyers or brochures, as discussed above in "Flyers and brochures" on p.13.

Districts should be sure to make any supplemental materials readily available to parents upon notifying them of their public school choice and SES options.

FAQs for parents. Parents may often need additional basic information about public school choice and SES. By providing this information in a frequently-asked-questions (FAQ) format, parents may be able to find answers to their questions quickly and easily. In developing FAQs for parents, districts have addressed other topics such as steps to participation and expectations for parents, and district-specific issues such as enrollment deadlines and timelines for implementation.

For more information on helping parents choose a school or SES provider, see Choosing a School for Your Child and SES in Action: A Toolkit for Parents and Community Leaders. The links to these resources are provided in Additional Resources at the end of this handbook.

Lists of questions for parents to consider when choosing a school or a provider. While parents may have all the general information they need about public school choice and SES, they may still be uncertain as to how to choose from among their various transfer or SES provider options. To help parents make choices, districts have often developed or provided lists of questions for parents to consider when selecting a school or an SES provider.

Coordinating with outreach for other options. Districts can ensure that parents are optimally informed by advertising the options under No Child Left Behind alongside other school choice and out-of-school program options offered in the district.

Leveraging other school choice options. In addition to public school choice under No Child Left Behind, parents may have a variety of other school choice options to consider, such as charter schools, magnet schools, or open enrollment programs. Some of these options may predate public school choice under No Child Left Behind, and for this reason may be more familiar within the district's parent community. To help ensure that parents are aware of public school choice, districts might consider absorbing public school choice outreach into outreach for other choice programs and coordinating these efforts within a single campaign. Short of this, districts should consider leveraging parent interest in other options in efforts to spread the word about public school choice.

Using a choices catalog: Above in "Using attachments," on p. 8, districts are encouraged to consider developing a catalog of the schools available as transfer options under public school choice. In districts where there are other school choice options available, one potentially effective way to leverage these options and coordinate outreach is through a choices catalog. Such a catalog could provide information on the general types of school choice available to parents (including student eligibility for these options) and describe the individual schools offered under the respective programs.

For information about coordinating implementation of public school choice with that of other choice options, see "Coordinating implementation" on p. 29.

Making it work

Districts often do not receive AYP results from states until shortly before the start of the school year, and only then do they know with certainty whether they must offer the option of public school choice to parents of students in certain schools. As a result, district efforts to inform parents about public school choice may trail behind efforts to inform parents about other choice options, which generally occur at some point during the previous school year. To help ensure that parents are fully informed of all the choice options potentially available to them, districts should include information about public school choice in their outreach efforts for other choice programs that may precede the release of AYP results, even if this information is tentative or general in scope.

More importantly, districts should also begin offering and implementing public school choice in advance of AYP results wherever possible, particularly for students in schools that cannot exit identified status. For more information on implementing public school choice "early," see "Getting a head start" below.

Presenting SES and other out-of-school programs as complementary. Parents may be unsure of the relationship between SES and other out-of-school programs (e.g., extended day programs, 21st Century Community Learning Centers) and may view the choice of such programs for their child as an "either-or" proposition. With this in mind, districts should be sure to let parents know that they do not necessarily need to choose only one program, but could participate potentially in multiple programs, schedules and other factors permitting. When advertising SES, districts and schools should provide information about other out-of-school programs-particularly about when they are offered-so that parents can make fully informed choices.

Districts and schools should strive to implement SES and other out-of-school programs in complementary, not competitive, fashion. For more information on integrating SES and other out-of-school programs, see "Integrating SES and other out-of-school programs" below.

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Last Modified: 08/18/2008