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Doctoral Student Briefs Members of Congress on the Value of Parent Engagement in Schools

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Karren Dunkley

Karren Dunkley

On August 3, TC doctoral student Karren Dunkley addressed a standing-room only crowd on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Dunkley, who is working on her EdD degree in the Urban Education Leaders Program, participated in Congressional briefing on the Family Engagement in Education Act. The bill, which was introduced in May in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, is aimed at strengthening families’ engagement in the education of their children. It would provide incentives to districts and schools to create parent leadership academies, place family engagement coordinators in schools, and provide professional development for educators on how to partner with families.
 
Dunkley said about 150 people braved the notorious August heat in Washington to hear her and others speak about the need for families—particularly low-income, minority families and those not fluent in English—to be involved in schools. “Being historically marginalized, they don’t feel they have the confidence or… know the right questions to ask,” Dunkley said later in a telephone interview. Some parents don’t know, for example, that their student needs a certain number of credits to graduate from high school, or about college- or career-readiness programs available to them, Dunkley said.

Dunkley said studies have shown that family involvement in their children’s education increases achievement and graduation rates. At the briefing, she suggested family programs in Philadelphia (where former TC faculty member Arlene C. Ackerman is superintendent) as a possible model for federally-supported programs in parent engagement. Dunkley is Deputy Chief of the School District of Philadelphia, where she heads the Office of Parent, Family, Community Engagement and Faith-based Partnerships. The office provides district- and school-wide services and support programs to improve family and community engagement in schools. Dunkley spearheaded the formation of Parent Family Resource Centers and Parent University, where she said more than 29,000 parents have participated in classes in parenting skills, GED preparation, family literacy for reading and math, financial literacy and technology classes.

Dunkley also established an Office of Multilingual Family Support, through which bilingual parent ombudsmen conduct home visits to non-English speaking families to make them aware of English-language and family literacy classes that are available to them, as well as other services from the city, such as emergency housing.
 
The Family Engagement Act was introduced last May in the House of Representatives by Rep. Todd Platts (R-PA) and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY); and in the Senate by Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) and Sen. Christopher Coons (D-DE). It is intended to support parent engagement in the renewal of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), commonly known as No Child Left Behind, and Parental Information and Resource Centers (PIRCs), currently the sole federal parent engagement program.

Dunkley, a native of Jamaica, holds bachelor’s and masters degrees in Government and Politics from St. John’s University in Queens, and an advanced master’s degree from Teachers College in Politics and Education. Her dissertation, “Parent Engagement as An Urban School Reform Strategy: The Role of Parent Ombudsmen and The Intersections of Intercultural Competence and Social Capital,” is being directed by Terrence Maltbia, senior lecturer in Organization and Leadership and assisted by Carolyn J. Riehl, associate professor of Organization and Leadership.

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