Parents' Rights and the Value of Parent Involvement

Research over decades confirms that parent involvement is a critical element of successful schools and high student achievement.1

• Programs designed with strong parent involvement produce students who perform better than otherwise identical programs without parent involvement.

• A positive learning environment at home has a powerful impact on student achievement.Schools where children are failing improve dramatically when parents are called in to help.

• School-based programs that train low-income parents to work with their children have resulted in significantly improved language skills, test performance, and school behavior, as well as important effects on the general educational process.

• The degree of parent and community interest in high quality education is the critical factor in the impact of the school environment on the achievement and educational aspirations of students.

Parents have a right to become involved in the public schools their children attend.


Some rights are based on the U. S. Constitution, federal or state laws, or Supreme Court rulings. Others might more accurately be defined as “expectations” or “fundamental human rights.” They are not spelled out in legislation or court rulings but come from the basic principles of our democracy which demand that public institutions are responsive and accountable to the needs of the people they serve.

Public schools are supported by tax dollars. Superintendents, principals, teachers, and other school personnel are public officials accountable to the school board and the public. So, parents and the community can expect to be informed and consulted about the policies, practices, and programs of the schools their children attend.

Many school districts encourage parent and community involvement in the schools. Others do not have effective parent involvement policies, programs, or practices. Sometimes it is up to parents to assert our rights to participate in and be consulted about our children’s education.

Parents also have specific rights under the No Child Left Behind Act.


The guidance documents written to interpret and support the No Child Left Behind Act make clear the value of parents as partners in all aspects of schools and school policies: “Meaningful parental involvement is one of the cornerstones of the reform initiatives contained in the No Child Left Behind Act. Therefore, it is essential that SEAs (State Education Agencies), LEAs (Local Education Agencies, or districts), or schools communicate with parents throughout the school improvement process and welcome them as key partners in addressing the academic issues that led to the school being identified for improvement.2

The No Child Left Behind Act guarantees that parents have the right to:

• Be well-informed about their children’s progress by receiving frequent progress reports, having at least one parent-teacher conference per year, observing in their children’s classrooms, and having reasonable access to staff.

• Be involved in the school by participating in programs, activities, and processes designed to involve them, helping write and receiving a written copy of the school’s parent involvement plan (the parent “compact”), participating in an annual review of the compact, providing input into how the parent involvement funds are used, attending and participating in an annual meeting where their parental rights are explained, and joining the school’s NCLB Parent Advisory Council (PAC).

• Be informed about and involved in planning school programs by attending other parent meetings throughout the year, requesting and receiving information about the professional qualifications of their child’s teachers, and providing recommendations and participating in overall school improvement planning at the school.

If a school is identified for corrective action or restructuring status under the current NCLB law, the district must:

• provide prompt notice of the decision to teachers and parents

• provide the teachers and parents with an adequate opportunity to comment before taking any corrective or restructuring action

• invite teachers and parents to participate in developing the school’s corrective action or  restructuring plan.

Parents must also be notified about

• what the status means

• how their school compares with other schools in the district and the state

• why the school was put on this status

• how they can be involved in addressing the academic issues that led to the status,

• their right to transfer their child to a school that is not identified as in need of improvement, corrective action or restructuring and have him or her provided with supplemental educational services.

Chicago’s local school councils: a model parent-school  partnership

In 1989, a new Illinois state law created local school councils in every Chicago public school. LSCs are elected, parent-majority bodies that make critical decisions about school programs, budgets, and leadership. They are the engine for local site management, accountability, and participation. The LSCs involve parents deeply and respectfully, are pro-active and supportive, and have a proven track record of success.

Several studies of LSC reform conclude that site-based management under parent-majority LSCs successfully raised academic achievement.3 Further study showed that schools where LSCs were allowed to continue as the main policy-making body for the school after mayoral control was established in 1995 improved substantially more than schools where the district intervened and usurped LSC control.4

Over the past 20 years, tens of thousands of Chicago parents have worked side by side with teachers and community members to plan and fight for high-quality education for their children. LSCs have allocated local funds where they think they will do the most good. LSCs have fired principals that don’t do the job, and hired new ones that do.

Prior to LSC control, Chicago elementary school principals were 53% male and 57% white. They are now 70% female and 70% African-American or Latino.5 LSCs continue to make up an overwhelming percentage of elected public officials of color in Illinois. Many LSC members have gone on to higher office.

During his administration at CPS, Education Secretary Arne Duncan moved to reduce the power and effectiveness of LSCs. When Duncan closed a school the LSC was disbanded; if the school reopened, the LSC was either non-existent or non-functional. Chicago charter schools are not required to have LSCs, and none does; charter parents are rarely asked to be members of charter governing boards. Despite this, Chicago remains the most decentralized big city educational system in the nation with the strongest model for parent involvement in school decision making.

– Julie Woestehoff

For more on LSCs, go to and


1        Henderson, Anne T. ED. The Evidence Continues to Grow: Parent Involvement Improves Student Achievement. An Annotated Bibliography. National Committee for Citizens in Education Special Report. 1987.

2       U. S. Department of Education, LEAs and School Improvement: Non-Regulatory Guidance January 7, 2004

3. Empowered Participation,Archon Fung, 2004; “No Child Left Behind, Chicago Style,” Anthony S. Bryk, 2003.

4.              “The Big Picture,” Designs for Change, 2005

5. Sara Ray Stoelinga.“The Work of Chicago Public Schools’ Principals: Leading in a Complex Context with High Stakes.” Consortium on Chicago School Research, 2008.