Milwaukee Newspaper Begins Several Part Series On Parents & Schools

(I’ve updated this post to include links to the entire series)

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has just begun what appears to be a fairly ambitious series of articles on parent involvement and schools called Beyond the Bell | Making the Home-School Connection .

The first one, Educational engagement, appeared today.

Here’s how the paper describes what they will be covering this week:

The Series

Sunday: Research shows parental engagement brings results, but efforts – including in Milwaukee Public Schools – have lagged.

Coming Monday: Many teachers want to work better with parents, but say they receive little guidance or training.

Coming Tuesday: Teachers in some schools and districts are experimenting with home visits to connect with families.

Coming Wednesday: Through partnerships, some schools bring the community inside their doors.

Engaging ELL Parents

Engaging ELL Parents is the focus of the most recent newsletter from Colorin Colorado, a bilingual site for parents and educators.  It includes a short review of our book.

Colorín Colorado is an educational initiative of WETA, the flagship public television and radio station in the nation’s capital. Major funding comes from the American Federation of Teachers, with additional support from the National Institute for Literacy and the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs.

Their site has lots of useful resources, and I often write about them on my other blog.

Public School Insights

Public School Insights is a blog about schools that I have praised a lot on my other blog. It’s sponsored by The Learning First Alliance, which is made-up of many national education organizations, including national associations of teachers, administrators, and school boards.

I was honored yesterday when Claus von Zastrow, LFA’s Director, praised our book on parent engagement.

Thanks, Claus!

Press Conference On Parent Engagement

Last week, the new Superintendent of the Sacramento City Unified School District, Jonathan Raymond, led a press conference highlighting examples of parent engagement in our district.

He was kind enough to invite me and mention my book, and also to highlight the home computer project we do at our school, as well as our highly regarded Parent University.

You can see the press conference online. If you go to the 26 minute mark, you’ll be able to watch Elisa Gonzalez from our school describe the Parent University, which I believe is a national model. I speak shortly afterward about both the Parent University and our home computer project.

I’m going to place two links to the press conference here because I’m not sure which will work best.

You can go to the District website where you’ll see the link to the press conference. It’s under “News and Messages.”

Here’s the direct link, too:

Superintendent Raymond recognized principals and teachers who have successfully engaged parents at their schools, November 19, 2009

“Learning To Bridge The Achievement Gap”

Though I’m not crazy about the headline in this New York Times story, “Learning To Bridge The Achievement Gap” does tell a nice story of academic progress a school in a low-income neighborhood is making. One of the strategies it’s using is providing three-times-a-week literacy and life skills class to immigrant parents.

The reason I’m not thrilled with the headline is because it perpetuates the myth that schools can bridge the gap. In fact, as education researcher Richard Rothstein has said (and we discuss in our book), most schools can narrow the gap, but not bridge it.

Without recognizing and acting on the reality that so many non-school issues affect academic achievement, we are not going to bridge the achievement gap for most students.  In addition to working on in-school instruction, by working with parents and other instituations, schools can have an impact on those issues of poverty, heath, and safety.

Parents, Students & College

I’ve posted in the past about some of the challenges we’ve had in our home visit conversations with parents when discussing college possibilities for their children. In that same point I shared how we were responding to those challenges, and the plan I wrote about is going quite well.

Education Week has just published an article about research and a book highlighting some of the particular issues facing schools connecting to parents in middle and high school.

The article is worth a visit. It identifies some of the same issues we’ve found in our conversations with parents.

What Americans Believe Is “The Number One Factor In Keeping Schools Moving On The Right Track”

Every year a Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll is done on “Public Attitudes Toward The Public Schools.” This year’s results were released a couple of months ago.

This is one question that was included:

I am going to read several factors. For each, tell me how important you think that factor is in keeping public schools moving on the right track?

People were then given a list of these options to choose from:

More Funding

Better Teachers

Better Use of Technology

More Parent Support

More School Choice

“More Parent Support” was identified as the most important factor in keeping schools moving on the right track.   85% of respondents identified it as “very important.”

You can read more about the results of the poll here.

What Secretary Duncan Said Today About Parents & Schools

I’ve posted in the past about how Education Secretary Duncan has spoken condescendingly about parents in relation to  schools.

Today on Meet The Press he sounded a bit better:

“We all have to take responsibility: parents, teachers, principals, school board members, students themselves, most importantly. We all have to step up. Parents matter tremendously. Parents are always going to be our students’ first teachers, and they’re always going to be our students most important teachers. That’s never going to change. Parents have to be full and equal partners with teachers. When that happens, great things happen with children. When that doesn’t happen, when the adults fight, when there’s adult dysfunction, guess what, children lose.”

It would be nice, though, if he encouraged and supported schools taking a more active role in encouraging those kinds of reciprocal partnerships…

What Might Aesop’s Fables Say About Glitzy Media Parent Involvement Campaigns?

I’ve been reading more lately about a campaign called Be There, which appears to be provided by a public relations agency to school districts (supposedly at no cost) and is designed to promote “parent involvement.”

Based on what I have read, the main focus seems to be a fairly glitzy media campaign of posters, public service announcements, and videos.

I’m sure that everybody is very well-intentioned — both the provider of the campaign and the school districts participating. However, I’m always concerned about efforts like this that are focused on media talking “to” people, instead of of emphasizing a priority of genuinely developing reciprocal relationships of people talking “with” each other.

The beginning of our book, Building Parent Engagement In Schools, speaks to this point in this way:

The Jay And The Peacock

A jay venturing into a yard where peacocks used to walk, found there a number of feathers which had fallen from the peacocks when they were molting. He tied them all to his tail and strutted down towards the peacocks. When he came near them they soon discovered the cheat, and striding up to him pecked at him and plucked away his borrowed plumes. So the jay could do no better than go back to the other jays, who had watched his behavior from a distance; but they were equally annoyed with him, and told him:

“It is not only fine feathers that make fine birds.”

(from Aesop’s Fables )

This fable is about a bird who thought that a few feathers could make him be something he was not. This book is about why and how it is in schools’ self-interest to have a parent engagement strategy that does not settle at having a few parents on a school site council, or even a large number coming to a Back-to-School night… This book is about providing specific ways that schools can avoid the same trap as the jay. Tempting as it may be, and as challenging as it may be to do more, a few parents (or even many of them) coming to a meeting or periodically turning-out large numbers of parents to a school event and calling it parent engagement does not make it an effective parent engagement strategy.

I might add that a media campaign doesn’t make it one, either.

“Wordle” Of Our Book

Wordle is a free and easy web application that lets you paste text into it and then produces a “word cloud” illustrating the words that are used most with their size showing their frequency of use.

It’s pretty neat.

Here is the link to the Wordle for our book, “Building Parent Engagement In Schools.” I was having some difficulty resizing it to fit in this blog, which is why I’m just posting the link to it.

It certainly gives an accurate representation of what the book is all about.

“The Critical Connection Between Student Health and Academic Achievement”

The Critical Connection Between Student Health and Academic Achievement:How Schools and Policymakers Can Achieve a Positive Impact is a report recently issued by the California Endowment, a major health-related private foundation in California. It’s the first in a series of reports the Foundation is developing. The purpose of these reports is “to develop a framework for injecting health—physical health, mental health and developmental health—into the state’s education reform dialogue.”

I’ve got to say the research in this first report is really to-notch. It’s very accessible, and I’d recommend you read it. The information certainly bolsters what we write in our book about the need for schools to look at how other issues affect the lives of students and their families.

The report’s recommendations for action, on the other hand, seemed a bit disappointing to me. They were all great ideas, but except for sharing a story about how the teacher’s union cooperated in signing up kids for the state’s health insurance program (a similar effort might really come in handy if health reform passes), they mostly seemed to me nice-sounding goals with no effective strategies offered on how to accomplish them.

Of course, as I quoted, their stated focus was “to create a framework” for discussion, so offering practical strategies might not have been one of their goals. I hope they offer more of them, though, in their future papers.

Nevertheless, The Endowment has definitely performed a service to those of us who are pushing schools to look at other issues. Such clearly written research is unfortunately all too rare….

“As Unemployment Rises, Kids’ Future Dims”

The Wall Street Journal reports on a new research paper that highlights the impact of the recession on student achievement. The article is titled “As Unemployment Rises, Kids’ Future Dims”. It provides more evidence supporting one of the key points of our book — that as part of a parent engagement strategy, it makes sense for schools to work with parents on issues beyond the schoolhouse walls.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

A parent’s job loss increases the probability that a child repeats a grade in school by roughly 15%, according to a new paper from two economics professors at the University of California, Davis.

It goes on to say:

“More attention should be paid to the potential role of external factors in affecting school level outcomes,” they [the report's writers] conclude. “Schools in areas with large concentrations of displaced workers…may face particular challenges in maintaining achievement standards during times of economic hardship.”

Boy, Did Ruben Navarrete Get Up On The Wrong Side Of The Bed This Morning!

I generally like what syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrete has to say — except when he’s writing about school issues. It seems like he and David Brooks (another columnist I usually like) just “lose it” when they look at education issues.

Today, Navarrete wrote what can only be called a rant against most public schools and teachers. Here’s one quote that sticks-out:

“It’s been my experience that many teachers don’t really care whether parents go to the PTA or help their kids with homework. They just want a constant foil, someone to blame when students flounder and the schools underperform.”

I’m pretty confident that I’ve never met a teacher who felt that way.  And, from the positive response my book, Building Parent Engagement In Schools, has received, there are quite a few who feel the exact opposite….

Thanks to This Week In Education for the tip.