The Rabbit hole of Parental Engagement via the Illinois State Board of Education

While prepping for the Aug 20th BOE meeting, I noticed a URL at the bottom of one of the PDFs in the BoardDocs (“FY13 Title III Budget.pdf (100 KB)“); you can try typing it in yourself, but you will get an error – I suspect you actually have to log into the ISBE webpage, and on top of that, I think the URL is just the front end of a series of http POST (techy talk for saying that the full URL is not in the address bar). But enough of that. I went looking for the grant information via the ISBE search page and stumbled upon a Family Engagement page, buried deep in the Grants directory. Why? This is just so weird. I am pretty big on family engagement and I am online a bit, but I have never heard about ISBE efforts at family engagement. Why is it under “Grants” of all things?


But the fun doesn’t stop there. I was curious about this so-called “Family Engagement Tool” and dove into the link. With a bunch of rah-rah, they then point you to yet another link, I am impressed that someone did a bunch of work to compile a directory of diverse resources, and apparently a group of folks have got their heads together to think about how families should be engaged. But I cannot shake the feeling that this is all theory. I cannot sink my teeth into any of it. If you are still curious about the “Family Engagement Tool”, you are urged to continue deeper into the rabbit hole by going to the SchoolCommunityNetwork, yet another directory of resources and more theory-crafting. Eventually that leads you even further to Indicators In Action, a whole set of online courses designed to teach the aspiring learner about how schools are connected to communities via a series of videocasts. After following all those links and becoming more and more disappointed, the last thing I wanted was a 2-hour online video class that describes how somebody thinks schools are communities.



Somewhere down the line, I came across this definition of the Family Engagement Tool:

The Family Engagement Tool (FET) is a web-based tool that guides a school team in assessing every aspect of its family engagement programs and practices. The team creates and monitors an improvement plan based on indicators of effective practice.


Guides? I am so lost that I don’t even know what I am doing on these pages anymore. No wonder I have never heard of this beastly entity. 🙂


I will offer an alternative. Instead of getting enough credits to minor in Family Engagement, just use some common sense:

  1. Listen to what other people say – which means you might have to go to where they are, as they are not always (if ever) going to come to you
  2. Tell people what you heard them say
  3. Act on what you heard them say
  4. Tell them what you did and see what they think about it. And, *gasp*, you might just have to go back to where they are to do so


This whole thing of Family Engagement is tricky; most families are already so engaged they are drowning. It might be the family with two career parents, who are obviously engaged in their work places. Or the family where the kids have extracurricular activities 8 days of the week (not a typo, just seeing if you are reading this). Or the single-parent family where the bread-winner is scraping by on 2.5 jobs. Or natives from another country trying to make sense of our backwards culture. Some parents already go to every PTA meeting, or every school function, or volunteer every school day in classes. We are all in different places. But I’m with Vandana Shiva when she compares the non-locality of quantum theory to the interconnectedness of human beings – we are already community, and what we do is already shaping it.

4 Responses to “The Rabbit hole of Parental Engagement via the Illinois State Board of Education”

  1. G. David Frye Says:

    Whew, are you sure you aren’t over-intellectualizing this? I think it’s referring to something fairly simple, and was one of my concerns during the board nomination process. There are children in school who can and will be doing better academically if we can find ways to get their parent(s) more involved in the process. That’s the kind of engagement we need to be looking for. Personally I think it’s going to take a one-on-one approach.

    The “FET” reference you cite sounds like something a consultant would provide to a district that has contracted for its services. I think you took a wrong turn somewhere!

    A couple of better references: and

  2. charlesdschultz Says:

    To be honest, I do indeed fear I am over-intellectualizing. So it helps when folks just call me on it. 🙂 Yeah, I like how you boil it down to “one on one” – that is probably the best way to view it.

  3. pattsi Says:

    Is not the point being made that much too much effort is needed to get “how to” information about family engagement rather than simple is better? The description would turn away the best of parents.

  4. G. David Frye Says:

    I just don’t think he was anywhere that was intended for parents, and probably not even for teachers. I get paid from ISBE grants and the kind of work being funded is several steps removed (most of the time) from the front. Think of it as research that may make its way into practice, if it’s successful. And in fact the grant I’m on is, after several years, getting public exposure – public in the sense that actual Illinois teachers can use portions of it without being participants in the research project.

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