Parent ties are essential


Lessons from Chicago: What we do is essential

At CPPS of Seattle we believe every parent has insight and expertise, but we also know parents don’t engage equally. That is why we work to identify and support emerging leaders, especially those from under-represented communities.

Family effect visual_onlineTHE ENGAGEMENT GAP

Sometimes parents face language or cultural barriers. Parents may feel isolated because of a student’s disability, or learning challenge. They may not realize just how much they have to contribute. Or, perhaps they had unfortunate school experiences when they were students.

There are many reasons why parents and schools don’t connect. But there’s a single overwhelming one to stop the cycle: Family engagement is essential to student success.


We’ve known for 50 years that parent involvement is important to student success. That’s why it is a federal requirement for schools receiving Title I dollars. Now we also know that family and community ties are just as important as school leadership and instructional guidance when it comes to accelerating and sustaining student learning.

For seven years, researchers in Chicago studied 100 schools that dramatically improved student outcomes, and 100 that did not. They found school organization made the difference, and that organization had to include five essential ingredients:

  • School leadership
  • Parent and community ties
  • Professional capacity of the faculty
  • School learning climate
  • Instructional guidance

Note, all had to be present. Take out one, and efforts in other areas faltered. (Organizing Schools for Improvement: Lessons from Chicago, Bryk, et al, University of Chicago Press. 2010)


At CPPS of Seattle, we believe parents are levers for equity and excellence.

We educate, engage, and mobilize parents so they can contribute successfully to their public schools and be strong agents of civic oversight. We offer a spectrum of training and support, including our Parent Volunteer Mentorship, modeled after Chicago’s acclaimed Logan Square Neighborhood Association Parent Mentor Program. It touches on all of the essential ingredients noted above.

  1. Collaboration with strong school leaders
  2. Investment in parent and community ties to equip parents as education partners
  3. Professional capacity of staff to work with diverse families, and leverage home involvement in student learning
  4. Improvement to school learning climate by providing students with mentors from their cultural backgrounds and more small-group time.
  5. Instructional guidance from trained, and supported, volunteer tutors

In its study, Organizing Schools for Improvement: Lessons from Chicago, the Consortium on Chicago School Research found:

  • Schools with strong parent involvement were 10 times more likely to improve in math and four times more likely to improve in reading than schools weak on this measure.
  • Schools that measured strong in all five supports were at least 10 times more likely than schools with just one or two strengths to achieve substantial gains in reading and math.
  • A sustained weakness in just one of these areas undermined virtually all attempts at improving student learning.

We need all essential supports working together. And yet …

In the 2013-2015 biennial budget, Washington State allocated $15.2 billion for its K-12 public schools and weighted its allocation in favor of high poverty schools to reduce class sizes, provide full-day kindergarten, and learning assistance for struggling students who are also high poverty. These are all great investments. But for family engagement, the state allocated just .08 of an employee to coordinate for 400 children, per elementary school. And schools were free to reallocate those funds elsewhere.

That creates an opportunity gap that directly affects the success of thousands of Seattle children. At CPPS of Seattle, we’re working to close it and make sure all children benefit from schools with strong family ties. Every child needs access to those five essential supports for school success.