After more than a year of pandemic instruction that brought teachers into living rooms and deputized parents as ad hoc instructors, equity in K12 education has become a critical focus for school districts. The Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), the premier professional association for school system technology leaders, recently named Digital Equity the top hurdle for school systems in 2021.
That’s because, within a single school district, crucial components of learning such as internet access, device availability, comfort and knowledge around technology, and accessible content and programs vary significantly from household to household.
Addressing these challenges requires more nuance than providing the same services and devices to every student. A focus on equity is understanding that a blanket response to student technology needs won’t level the playing field. Instead, districts must take a closer look at individual student needs regarding technology and accommodate those differences.
The same thing can be said for parents.
What is Equitable Communication?
Similar to digital equity for students, equitable parent communication is concerned with meeting each parent where they are. According to CoSN, “parents, too, stand to lose out; being connected is tantamount to being fully informed of their child’s academic performance. ” That includes choosing communication solutions that take into account lack of internet, device accessibility, as well as tech literacy.
When it comes to bringing parents into the conversation, are our tools truly equitable?
Some of the most popular parent communication solutions obstruct relationship-building right from the start. For example, most tools have some kind of ‘opt-in’.
‘Opt-in’ is a term that means that a person is not automatically included in school communication. Rather, in order to receive messages from a teacher, the parent or caregiver must first jump through a few hoops to complete forms, match a code, or most commonly, download the necessary app to their smartphone.
The process of finding the right app, downloading it to one’s smartphone, creating a profile, establishing a user name and password, and receiving messages are fraught with barriers right from the get-go.
This type of communication necessitates a smartphone. The downloading process requires wi-fi. If instructions are not given in the necessary language, the process comes to a halt. Not to mention instructions for this can be as easily forgotten as homework in the bottom of a book bag.
What seems like an easy 1-2-3 setup to start receiving communications from teachers immediately fractures your parents into those that will download the app and those that won’t–or perhaps can’t. The year has barely begun and a portion of your parents are already alienated.
Other types of school communication happen on social media platforms–fraught, again, with the same problems. They require a computer or smartphone, robust internet, and maybe more importantly, an understanding of the Facebook or Twitter platforms. At least enough to find an announcement or event invitation.
Equity in communication involves a true two-way flow of information. Many parent communication apps are only concerned with sending information out to families but not enabling parents to reply privately or directly contact teachers. Many of these tools are set up so that when parents reply, their messages are visible to the entire group.
Parents receiving notifications to read messages that are not relevant to their child are more likely to opt-out feeling that this barrage of replies is a distraction.
In these situations, parents do not believe they have a direct path to their child's teacher to address concerns or simply ask questions about an assignment; they are forced to rely on calling the campus or hoping they receive an email address for the teacher at the start of the school year. In these ways, communication is gated.
In contrast, an equitable parent communication solution requires little of the parent. Communication is as simple as possible, taking into account busy parent schedules, non-English speaking families, and everyone’s favorite mode of communication: text messaging. Equitable communication favors open, two-way lines of communication that don’t require an app, wifi connection, or the ability to navigate social media.
Consider these requirements when evaluating both your parent engagement strategy as well as any new parent communication tools or apps. Parent support continues to be the most important factor on the path to graduation. District communication tools must support those relationships.
SchoolStatus is the district-wide communication tool that integrates key student data in order to increase communication among educators, district administrators, and student families. The company’s solution aggregates individual student data, such as state assessments, attendance, and grades in an easy-to-visualize format and offers the option to communicate with student families via call, text, or email. Through SchoolStatus, millions of communications have occurred on the classroom, campus, and district level. For more information about SchoolStatus, visit www.schoolstatus.com.