A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

Family Involvement in Children's Education - October 1997

Roosevelt High School
(The Alliance Schools Initiative):

An Inner-City High School Joins a Statewide Effort
Dallas, Texas


The Alliance Schools Initiative is working to develop strong community-based constituencies of parents, teachers, and community leaders as a strategy for substantially increasing student achievement in low-income areas throughout Texas. Beginning in 1992 in 32 schools, the initiative is a partnership between the Texas Interfaith Education Fund (TIEF), whose separate chapters statewide include the Dallas Area Interfaith (DAI), the Texas Industrial Areas Foundation (TIAF) Network, and the Texas Education Agency (TEA). Many Alliance schools enroll large proportions of students from minority families living in low-income communities. Severe student discipline problems, disunity among school staff, and little or no parent involvement are characteristic of many of these schools. The initiative focuses on restructuring the relationship among stakeholders in school communities, including parents, teachers, school administrators, students, community and business leaders, and public officials, in order to increase student learning and student performance overall. Below we highlight how one school, Franklin Roosevelt High School in the Dallas Independent School District, is implementing the Alliance approach.


At Roosevelt High, 99 percent of the students are from minority families. The principal estimates that about 80 percent of students enrolled are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. In 1992, fewer than one-quarter of Roosevelt students met minimum academic standards on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS). TEA included Roosevelt on its list of low performing schools, and the Dallas Independent School District was considering whether to close the school. Student discipline at Roosevelt was often a problem. In addition, in 1993 a student shot and killed another student in one of the school's hallways.

Breaking Down Barriers to Family Involvement in Schools

The decision to become an Alliance school led Roosevelt to address several barriers to parent involvement that are common in poor inner-city areas, as well as other barriers that commonly inhibit the educational involvement of parents of high school students. School-related barriers at Roosevelt included the teaching staff's lack of skills and resources for reaching out to parents of older students and their lack of vision in not expecting parents to be more active participants in their children's education. As one teacher said, "The few parents who came to PTA meetings just sat there. We didn't ask or expect them to do anything meaningful, and so they didn't try...." And many parents felt the same way, viewing their children's education as the school's responsibility rather than as a joint school-family venture.

According to interviews with school staff and parents, other family- and community-related barriers included: the rapid social and economic decay of the surrounding community; a high proportion of single parents who work long hours or two jobs, making it difficult to spend time with their children or visit the school; and a sizeable number of parents who failed to participate because of their own negative school experiences.

"There is no one way to improve parent involvement with the schools...you need to find many ways to make a school inviting to parents, because there are many different needs and personalities out there...."

Principal, Roosevelt High School

Overcoming Time and Resource Constraints

Resources for supporting school outreach to families. Many parents of Roosevelt students work one or two jobs and have trouble finding the additional time and energy it takes to stay involved in their children's school life. When Roosevelt's principal discovered that the only Roosevelt parents responding to surveys or attending PTA meetings were those of high achievers, he decided to reach out to more parents. He started by ensuring that every parent saw their child's report card. "At the high school level, if you send a bad report home with the student, it probably won't get to the parents," he said. So during his first year at the school, a group that included teachers, parents, the principal, and some other community members hand-delivered a report card to every Roosevelt student's home who had one or more failing grades. Also, the principal now requires teachers to document that they have consulted with the student's parents and discussed an appropriate course of action before taking any significant step (e.g., failing a student, placing him/her on academic probation). According to the principal and staff, reaching out to parents of students in the upper grades requires a personal touch. "In troubled communities where poverty reigns, sending home fliers will not draw parents to the school; telephone calls and home visits show folks you're serious about the home-school relationship."

Finding time for teachers. In addition, during 1995–96, its first year as a schoolwide program, Roosevelt hired a parent liaison who not only calls parents and notifies them of school, school board, and city council meetings, but also discusses their children's academic and disciplinary standing. Averaging 30 to 60 calls a day, the liaison helps teachers find the time to keep parents informed and involved.

Addressing safety concerns. Roosevelt parents play an important role in ensuring that the school is perceived as a safe place for other parents to gather. As one parent said, it may be a lack of parent presence in schools that contributes to gang violence or other threats to personal safety. To help address this problem, parents at Roosevelt have on occasion organized informal security patrols to monitor the campus.

Providing Information and Training to Parents and School Staff

The principal of Roosevelt recognized that his teaching staff needed to use a variety of strategies for reaching out to all of the school's families. After traveling to Austin and seeing an Alliance school in action, the principal decided to forge a partnership with IAF and DAI. The Alliance Schools Initiative began operation at Roosevelt in 1992. A major thrust of the initiative is to implement strategic, targeted training for teachers and administrators and to provide services, education, and training for parents and community leaders as they participate in school reform efforts.

The intensity and duration of the Alliance training vary considerably depending on the needs of a particular school. Typically, the training involves one-hour training sessions for 15 to 50 people at least once a week and often twice a week. Developing an organized, action-oriented group of leaders, however, may sometimes take longer.

Training decision makers to collaborate. DAI conducts training sessions to teach principals how to form "core teams," consisting of the principal, teachers, staff, parents, and other community/business leaders. The core teams receive training in conducting house meetings where parents, school staff, and community members share their concerns and develop an action agenda for the school.

DAI also trains school staff to conduct a Neighborhood Walk for Success as a vehicle for visiting parents and residents of the community surrounding the school. DAI then guides the school staff through a process to help them assess conditions at the campus and surrounding community, evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of both. According to one DAI organizer, the most essential component of parent involvement is ongoing training. At Roosevelt, school leaders expect students during the upcoming year to form a core team and participate in the core team training.

Parent training to support learning at home. As part of this ongoing training, Roosevelt parents can participate in classes on topics such as helping their children with homework. According to the principal, this training is especially useful for parents whose past school experiences have been negative, or who did not progress very far in school themselves. For example, during the fall of 1995, parents of all sophomores and seniors who had not yet passed the TAAS were invited to an evening class on how the TAAS affects their children's academic future. The class included small-group lessons on TAAS reading and math skills as well as sample test items. School staff hoped that providing parents with information about what their children should be learning could lead to more opportunities for students to spend time at home with their parents developing and honing these skills through, for example, discussions of their homework.

"...Many parents lack academic skills themselves, so when they get inside the school, we make them feel very disadvantaged...It's hard to get parents to come to the school to meet with teachers or the principal, open up, and take the personal risk of saying `I don't know what you're talking about....'"

Teacher, Roosevelt High

Training parents to help themselves as well as their children. Also during school year 1995-6, a core group of teachers developed three-hour, twice-weekly classes for parents, based on needs identified during the Neighborhood Walk for Success. These free sessions focused on adult literacy, computer literacy, English as a Second Language, and parenting skills.

One teacher involved in providing parent training plans to implement more parenting skills courses in the future. For example, family members of high school students need training that shows how parents can help their children develop study skills and complete applications for college or for vocational training. Current plans include having parents of high achieving Roosevelt students enrolled in advanced placement courses help train other parents to complete the steps needed to get their children into college, including taking college admissions tests on time, completing all applications on time, and collecting the necessary written references.

Restructuring Schools to Support Family Involvement

Becoming an Alliance school means that school staff, parents, and other community members are learning about education reform and the organizational arrangements that are essential for them to hold the district and state accountable for facilitating student achievement. The initiative formalizes the relationships and commitments among stakeholders, each of whom agrees to work with TIEF and TIAF to improve the quality and performance of a school. TEA provides flexibility, such as waivers from state guidelines, to schools willing to redesign and reform their entire educational program.

The process of becoming an Alliance school begins with identifying leaders and key concerns of parents and staff. At Roosevelt, the neighborhood walk was followed by individual and small group meetings that included the DAI organizer, the principal, teachers, parents, and community members. From these small group meetings, the DAI organizer and principal identified four "core teams" of teachers, parents, community members, and, in the upcoming year, students, all of whom meet regularly to discuss the issues needing attention. As one Alliance school organizer said, "The most challenging aspect of getting parents involved is to help them understand that they don't always need to be at school for a particular problem, but they can also be part of a constituency that develops a broad-based plan to improve the school."

Core team members work closely with the community to assess family needs and strengths and to develop an action agenda for the school. They have played active roles in areas such as curriculum reform. For example, parents recently helped secure a waiver from TEA to implement block scheduling, a plan they anticipated would improve both student attendance and achievement. Also, core team members worked to ensure that the school staff worked with Roosevelt's feeder schools to help them understand the value of meaningful parent involvement. Roosevelt uses its Investment Capital Fund grant from TEA to organize "vertical alignments" with its feeder schools, so that students coming to Roosevelt have strengthened academic skills and the support of their parents and families.

Roosevelt implemented a schoolwide program during the 1995-96 school year, and since that time has developed a school-parent compact that parents, teachers, and students sign annually. The compact emphasizes communication among the parties through conferences as well as parents visiting classrooms. The compact charges the school with providing (1) homework assignments to enhance what students learn in the classroom and (2) ample opportunities for parents to participate in decisions affecting their children's education. The compact also charges the school with providing parents with other opportunities for decision-making through surveys, questionnaires, and meetings. The compact further requires the school to provide parents with flexible scheduling of parent meetings, assemblies, training sessions, and school functions to maximize parent involvement.

Tapping External Supports for School-Family Partnerships

Most Alliance schools receive competitive grants through the TEA Investment Capital Fund to support their restructuring and reform efforts. The state legislature allocated $5 million over 1995-1997, and 45 Alliance schools won awards in the first round of grants. Other Alliance schools are now eligible to apply for the second round of grants of up to $20,000 per school for promoting staff and parent development and for implementing strategies to increase student achievement.

Because Roosevelt is a schoolwide program, Title I funds help support parent involvement activities. TEA's initial Investment Capital Fund grant to Roosevelt High School was for $15,000. The school has also been awarded $59,000 from the school district for raising attendance by more than 11 percent. Additionally, Roosevelt recently received a $6,000 grant from the Pepsi-Cola Company.

Evidence of Success

Recent achievement gains at Roosevelt resulted in the school being removed from TEA's list of low-performers. TAAS scores have increased substantially. Between 1992-93 and 1995-96, Roosevelt students rose from the 40th percentile to the 81st percentile in reading. During this same period, Roosevelt students rose from the 16th percentile to the 70th percentile in mathematics and from the 58th to the 80th percentile in writing. In addition, attendance at Roosevelt jumped more than 11 percent between 1992-93 and 1994-95--the largest increase in the district during this period.

At Roosevelt High, parent and community involvement with the school has also increased substantially. Some examples include:

In addition, parents indicated in focus group interviews that discipline problems have decreased. As one parent noted, "[children] know that even if their [own] parents are not there, there are parents there that care about them and will correct them."


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