Increasing parental involvement was made an important goal for all Florida schools in educational reform legislation in the 1990's. A forum for this input was established and became known as the School Advisory Council (SAC). To demonstrate the importance of process and inclusion, a south Florida school district and its local teacher's union agreed on the following five goals for SACs: (a) to foster an environment of professional collaboration among all stakeholders, (b) to assist in the preparation and evaluation of the school improvement plan, (c) to address all state and district goals, (d) to serve as the avenue for authentic and representative input from all stakeholders, and (e) to ensure the continued existence of the consensus-building process on all issues related to the school's instructional program.
The purpose of this study was to determine to what extent and in what ways the parent members of one south Florida middle school's SAC achieved the five district goals during its first three years of implementation. The primary participants were 16 parents who served as members of the SAC, while 16 non-parent members provided perspective on parent involvement as "outside sources." Being qualitative by design, factors such as school climate, leadership styles, and the quality of parental input were described from data collected from four sources: parent interviews, a questionnaire of non-parents, researcher observations, and relevant documents. A cross-case analysis of all data informed a process evaluation that described the similarities and differences of intended and observed outcomes of parent involvement from each source using Stake's descriptive matrix model. A formative evaluation of the process compared the observed outcomes with standards set for successful SACs, such as the district's five goals.
The findings indicated that parents elected to the SACs did not meet the intended goals set by the state and district. The school leadership did not foster an environment of professional collaboration and authentic decision-making for parents and other stakeholders. The overall process did not include consensus-building, and there was little if any input by parents on school improvement and other important issues relating to the instructional program. Only two parents gave the SAC a successful rating for involving parents in the decision-making process. Although compliance was met in many of the procedural transactions of the SAC, the reactions of parents to their perceived role and influence often reflected feelings of powerlessness and frustration with a process that many thought lacked meaningfulness and productivity. Two conclusions made from this study are as follows: (a) that the role of the principal in the collaborative process is pivotal, and (b) that the normative-re-educative approach to change would be most appropriate for SACs.