Learning Leaders Accomplishes Wonders
Learning Leaders, founded in 1956 as the New York City School Volunteer Program, has a long history of mobilizing and training adult volunteers to work with students in New York City public schools and is now among the largest programs in the nation fostering parent involvement in education. Over 11,500 people volunteered last year under the auspices of this organization; 71 percent of these volunteers are parents of public school children.
While Learning Leaders had accumulated considerable testimony and anecdotes in support of its program, the organization sought a more comprehensive assessment of its impacts. Arete Corporation, a New York City-based evaluation, planning and management consulting firm, was engaged by Learning Leaders to conduct an independent in-depth evaluation of its model of parent involvement.
The researchers amassed a large body of evidence showing that the Learning Leaders approach to training parents to volunteer in schools makes a significant difference in their behavior at home with their own school-age children, that their children perform better, and that the program makes a difference in the schools in which there is a sizable presence of volunteers.
After serving as a Learning Leaders volunteer, parents spend on average 27 percent more time reading with their children and 22 percent more time helping their children with homework than they spent before becoming a volunteer. The children of Learning Leaders perform better academically than their peers: they score higher on both English Language Arts (ELA) and Math tests, and they have better attendance. Learning Leaders has a beneficial and profound effect on schools in which large numbers of parents serve as volunteers (20 or more).
Often, language barriers have deterred parents from getting involved in schools. Not only do Hispanics constitute the largest single ethnic group among Learning Leaders volunteers, but also the percentage of total Hispanic parent volunteers is even greater than the equivalent Hispanic student percentage of the school system (over 42 percent of the parent volunteers vs. 38 percent of the students). Parent volunteers have very positive feelings about Learning Leaders. Ninety-five percent of all survey respondents said that being a Learning Leader was a very positive experience.
The overwhelming conclusion is that the Learning Leaders approach “works.” It is a major factor in bringing about positive change in parental behaviors, student performance, and the quality of school environments. It has a demonstrable impact on higher student academic performance, a more orderly school atmosphere (exemplified by reduced student suspensions), and better parent-teacher communication. The evaluation findings also suggest that it is not simply volunteering itself but, more specifically, volunteering as a Learning Leader that leads to these benefits to public schools, parents and their children.#