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Fewer Louisville Parents Are Joining the PTA

Eleanor Hasken
Sarah Yost prepares her classroom for her new students at Wesport Middle School, in Louisville, Ky., on Friday, August 8, 2014. Photo by Eleanor Hasken

The number of Jefferson County Public Schools parents and guardians joining Parent Teacher Associations is at its lowest in more than a decade, according to JCPS data.

But JCPS officials say they're not terribly concerned, because schools are working to engage families in other ways.

Education advocates emphasize the importance of parent engagement in student success, and Jefferson County Public Schools has made parent outreach a crucial part of its strategic plan.

But membership has been dropped by thousands over the past decade.

In the 2004-05 school year, 60,617 people were PTA members in JCPS; last school year,  35,873 were members, said Heather Wampler, president of the 15th District PTA, which covers JCPS.


(Note:The 2014 numbers reflect earlier data that omits a small handful of school membership levels.)

The downward trend has been pronounced in recent years, which is also the trend with the National PTA, according to the group's 2013 strategic plan.

Why the drop?

“There’s probably an array of different reason for why it’s trending downward,” said John Marshall, JCPS chief equity officer.

The economy may have something to do with it, said Wampler.

“Some families are having to choose between putting a gallon of milk on the table or joining the PTA," she said.

PTA membership fees vary by school but usually fall in the range of $5 for a school year.

Also, Marshall said schools are changing the way they connect with families and work with parents.

“It’s not what it used to be when you and I were in school,” he said.

Parent engagement can include volunteering as a coach or with one of several programs JCPS now offers, such as the Every1Reads program.

“There are a lot of people that are very active in their schools they just don’t happen to be members of the PTA," said Marshall.

But PTA membership does show some type of commitment to the school, he said. And the PTA is involved with the district’s strategic plan and with getting more parent engagement.

Other than PTA numbers, the district doesn’t have any metrics that completely measure parent involvement, said JCPS spokesman Ben Jackey. (He notes it's a difficult thing to measure).

The real metric is student achievement, he said. And the goal is to find ways to engage parents in either schools or at home.

So far this year, PTA numbers are up, said Wampler.

As of Nov. 4, PTA membership was at 28,036, she said. That’s 572 more members than that date the previous year.

There are also changes to what it means to be part of the PTA, said Wampler.

The last few years the PTA has put emphasis on educating parents and families about the new Common Core education standards, and helping schools find other ways to attract parents, she said.

“Having math nights, reading nights, science nights—things to pull the parents in just to engage them in the schools," she said.