Bloomberg Blamed for Low Rates of Parental Engagement in NYC

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that recent data released by the New York City Department of Education shows that the level of parental involvement with the school system has fallen to a new low this year. The information is giving ammunition to critics of both the Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Dennis Walcott for fostering a culture at the Department of Education that is "unresponsive to families."

All indications seem to be that the efforts by Walcott to increase parental engagement haven't paid off, as the participation in phone calls, attendance at parent-teacher conferences and school-hosted workshops during the 2011-2012 academic year was substantially lower than the year before. In some cases, parents and guardians of students were 50% less likely to interact with teachers over the course of the year than they were during 2008-2009. In the instance of parent-coordinator workshops, the attendance fell from over 450,000 to less than 270,000 between 2009-10 and 2010-11.

Mr. Walcott pledged last fall to ease parents' frustration with the massive bureaucracy in part by opening parent academies in every borough. He said he had listened to parents' complaints about feeling lost and unable to be heard amid a centralized bureaucracy. The academies have not opened, although school officials said plans are moving forward. In the October 2011 speech, Mr. Walcott said he would start including parent involvement statistics in schools' annual report cards and offered bookmarks with tips on how to make the most of parent-teacher conferences.

However, over the course of the last few years, as a money-saving measure, the DOE has laid off 63 coordinators who were charged with facilitating parent-faculty communications. Although having coordinators was once considered mandatory at all schools, the new policy makes them optional for high schools.

Some are attributing the decreasing engagement numbers to the general dissatisfaction with how the DOE is run and specifically to the inadequacy of its parental outreach efforts. One such critic is Rachel Leinweber, who used to be a teacher in the NYC public school system before she stayed home with her children. She said that her familiarity with how schools in the district function has almost forced her to take on the role of a coordinator herself, helping other parents of her children's classmates navigate the same system.

"Getting to anybody at the DOE, you have to be a mastermind," she said. "The DOE has become an administrative nightmare for almost all the parents I know, regarding anything."

Ms. Leinweber said some parents she knows stopped going to parent-teacher conferences after waiting in line for 20 to 30 minutes for a seven-minute meeting with a teacher.

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