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No parent left behind

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You might call it the science-fair syndrome.

Every year, remembers Julie Woestehoff, "my husband and I would be [at the school], asking when the science fair was, wanting to help. And somehow it was always Sunday night at 10 o'clock - 'Oh, I need a show board, I need this, I need that.' It was supposed to be done over two weeks' time and we'd just be finding out."

It's a familiar scenario for many parents, and a memory Ms. Woestehoff laughs at now.

But the point it highlighted for her - the abysmal communication that often exists between schools and parents - is a serious issue.

Educators have recognized for some time that parent involvement plays a critical role in student achievement. Especially in urban districts it has become increasingly clear that failure to enlist parents as partners seriously hampers any school-reform efforts.

But it's only recently that many schools, districts, and states have been taking concrete steps to help what's often a tense relationship.

Particularly in urban areas, school officials often complain that parents are too busy or not sufficiently caring to get involved at their childrens' schools.

Yet at the same time many parents say they feel threatened or unwelcome, and that what many principals mean by "parent involvement" is really bake sales and book drives. The result: open hostility between people who ultimately all have the same goals.

To improve this unhappy state of affairs, the sweeping 2002 No Child Left Behind Act has for the first time put in place laws intended to foster parent involvement. The mandates included in the federal act range from better communication on such things as test scores and parents' options to requirements that schools develop a "school-parent" compact and a plan to involve parents.

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