To support families, particularly those in low-income, ethnic and immigrant communities, to become involved in educational policymaking concerning their local schools.
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Read a blog post from California Democracy Program Director Amy Dominguez-Arms about the evaluation findings.
About the Initiative
By many measures, California's public schools are not providing a quality education to all children. While multiple approaches are necessary to improve student outcomes, parent engagement efforts can foster more responsive and appropriate school policies that enhance student success. Yet many parents do not know the best ways to engage with school officials to express their concerns, experiences and desires.
The Families Improving Education initiative launched in 2008 with an intent to improve outcomes in California’s public schools and increase public involvement in decision making among underrepresented communities. Through this initiative, the Irvine Foundation partners with Families In Schools to build the capacity of organizations in the San Joaquin Valley and Inland Empire to engage parents, families and the public in educational decision making. The initiative also fosters ongoing relationships among school board members and community organizations to achieve more responsive and effective education decision making.
Families In Schools serves as the initiative’s capacity-building and regranting intermediary, providing individualized technical assistance and multiyear grants to community organizations. Families In Schools works with school board members and community organizations that engage families to facilitate a learning community and develop shared knowledge on key educational issues regionally, and to foster collaborative actions that improve local schools.
Findings from the First Four Years
From 2008 to 2012, the Foundation invested $5 million in the San Joaquin Valley and Inland Empire, supporting organizations as they work to increase their advocacy capacities, strengthen relationships with policymakers, engage families to participate in education advocacy and build a strong regional network to facilitate improvements in K-12 education. Participating organizations have succeeded in numerous educational policy changes and engaged more than 15,000 parents in trainings and discussions with education officials.
Evaluation by Harder+Company Community Research of the first four years of the Families Improving Education initiative shows that engaged parents can be influential advocates for education reform. By using data and promoting best practices, parents have gained respect among education decision makers. In fact, policymakers said that parent-led advocacy efforts often had a greater effect on their decisions than other approaches. Evaluation also points to the value of cultivating internal champions among school board members and building regional networks so parents can coordinate advocacy efforts.
As the initiative matures, results have demonstrated the value of organizations working together as regional cohorts in Fresno, Visalia, San Bernardino and Coachella Valley. From 2012 to 2015, the Foundation is providing an additional allocation of $5.15 million to continue the Families Improving Education initiative in these areas, with a focus on achieving educational policy changes as well as involving school officials in joint trainings and planning with community organizations to promote more inclusive decision-making practices governing the regions’ schools.
The initiative is currently supporting the following organizations:
Consejo de Federaciones Mexicanas en Norteamérica (COFEM)
Californians for Justice
Fresno Center of New Americans
Reading and Beyond
Congregations Organized for Prophetic Engagement
Inland Congregations United for Change
Youth Action Project
Community Services Employment Training