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Parent engagement in school curriculum: Whose voices get heard?

Max Antony-Newman, Lecturer at University of Glasgow

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School curriculum has always been a contested space where parents, teachers and policymakers expressed their often-divergent views on purposes of education. Such debates happened in England  (see Craske, 2020) and Australia (see Gerrard, 2023) before, but recently, tensions around school curriculum have entered the political discourse in the United States and Canada. If the matters associated with decolonial approaches to curriculum (see Bajaj, 2022) to accurately represent all learners in linguistically and culturally diverse classrooms are usually associated with liberal university academics and social activists, the movement on the conservative side, evokes the notion of ‘parental rights’.

In 2023, Republicans in the House of Representatives passed the Parents Bill of Rights Act, which, among other measures, would require school to make public information about curriculum and lists of books and reading materials available in school libraries. Supporters of the idea of parental rights claim they will give parents more voice in their children’s education, but such active involvement in curriculum has already resulted in banning books that focus on issues related to race, gender and sexuality. To increase their popularity among conservative voters, Republican politicians capitalise on the rise of the parental rights movement as an element in broader ‘culture wars’, a range of politically polarising issues which has already resulted in attacks on the critical race theory and the academic freedom in some publicly funded universities.

‘Supporters of the idea of parental rights claim they will give parents more voice in their children’s education, but such active involvement in curriculum has already resulted in banning books that focus on issues related to race, gender and sexuality.’

Fuelled by the need for increased engagement during pandemic lockdowns, some conservative parents have become more involved in school governance, where they have a chance to implement their educational agenda mostly through book bans. In response, the state of California passed a law that prohibits school boards to ban books based on topics related to race and LGBTQ+ rights. Parents cite their right to choose the education of their children, but public schools have a goal to provide high-quality education for all children. Such education includes the right to learn history, including topics related to slavery and racism (see Sawchuk, 2021), as well as social sciences content on gender and sexuality (see Bialystok & Andersen, 2022) relevant for all students.

While White, middle-class, US-born parents are very much heard in schools, immigrant and racially minoritised parents are less well represented (Baquedano-López, 2013). Immigrant parents, for example, who are facing language barriers and less familiar with the new school system (Antony-Newman, 2019), are nevertheless actively involved in their children’s education and learning at home and in the community, but these domains often remain invisible for teachers, who view such parents as ‘hard to reach’ (Crozier & Davies, 2007). Many immigrant parents are very much engaged in the curriculum (see Antony-Newman, 2020) of their children’s education too: they are interested in the new configuration of school subjects, books that children read and topics covered in class, but their ideas about curriculum and pedagogy are rarely acknowledged by teachers. Non-immigrant racial and ethnic minority families can also face challenges in communicating their beliefs about education to teachers due to negative experiences of their own schooling, when their histories and cultures were not included in the curriculum (Peters, 2018).

The engagement in curriculum of parental rights advocates undermines the professional judgment and autonomy of teachers, who are traditionally responsible for curricular matters under the guidance from administrators and policymakers. Can such engagement go too far and deny the right for high-quality public education for all students?

How do teachers keep a balance between hyper-involved proponents of parental rights and immigrant and minority parents, whose languages, cultures and beliefs about education are still under-represented in the curriculum despite several decades of activism and advocacy for change (Nieto, 2017)? The best way is to equip teachers with the tools they need to meaningfully engage all parents in the curriculum regardless of their political orientation, class or race. Some US states (see NAFSCE, 2022) and Canadian provinces (Antony-Newman, 2023) already define specific knowledge, skills and dispositions for parental engagement that teachers should acquire through teacher education and professional practice. Readiness to communicate with parents, establish relationships and pursue meaningful partnerships will go a long way to improve mutual understanding between teachers and parents. When teachers are supported to ‘walk alongside parents’ (Kate, 2015), tensions around curriculum could be diffused, under-representation decreases and students’ learning improves.


Antony-Newman, M. (2019). Parental involvement of immigrant parents: A meta-synthesis. Educational Review, 71(3), 362–381. 

Antony-Newman, M. (2020). Curriculum orientations and their role in parental involvement among immigrant parents. Curriculum Journal, 31(3), 340–356. 

Antony-Newman, M. (2023). Teachers and school leaders’ readiness for parental engagement: Critical policy analysis of Canadian standards. Journal of Teacher Education. Advance online publication.

Bajaj, M. (2022). Decolonial approaches to school curriculum for black, indigenous and other students of colour. London Review of Education, 20(1).

Baquedano-López, P., Alexander, R. A., & Hernandez, S. J. (2013). Equity issues in parental and community involvement in schools. Review of Research in Education, 37(1), 149–182.×12459718

Bialystok, L., & Andersen, L. (2022). Touchy subject: The history and philosophy of sex education. University of Chicago Press.

Craske, J. (2020). Logics, rhetoric and ‘the blob’: Populist logic in the Conservative reforms to English schooling. British Educational Research Journal, 47(2), 279–298. 

Crozier, G., & Davies, J. (2007). Hard to reach parents or hard to reach schools? A discussion of home–school relations, with particular reference to Bangladeshi and Pakistani parents. British Educational Research Journal, 33(3), 295–313. 

Gerrard, J. (2023). Against ‘progressivism’: Schooling and the cohering of conservative interests in Australia, 1970s–1980s. Journal of Australian Studies, 47(4), 766–780.

Kate, N. (2015). Walking alongside parents. In Living as mapmakers (pp. 115–126). SensePublishers.

National Association for Family, School, and Community Engagement [NAFSCE]. (2022). Family engagement core competencies: A body of knowledge, skills, and dispositions for family-facing professionals. 

Nieto, S. (2017). Re-imagining multicultural education: New visions, new possibilities, Multicultural Education Review, 9(1), 1–10,

Peters, M. A. (2018). Why is my curriculum white? A brief genealogy of resistance. In J. Arday & H. Mirza (Eds.), Dismantling race in higher education. Palgrave Macmillan.

Sawchuk, S. (2021, May 18). What is critical race theory, and why is it under attack? Education Week.

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