Education Week - April 5, 2017 - 11
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS > Tracking news and ideas in educational technology
Digital Tools Target ESSA Parent-Engagement Mandate
But tech literacy
remains a barrier
By Sarah Schwartz
School districts face new demands
under federal law to show that they're
engaging parents in students' education. And many ed-tech companies
are convinced that they have the platforms to strengthen and streamline
those school-to-family connections.
Yet whether those tools will end
up bolstering parent engagement in
keeping with the vision of the Every
Student Succeeds Act, or do so in only
limited and superficial ways, remains
to be seen.
ESSA, like the No Child Left Behind Act before it, requires districts
to set aside 1 percent of the Title I
funding they receive for disadvantaged students to pay for parent- and
family-engagement initiatives and
distribute at least 90 percent of that
funding directly to schools.
But ESSA, which became law in
2015, also sets a higher bar than its
predecessor in one respect: It mandates that districts conduct outreach
to "all parents and family members"
in order to receive parent-engagement funding. In their parent- and
family-engagement policies, schools
must describe how they will conduct
"regular two-way, meaningful communication" with families, and "to the
extent practicable, in a language that
family members can understand."
Many schools today, including Title
I schools, are already using digital
tools and platforms meant to increase
schools' capability to communicate
with parents via text-message, email,
and other means, about classroom assignments, attendance, scheduling,
and other matters.
Advocates of improving parent
engagement say technology could
help schools meet the law's requirements to engage parents-but only
if districts are careful to apply it in
"We want folks to see [the law] as
a real opportunity to engage communities that haven't been a part of
the system before," said Maria Moser,
the senior director of teaching and
learning for the National Council of
La Raza. "Anything that gives the
school more resources and suggests
that they're making an effort to communicate with families, that's a net
But "the danger is that people are
always kind of looking for a silver
bullet." Using technology platforms,
she said, doesn't absolve districts of
the responsibility to "do the groundwork for building relationships" with
Because most of their content is
pushed out by schools, ed-tech platforms could be "just another way for
schools to broadcast what's going on
without necessarily engaging fami-
lies," said Steven Sheldon, a research
scientist and associate professor at
Johns Hopkins University's Center
for the Social Organization of Schools.
And because low-income parents are
less likely to use the portals, he said,
districts need to take care not to exclude populations with the highest
needs. "These technology platforms
are another way to help schools meet
the letter of the law-but I don't
know that they help them meet the
spirit of the law," Sheldon said.
platforms today come in many forms.
demic updates via text to parents of
middle and high school students reduced course failures by 38 percent
and improved student attendance by
17 percent. The effects were largest
for high school students and for students with below-average GPAs. And
a working paper released by Harvard
University in 2014 found that weekly
text updates to parents of students in
a credit-recovery program resulted in
a 41 percent reduction in the number
of students failing to earn the necessary credits.
Technology platforms alone can-
teachers and students to upload
content to student portfolios, which
parents can then view. In addition to
student work, users can post photos
or videos of class activities.
When students or teachers upload
new content to the app, parents are
notified "automatically," said Voigtlanger. The app's commenting and
liking features mean that parents
can interact with posts and respond
to teachers. "Communication is a twoway street," she said.
Wendy Thompson, a teacher who
uses Seesaw in her class at A. Harry
in Title I of the Every Student
Succeeds Act requires schools
and districts to make stronger
efforts to reach out to all families.
From Title I, Part A, Subpart 1, Section 1116:
"A local educational agency may receive funds under this part only if such agency
conducts outreach to all parents and family members and implements programs,
activities, and procedures for the involvement of parents and family members in
programs assisted under this part consistent with this section."
"[E]ach school served under this part shall jointly develop with parents for all children
served under this part a school-parent compact. ... Such compact shall ... address
the importance of communication between teachers and parents on an ongoing basis
through, at a minimum ... ensuring regular two-way, meaningful communication
between family members and school staff, and, to the extent practicable, in a
language that family members can understand."
Some of them, such as Remind, are
used primarily for sending updates
and reminders to parents, via in-app
messaging or SMS text.
Others include parent-communication tools built within broader tech
platforms. Those communication
tools-such as ClassDojo, Edmodo,
FreshGrade, and Seesaw-allow parents to access student work, view videos and photos from class, and receive
updates on student behavior. Many
also allow users to "like" or comment
on posts. The platforms also have the
ability to track parents' engagement
with specific content-such as student assignments, test scores, or electronic messages-at the classroom,
school, and district levels.
Research has shown that parentteacher digital communication, when
promoted under the right circumstances, can improve student outcomes.
A study published by Teachers College, Columbia University, earlier
this year found that sending aca-
not fulfill parent-involvement requirements, but they can increase
engagement and two-way communication, especially around academics,
said Danielle Costello, a family- and
community-engagement specialist for
the Milwaukee district. In November,
it started a districtwide implementation of Remind.
The Remind system "gives us an
opportunity to have a dialogue with
families that we don't have in any
of our current platforms, and that's
really classroom-based conversations," she said. "It's another tool in
Costello, who is also a parent of a
student in the district, uses the app
to text with her preschooler's teacher
about student progress, classroom
behavior, and updates on field trips
or multiple cases of classroom colds.
Emily Voigtlander, the marketing
and community manager for Seesaw,
emphasized the opportunities ed-tech
platforms present for a "frequent and
more open dialogue." Seesaw allows
Moore School in Jersey City, N.J., said
Seesaw helps her share content and
updates with parents who can be
hard to reach. "It's important to keep
parents aware of what's happening,
but it's always been a difficult process," she said. Most of her students'
parents work during the day. "We
don't have a lot of in-building parent
But persuading teachers to use
new parent-communication platforms is not always easy, said Elliot
Soloway, a professor of technology
in education at the University of
Requiring teachers to have digital, two-way communication with
dozens of parents can be "literally
unmanageable," he said. "It sounds
like a good idea, but I think in practice, it's a really challenging idea to
Currently, Milwaukee's districtwide implementation of the Remind
system is not mandatory for schools.
"We have different levels of engage-
ment from different leaders as we've
presented this as an option," said
The value of different platforms is
likely to vary by the type of communication they offer, said Sheldon, the
Johns Hopkins researcher. Apps that
share videos of class activities, for
example, provide a greater depth of
information about what's going on in
the classroom than a text notification
and "really can provide very meaningful support," he said.
'The Biggest Challenge'
Yet even the most sophisticated
platform can't increase engagement
if families aren't using it, especially if
they do not have access to a cellphone
Some companies say they struggle
with getting families in Title I schools
to sign up and log on.
Manish Kothari, the general manager of platform for Edmodo, said the
company could do better in working
with teachers to get parents on board.
This is also an issue at Seesaw, where
Voigtlander said there is "room for
improvement" when it comes to connecting parents to the app for the
Some of the disconnect stems
from language barriers, Voigtlander
added. Seesaw, like many platforms,
can translate updates from teachers
into other languages, but the app's
user interface is in English. Though
not available currently, Voigtlander
said that offering a translated signup could help parents "get connected
One possible solution would be
for schools and districts to do more
to help parents set up and navigate
accounts when using platforms that
may not be "the most user-friendly or
intuitive," especially for speakers of
other languages, said Sheldon. Lowincome families are less likely to use
parent portals, so if school districts
don't provide targeted user support,
they could be excluding the very
populations they're trying to engage,
Thompson was only able to get parent buy-in in her class at A. Harry
Moore School after she demonstrated
the Seesaw app in person.
"The biggest challenge for us was
getting the parents to understand
what the platform actually was," she
said, until she showed families their
Seesaw accounts on her iPad at parent meetings.
"They got so excited," said Thompson. "They were passing me their
phones in the meeting saying, 'Can
you download it for me? Can you
show me how to use it?' "
Despite the families' eventual buyin, Thompson still saw challenges in
implementing technology-based communication, especially in schools that
don't have a consistent foundation of
in-person parent interaction.
"It's hard," she said, "when you
don't have a real PTA and parents
that are coming in and you can do
training on something new."
EDUCATION WEEK | April 5, 2017 | www.edweek.org | 11
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - April 5, 2017
Education Week - April 5, 2017
ENDREW F. RULING
High Court Ruling Firms Up Goal Posts On Spec. Ed. Rights
Teachers Not Shying From Political Topics
New Dimension to Kansas’ Funding Puzzle
Title II Funds Facing the Ax Under Trump
School Rape Case Inflames Immigration Fight
News in Brief
States Get More Leeway on Identifying ‘Dropout Factories’
Course Access: A Different Way To Expand School Choice?
Sydney Bruner, a junior at Prairie High School in Cottonwood, Idaho, studies for a class presentation. The state is one of several that offer course choice.
No Link Between Test and Principals’ Success, Study Shows
Teacher-Prep Slow to Embrace Social-Emotional Learning
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Digital Tools Target ESSA Parent-Engagement Mandate
After-School, Summer Learning Efforts at Budget Risk
Special Education Rulings Put High Court Nominee on Hot Seat
Greg Richmond: Why I’m Worried About the Future of Charter Schools
Scott Laband: We Must Not Abandon Teacher Evaluation
Kenneth Ward: Mentoring: A Common-Sense Solution for At-Risk Youths
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Van Schoales: The New Teacher-Evaluation Laws: Education’s Pyrrhic Victory?
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - School Rape Case Inflames Immigration Fight
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - 2
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - 3
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - News in Brief
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - Report Roundup
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - States Get More Leeway on Identifying ‘Dropout Factories’
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - Sydney Bruner, a junior at Prairie High School in Cottonwood, Idaho, studies for a class presentation. The state is one of several that offer course choice.
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - No Link Between Test and Principals’ Success, Study Shows
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - 9
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - Teacher-Prep Slow to Embrace Social-Emotional Learning
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Digital Tools Target ESSA Parent-Engagement Mandate
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - 12
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - 13
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - 14
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - Special Education Rulings Put High Court Nominee on Hot Seat
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - 16
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - 17
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - 18
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - 19
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - 20
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - 21
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - Scott Laband: We Must Not Abandon Teacher Evaluation
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - Kenneth Ward: Mentoring: A Common-Sense Solution for At-Risk Youths
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - Letters
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - 25
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - 27
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - Van Schoales: The New Teacher-Evaluation Laws: Education’s Pyrrhic Victory?
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - CW1
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - CW2
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - CW3
Education Week - April 5, 2017 - CW4