Engaging Parents in Education: Lessons From Five Parental Information And Resource Centers
June 2007
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Parental Information and Resource Centers

Parental Information and Resource Centers (PIRCs) were conceived by Congress under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to provide parents, schools, and other organizations working with families with the information and support (including training and technical assistance) needed to understand how children develop and what they need to succeed in school. The first 28 PIRCs were funded by the U.S. Department of Education in 1995. Since then, the PIRCs' role has expanded to include helping education agencies implement NCLB's parent-involvement mandates. (see "Key Roles for a Parental Information and Resource Center [PIRC]," on p. 7.)

Some PIRCs are stand-alone entities; others operate as a program within a larger umbrella organization. All are funded through a competitive grant process whose guidelines have changed throughout the years based on new laws and department priorities. The 2006 PIRC awards, which were granted as this guide was being written, reflect such changes. Although the "new" PIRCs have the same statutory mission as previously funded PIRCs, their service areas are configured differently. In previous years, some states had no PIRC while others were served by more than one. In contrast, the most recent award cycle usually only funded one PIRC for each state, with the requirement that the grantee serve parents and educators across the whole state. The recently funded PIRCs also have some timely new priorities: they are specifically required to increase parents' understanding of NCLB and its potential ramifications for their family. The new PIRCs also are expected to help SEAs and local education agencies (LEAs) more fully implement their own parent involvement responsibilities under title I—responsibilities geared ultimately to improving student academic achievement and overall school performance, including, for example, lowering dropout rates and raising graduation rates.

PIRCs are by no means the only programs with a focus on generating greater and more effective parent involvement. In fact, as is evident throughout this guide, PIRCs often partner with other organizations to increase their reach and influence. But their singular focus has led some experienced PIRCs to develop and hone promising outreach and engagement strategies worth sharing with other organizations that have the same or similar parent involvement goals, including newly funded PIRCs, other parent involvement organizations, LEAs, SEAs, and individual schools. This guide highlights the parent- and educator-engagement practices of five PIRCs that received funds in earlier grant competitions. That is, although several were first funded in the late 1990s, the guide focuses on the work of these PIRCs during the funding periods starting in fiscal year 2002 and 2003 and continuing to the end of 2006. Though the new PIRC priorities represented in the 2006 awards have resulted in only three of these five PIRCs being refunded, all five are considered to have implemented effective strategies based on the mandates of the funding grants that were in place at the time of this study. The strategies in this guide are drawn from the following five PIRCs (for selected characteristics of each, see table 1, on p.8):

  • The Academic Development Institute's PIRC, Lincoln, Ill.;
  • The Family Works, Gaithersburg, Md.;
  • Indiana Center for Family, School, and Community Partnerships, Indianapolis;
  • The Intercultural Development Research Association's PIRC, San Antonio, Tex.; and
  • The utah Family Center, Salt Lake City.

How these PIRCs and their partnering organizations have been pursuing the goal of increased parent involvement and parent-educator partnerships—especially in the context of NCLB with its push to improve schools and close the achievement gap—is the subject of this guide.

Key Roles for a Parental Information and Resource Center (PIRC)

As defined by the Department of Education, the funding agency for PIRCs, key PIRC roles include:

  • Providing leadership, technical assistance, and support in the implementation of successful and effective parent involvement policies, programs, and activities intended to improve student academic achievement;
  • Strengthening partnerships among parents (including parents of children from birth through age 5), teachers, principals, administrators, and other school personnel in meeting the education needs of children;
  • Developing and strengthening the relationship between parents and their children’s school; and
  • Providing a comprehensive approach to improving student learning, through coordination and integration of federal, state, and local services and programs.

Table 1: Selected Characteristics of Highlighted Parental Information and Resource Centers

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Last Modified: 06/15/2009