Medium 9781475824230

Jspr Vol 33-N1

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The Journal of School Public Relations is a quarterly publication providing research, analysis, case studies and descriptions of best practices in six critical areas of school administration: public relations, school and community relations, community education, communication, conflict management/resolution, and human resources management. Practitioners, policymakers, consultants and professors rely on the Journal for cutting-edge ideas and current knowledge. Articles are a blend of research and practice addressing contemporary issues ranging from passing bond referenda to building support for school programs to integrating modern information.

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Notes From the Editors: Introduction to Special Issue—International Perspectives on School–Parent Relations

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LARS BJÖRK

TRICIA BROWNE-FERRIGNO

This special issue is devoted to the work of international scholars who have studied the dynamics of the centralization and decentralization of education policymaking as well as parent involvement in school governance. These international comparative studies provide insight into the deep sense of responsibility that parents have for their children’s education and the political structures ostensibly created to enhance their decision-making processes and school engagement activities. Taken as a whole, these articles are highly relevant to our understanding of national educational reform movements in the United States and other countries. As guest editors of this special issue, we are indebted to Ted Kowalski and the editorial team of the Journal of School Public Relations for supporting this international endeavor. They joined us and external reviewers in ensuring that authors were subjected to multiple blind peer reviews and held to the rigorous review criteria set by the journal. Due to space limitations, the editorial team decided to release the articles in two sequential issues. This special issue contains the remaining three articles that complete the two-part series of international perspectives on school–parent relations.

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Local School Governance in Sweden: Boards, Parents, and Democracy

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MIKAEL HOLMGREN

OLOF JOHANSSON

ELISABET NIHLFORS

PIA SKOTT

ABSTRACT: Sweden has recently seen three major political attempts to empower parents through national regulations—the transferal of authority from the state to district school boards, the heavy promotion of independent schools, and the introduction of local school boards at municipality schools. This article provides an overview of these developments by using existing research and survey data to exemplify how empowerment has been enacted. Results suggest that (1) superintendents and chairpersons of district boards view parent influence to be moderate, (2) there has been rapid but uneven growth of independent schools, and (3) local school boards have seen limited use.

By the end of the 1980s, virtually all the major Swedish political parties found themselves in agreement: The state-centric system had failed to deliver on its promises, and something had to be done to get Swedish education back on track. Despite overt as well as subtle attempts at challenging the old order, a recurring theme comprised the transfer of authority from the state to the local level and the empowerment of parents through increased participation (Government Bill, 1991, 1993; Government Policy, 1999; Johansson, 1992; Orring et al., 1974). Equality of education had been an explicit justification for centralized planning, but failure to reach equality goals gave opponents of the system a chance to launch an ambitious reform agenda. In Hirschman’s (1970) terms, the political parties now sought to give parents expanded opportunities to exit the system and voice their concerns. To this end, there have been two significant developments: the heavy promotion of independent schools (i.e., schools free of local political control but financed through tax money) and the introduction of local school boards with parent participants at the municipal level of government. Both regulations were mandated by the national parliament but layered on top of a core structure of local government largely controlled by local political parties via district school boards.1

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Parental Involvement in Norwegian Schools

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JAN MEROK PAULSEN

ABSTRACT: This article examines findings on key challenges of school–parent relations in Norway. The review is based on recent large-scale studies on several issues, including formalized school–parent cooperation, parental involvement in the pedagogical discourse, and teacher perspectives on the parents’ role in the school community. Findings suggest a biased pattern in the formal school–parent collaboration, where parent groups from lower educational and socioeconomic levels systematically fall out of participation. Evidence also indicates a pattern of teachers’ rejection of parent participation when discussions concern pedagogical matters, with parents held at arm’s length when conversations focus on student learning.

Norwegian primary education has experienced severe problems during the last decade that were most visibly exposed in Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development–Programme for International Student Assessment studies (Välijärvi, Linnakylä, Kupari, & Arffman, 2002). Norwegian lower secondary students’ performance in literacy skills, math, and science is characterized as being mediocre. Furthermore, an alarmingly low level of reading skills has been displayed in the lowest-performing group of 15-year-old boys (Välijärvi, 2006). One of several strategies advanced by policymakers to improve student academic learning was to increase parent collaboration with teachers and school administrators. Although a number of studies support the notion that parents are trusted partners in pupils’ learning processes and can improve academic achievement (Nordahl, 2003), Harris and Goodall (2007) note that “parental activities can encompass a whole range of activities with or within the school. Where these activities are not directly connected to learning they have little impact on pupil achievement” (p. 5). Although the nature of parent involvement and its effect on children’s learning is important, engaging parents as partners in education is met with a number of barriers, including a lack of time, perceived lack of expertise, and exclusion of parents by teachers. This article examines these barriers using Weick’s (1976) loosely coupled system theory. Empirical data for this article are drawn from several large-scale studies carried out in Norway between the late 1990s and 2008. Finally, several possible strategies are offered school leaders for increasing parental involvement in schools.

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School–Parent Relations in Finland

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MIKA RISKU

LARS G. BJÖRK

TRICIA BROWNE-FERRIGNO

ABSTRACT: This article provides insight into the nature and scope of home–school cooperation in Finland. Situating the study is a brief overview of the Finnish education system and a discussion of the Programme for International Student Assessment reports that place Finnish student outcomes at the top of rankings among industrialized nations for the past decade. Legislation and research findings about principals’ work at the school level and municipal levels of government frame a discussion of parents’ roles in a rapidly changing Finnish society and in the local provision of education.

Finnish students have been ranked at the top of Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) reports in mathematics, science, and reading for the past decade, and consequently, Finland’s education system is internationally regarded as one of the most successful among industrialized nations in the world. Since 2000, policymakers, professors, and practitioners have studied the Finnish education system in hopes of identifying policies and practices that may help transform other national and state education systems. Although scholars have identified influences, patterns that contribute to Finland’s success—including historical precedent, cultural norms, progressive teacher preparation, and steadfast political commitment to an egalitarian society—many are not transferable to other national contexts. However, a shared sense of ownership of schools by citizens and the belief in the efficacy of parents’ involvement in decisions about their children’s education may prove as informative as understanding the roles of principals and teachers in this process.

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