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At this point, most of the reforms still exist more on paper than in practice. But just formally recognizing the importance of the issue - the need for involvement that's truly collaborative - is a step in the right direction, say educators.

"People in the [school] community have to see that communicating well with families is part of their professional job," says Joyce Epstein, director of the Center on School, Family, and Community Partnerships at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. "That's explicit now. If No Child Left Behind really were implemented as intended, it would really be quite exciting."

A number of states and districts are also trying out their own strategies.

In Arkansas, a new law requires all districts and schools to write plans for involving parents, and to designate a "parent facilitator" at each school. It encourages everything from cards with tips to help children succeed - included in local businesses' paychecks - to setting up local "parent information centers."

New York City is going even further, spending $43 million to hire a full-time parent coordinator for every school in the city. That means 1,200 coordinators, plus a support network.

"Before, we had 32 people working with parents. Now we have 1,300," says Jean Desravines, director of New York's Office of Parent and Community Engagement. He says the decision came after months of meetings with city parents revealed that most felt unwelcome and uninformed.

Here in Chicago, parents have had a greater voice than in any other urban district in the country. Reforms that year created a local school council for every school in the city, with authority to hire the principal and renew his contract, develop an annual school-improvement plan, and set the school's budget.

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