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Stop the Addiction to Fundraising   

Family engagement and its positive effects on student achievement have very little to do with a school’s ability to fundraise. However, over the years, school councils, educators and parents have come to believe that the amount of money they raise in a year will directly impact the academic potential of their students. The pundits say that the fundraising disparity between schools in high socio-economic areas and those living in poverty is linked to inequity in education. There are important and disturbing differences but research doesn’t link it to the amount of money parents cough up.

Councils members – hard-working, dedicated members of every school community – have come to believe that fundraising equals engagement and the more money accrued, the better the engagement. But fundraising has nothing to do with engaging families in the education of their children. It is short-term, aimed at a specific need (usually determined by the school) and not directly linked to learning. It is contact. It meets the needs of the school, rather than those of the students or families. Breakfast clubs, ipads, or art supplies enhance learning, but why do we expect families to pay for them? Why do we persist in the belief that advisory councils are there to fill financial gaps? Perhaps we haven’t taken enough time to properly train council members, teachers and administrators on the role of parent advisory bodies? Or maybe it’s just more comfortable to raise funds than to struggle to build meaningful, effective engagement?

Research has proven time and again, that family engagement has many benefits for students, schools and families. It has a positive impact on student learning, reduces absenteeism, improves behaviour, increases parent satisfaction with the system and positively affects teacher retention. Engagement is continuous across a child’s life, is intentional and cuts across all the areas in which a child learns. It happens inside school and, most importantly, outside. To be most effective, family engagement must be relational, linked to learning and aimed at building family capacity to support learning in the home. A quick survey of regulations governing parent advisory bodies across the country indicates that governments know this. They established Councils to support and enhance student learning, wellbeing and achievement. None mention fundraising.

And yet, family engagement discussions with Council members invariably lead to questions about raising more money. It’s like being in a drug den. I just haven’t decided if parents have become the dealers or the customers.  “Ya, ya, I know that engaging families in learning is important, but how can we raise more money?”, ask parents.  “Yes, we’d like our Council to talk about issues other than fundraising,” say educators as they hand Councils another wish list. It’s an addictive habit that is not beneficial for anyone. Councils lose the opportunity to support their families; educators miss out on developing beneficial partnerships between school and home; and, worst of all, student achievement remains largely unaffected. But, boy, the school has good stuff.

Dr. Janet Goodall (University of Bath, United Kingdom) suggests that it’s time for us to move from helping schools to helping the students. To accomplish this, we should heed Dr. Karen Mapp (Harvard Graduate School of Education) who advises that it’s easier for schools to reach out to communities than for families to reach into schools. Past experiences, language, time constraints, and confidence are barriers that keep many of our parents from coming into the school. But they still want the best for their child. Dr. Mapp advises that “Regardless of their race or ethnic identity, educational background, gender, disability, or socioeconomic status, (families) are (able) to engage in partnerships with school” and support learning in the home. There is not a school in this country that can’t make this happen. And they don’t need to fundraise to do it.