Georgia District Holds Big Parent Conference

The Bibb County school district in Georgia had 500 people just attend a Winter Parent Engagement Conference, and you can view a local television report on it.

It sounds impressive. They apparently put it on as part of their involvement in a parent involvement campaign called “Be There,” which I have written about critically in the past.

I continue to have those concerns but, assuming that this conference is not just a “one shot wonder” in Bibb County and is reflective of an ongoing commitment, it appears that — at least there — they’re giving parent engagement more than just lip service.

Is SayingThat You Have A New Flat Screen TV Really A Way To Show That Parents Are Connected To Your School?

Groups that want to run up to thirty schools in Los Angeles have begun making their presentations to the Los Angeles School Board.

The Mayor’s organization, Partnership For Los Angeles Schools, now runs twelve schools and is competing for some of the schools that are “up for bid.” According to the Los Angeles Times, they claimed increased parent involvement at their present schools:

…. citing “15,000 discrete incidents of parent involvement,” such as parent visits to a school, as well as new flat-screen TVs in the refurbished parent centers.

There may very well be a lot of parent involvement/engagement at their schools, but I have to wonder what metrics they use to identify 15,000 examples. And, come on, citing new flat-screen TV’s?

I know that newspapers don’t necessarily accurately report everything, but it would have been nice to hear a few more specifics about what they consider parent involvement/engagement. I couldn’t find much on their website.

I do hope, though, that they don’t cite flat screen TV’s again….

Follow-Up To Lt. Governor’s Comments

I posted yesterday about the South Carolina Lt. Governor’s idea to have benefits such as food aid yanked from families if they didn’t attend PTA meetings.

Mr. Layman in South Carolina sent me a link to a column their local paper published that I thought was incredibly thoughtful and insightful. It was written by a local professor and was titled Bauer’s comments reflect our own misconceptions.

It does a great job of looking at how schools often work in low-income communities.

Latest Assessment Results From Family Literacy Project

i’ve written several times about the Family Literacy Project we have at Luther Burbank High School where we provide computers and home Internet access to immigrant families. They, in turn, use them to develop English skills. Student assessment results have been so impressive that the project was the Grand Prize Winner of the International Reading Association’s Presidential Award on Reading and Technology.

I’ve also shared about the extraordinary work that the Sacramento Mutual Housing Association has been doing to expand our project more deliberately to parents. Their first three-month workshop resulted in phenomenal improvement in participants’ English and technology skills. After graduating from the class, families received a free home computer and Internet access.

The second class just graduated with equally impressive results. The parents’ English initial assessments averaged 54.4%, while their final average was 82.4%. The initial technology assessments averaged 38.8% and the final assessment averaged 94.4% (by the way, the philosophy of the Mutual Housing Association’s workshop was very similar to Burbank’s philosophy — neither one of us believe in teaching to the test).

You can view the online projects created by participants here. More will be posted next week.

Both workshops were led by Xee and Kou Vang, the bilingual aides who have been key leaders of the home computer project since it began.

Book Highlights Importance Of Parent-Community Ties

A book has just come out highlighting what the author researchers say are the five “essential supports” to school success. You can read details about it at in a post on my other blog — “Five Essential Supports For School Success.”

I wanted to share here, though, what they say about parent-community ties, which is listed as one of those essential supports:

Parent-community ties: This support refers to whether schools are a welcoming place for parents and whether there are strong connections between the school and local institutions. Schools with strong parent involvement were 10 times more likely to improve in math and four times more likely to improve in reading than schools weak on this measure.

Makes sense to me….

Worst Idea To Promote Parent Involvement Ever: If You’re Poor, You Get Government Benefits Cut-Off Unless You Go To PTA Meetings

Instead of looking for positive ways to encourage parents connecting with schools, South Carolina Lieutenant Governor (and gubernatorial candidate) Andre Bauer, thinks that poor families should have their government benefits cut-off if they don’t go to to PTA meetings.

Why, you might ask?

Lt. Gov. Bauer explains:

“My grandmother was not a highly educated woman, but she told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals. You know why? Because they breed. You’re facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply. They will reproduce, especially ones that don’t think too much further than that. And so what you’ve got to do is you’ve got to curtail that type of behavior. They don’t know any better.”

You can hear his remarks here, and read more about it here and here.

Schools And Food Stamps

According to the United States Department Of Agriculture, only 48% of Californians who are eligible for food stamps actually got them last year.

The California Budget Project recently released a report called FOOD WITHIN REACH: Strategies For Increasing Participation In The Food Stamp Program In California. The report’s recommendations don’t include schools working more closely with county and state agencies on outreach to families, such a strategy could be one way schools could connect better with parents, respond to a direct family self-interest, and help ensure students don’t come to school hungry (or, at least, less hungry).

Other states also have large numbers of qualified people not participating, so such a strategy would not have to be limited to California.

A Lively Parents Blog

Parents in New York City have developed a very lively blog titled NYC Public School Parents: Independent voices of New York City public school parents.

It doesn’t shy away from making what seems to me to often be valid complaints about New York schools. They certainly have a challenge in getting their voices heard. I’ve already posted about what NY Mayor Bloomberg thinks is the role of parents:

parents need only be involved in the micro issues of their child’s education, like the child’s attendance, behavior and grades. It does not make sense for parents to be involved in larger issues

“What most parents really want is a dialogue”

The Baltimore School District recently put on hold a parent involvement effort that would have required students to assess how each students is performing in 100 (yes, 100 different ways). According to the Baltimore Sun, “o help teachers communicate better with parents about how their kids are doing in the classroom.”

That same Sun editorial applauded stopping the program:

“There ought to be easier ways to facilitate communication between teachers and parents than filtering them through 100 jargon-filled data points. After all, what most parents really want is a dialogue…”

Makes sense to me…

Will Somebody Tell Secretary Duncan’s Staff That There Are “Regular” Public Schools Engaging Parents, Too?

The National Coalition For Parent Involvement In Education, which does good work, recently put out a newsletter reporting on a recent meeting Deputy Assistant Secretary Massie Ritsch had with the group.

According to the newsletter, Mr. Ritsch highlighted five parent involvement efforts — three related to charter-school operator Green Dot; Mastery Charter Schools in Pennsylvania, and the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL) in Chicago. There is a common denominator among all of these schools,

In all five, either the school operators are able to pick-and-choose their students and/or they can basically change the entire school faculty (not to mention being the recipients of large amounts of private dollars in addition to public financial support)

Come on! Instead of pushing this kind of blatantly political agenda, perhaps the Department of Education can highlight the many non-charter schools around the country making home visits and working with the Parent Teacher Home Visit Project. Or how about the many non-charter schools working with parents and broad-based community organizing groups like the Industrial Areas Foundation to improve neighborhood communities. Many of those examples are highlighted in our book, Building Parent Engagement In Schools.

Luther Burbank High School, where I teach, is doing home visits, has a parent academy that is a national model, and operates a family literacy project that was recognized by the International Reading Association as the best example in the world of using technology to teach reading.

I’m not saying some charter schools aren’t doing good work engaging parents. But it seems to me that since many schools in the U.S. are facing some additional challenges — over and above the ones faced by the institutions the Assistant Secretary cited — it might be a good idea to make a point of checking out, and talking about, their successes, too.

The “Parent Trigger” Comes To California….Unfortunately

Last week, the California state legislature passed, and the Governor signed, legislation that included the so-called “parent trigger” law. This, as the LA Times writes:

gives parents the legal right to launch major reforms at a low-performing school by collecting signatures representing 50% of the school’s current or potential future students. The Legislature capped the number of schools where that could occur at 75.

The parent-trigger initiative was pushed by a Los Angeles group closely allied to a charter school organization.

I’ve written twice before about my serious concerns about how I think this kind of legislation is a poor substitute for genuine parent engagement — beyond signing a petition. Using parents as a smokescreen for a political agenda is not my idea of parent engagement.

A guest piece in the National Journal has just been published sharing a similar perspective. It’s by Judith Browne-Dianis and is titled “Parental Trigger: A Superficial Solution.” The blog also shares other perspectives on the parent trigger.

I’m so impressed with Ms. Browne-Dianis’ piece and, because it’s so short, I’m going to reprint it here (I hope The National Journal won’t mind):

Parents should be at the table in school reform efforts but California’s “parent trigger” is a faulty mechanism for parental involvement. For ten years, Advancement Project has worked with parent and student groups in communities throughout the country. We have witnessed first hand how effective these stakeholders can be in improving educational opportunities in public. However, California’s knee-jerk “trigger” will not produce the long-term systemic change that is needed. Instead, it may produce quick, potentially superficial decisions made by frustrated parents. It may not produce better results. Pull the trigger, and then what? There are no guarantees that the charter or the new administrators will lead to improvement for the impacted children.

Parent and student involvement can be the most effective tool for the change our public schools need. For example, in Denver, CO, the organized parents and students of Padres & Jovenes Unidos have conducted extensive research and informed and organized their community around a number of issues. Their successful campaigns include the removal of a principal who mistreated Mexicano children, a comprehensive school reform plan for a high school and sweeping reforms in school discipline that is stopping the school-to-prison pipeline in Denver. Similarly, Tenants and Workers United in Virginia conducted research and found a dearth of students of color in advanced placement classes. As a result, they successfully pushed the district to implement individualized student plans to ensure educational success for all students.

This is the type of parental involvement we need to improve our schools over the long haul. Signing a petition to close a school does not engage parents in a dialogue, visioning or powerful decision-making. Reducing deliberation and ownership over a school system to a bare majority signature campaign impoverishes parental power and dilutes real and valuable parent energy. It’s short-sighted and underestimates the power of communities to make systemic change. Additionally, it runs a serious chance of abuse and racial polarization where intentions behind the petition may not be just about academics. California’s “parent trigger” is nothing more than a misfire.

She says it in a nutshell….

Parents & Algebra

This month’s issue of “The California Educator,” published by the California Teachers Association, has an article about The Algebra Project and how it’s being used to engage parents in Sacramento.

The Algebra Project was begun nationally by civil rights pioneer Robert Moses.

The article highlights how it was begun in partnership with a local community organizing group, the Sacramento Valley Organizing Community (SVOC). I was SVOC’s first Lead Organizer eighteen years ago.

More On Parent Engagement In The UK

I’ve posted before about some parent engagement efforts in the United Kingdom (see Connecting Parents And Schools In The UK Using Technology).

I recently discovered that BECTA, the government agency in the United Kingdom whose job it is to help schools use educational technology effectively, also hosts a discussion forum where educators throughout the UK share ideas and experiences on parent engagement and schools. You have to join in order to participate, but anyone can read the posts.