How To Get Parent Buy-in In K12 Online Learning Programas

Online learning programs are entering the K-12 education space with an increasing number of online charter, school and non-public school classes available.  However, how do we make a success out of this (educationally)?

Making a success of its online program, Digital Recognition, Illinois State University (ISU) is adding an education aide role in its “SWEEP” program, better known as the Mass Incidence Registry (MIR). The added service’s hire will help the ISU Strategic Alliance Center with outreach to “parents who may be potentially walking away from this opportunity,” Assistant Director Jim Blazier says.

ISU SWEEP, launched in 2005, asks parents to use a Parent ID when submitting and filling out an online survey. The device is selected by parents, Blazier says, and will generate a child ID that is kept on file with the university. A phone number is linked to that phone ID and the applicant is sent a call when he or she has completed the course.

Parents that complete the survey receive an electronic citation of their child’s work, which also tells them when his or her grades have improved.

As an academic institution, ISU benefits from the program because of enhanced credibility and better “transparency and participation,” Blazier says.

“Education was always something that came on a paper basis, and we’re trying to take it to where parents could use online tools to view it and have a better sense of how their children are doing academically,” he says.

Some analysts attribute the rise of K-12 digital learning to two factors: evidence that online classes are a more effective way to teach and, secondarily, a growing “expectation” that parents should be a part of the school- and student-age curriculum, especially when it comes to digital learning options.

“What we’re seeing on a variety of levels,” says Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), “is that that expectation of parent engagement and parental involvement is at a level that it’s never been before.”

The role of an education aide, says Blazier, is to better connect the MIR to students’ home lives. About 60 percent of MIR attendees are parents of students at ISU, but Blazier says he would be surprised if one-third of MIR-involved families are directly with ISU.

“People come to our MIR not necessarily to do a survey but to have a conversation about the resources they have and how can we be a partner for their school,” he says.

Blazier’s job, as an assistant director, is to integrate school and home experiences. “I would say that the role would be either connecting parent feedback back to home experiences to make sure that parents are the No. 1 partner, or trying to change the relationship of school and parent,” he says.

That’s easier said than done, says Claudia Rippner, associate professor of educational leadership at the University of Illinois Chicago, who is not involved in the MIR. For instance, “if parents are really using the K-12 system, how do you tell them that you are connected with them?” she says.

Reaching home can be tricky, says Brian Haacks, president of Wisdom Scholar, the educational technology-based media company that designs and develops websites for K-12 districts. Allowing a school site to establish a relationship with parents might be difficult without having that parent provide a key identifier — contact information and biological identifying information. In addition, there must be a way to track that student’s progress in school and in cyberspace, Haacks says.

“That needs to be built into the system itself,” he says.

Iowa has no formal K-12 training or retraining programs for parents, Rippner says. The best resource she knows about is the Iowa Humanities Council’s Success Campaign: Life of a Teacher website, a resource created around a parent resource guide that is available in the fall of 2014.

“The site was very useful and it was definitely a way for you to find resources that maybe some of the schools were not aware of,” Rippner says.

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