“You go to the school, you sign up to do a job, they tell you what to do”

Parents at a Texas School District have been fighting to create a PTA in local schools, but the the District has been resisting. It sounds like a very weird situation.

As one parent put it:

“You go to the school, you sign up to do a job, they tell you what to do,” parent Jaim Kaysonphat said. “You have no say, you have no voice.”

You can read about it in two places, and both have television video reports on the controversy:

Del Valle parents keep up fight to form PTA

Del Valle parents protest for PTA

There seems to be something very wrong with this picture….

New Study Shows That Paying Families To “Engage” In Schools Doesn’t Work

Last September, I wrote a post titled Conditional Cash Transfers, Parents, And Schools. It talked about a new program that was becoming fashionable called conditional cash transfers. These are payments made to families to encourage them to do things like go to doctor appointments, and to children for increased school attendance and higher standardized test scores.

In my post, I shared that, though I thought these funds could be used more effectively to fight poverty in other ways, I really couldn’t complain about putting a few more bucks in the hands of poor families — for non-school related efforts. I wrote about how I thought it was damaging to children and schools when it was connected to education benchmarks, and my post connected to studies that showed that. In another post, I wrote more specifically about my objections to paying students for increased test scores.

New York City had started a heralded, and expensive, conditional cash transfer program heavily focused on school-related objectives. The program just announced the results of an evaluation of the program and it didn’t work, particularly for the school-related goals. They’re shutting it down. You can read about it in the New York Times article City to End Program Giving Cash to the Poor.

Surprise, surprise.

I wonder what the results would have been if they instead had put that $40 million into supporting family engagement efforts that do work, like teacher home visits to listen and build relationships, and connect parents with others who have similar concerns so they can act together on them; family literacy projects initiated and led by parents; the development of parent/school community gardens; and encouraging parent and school participation in community-wide organizing efforts to improve neighborhoods.

Parent Engagement & The Obama “Blueprint”

The Obama Administration’s Blueprint for re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is being criticized for not emphasizing parent engagement.

Here is an excerpt from an article that appeared today In Education Week. It described a meeting recently held between Education Secretary Duncan and urban superintendents and school board members:

Yolie Flores Aguilar, a member of the Los Angeles school board, criticized the blueprint’s lack of details on parent engagement. The need to inform and involve parents is critical to eliminating achievement gaps, she said.

I haven’t carefully reviewed the legislation on that issue yet, though I have posted about the National PTA’s criticism. Does anybody else have feedback?

“Hybrid” Teachers & Engaging Parents

Part Three Of The MetLife Survey Of The American Teacher has just been released.  I’ve written about the first two parts  in my other blog.

The third part of this extensive survey of teachers and students is titled Teaching As A Career and “examines collaboration in the context of teacher professional growth, experience level and career path.”

I was struck by its section on what the survey called “hybrid teachers”:

Hybrid approaches to teaching roles are common. More than
half of teachers (56%) and half of principals (49%) agree that
some teachers in their school combine part-time classroom
teaching with other roles or responsibilities in their school or
district. Teachers from a range of school types, including
school level and proportion of low income or minority
students, report similar experiences with this hybrid approach.
However, secondary school principals are more likely than
elementary school principals to say that there are teachers in
their school who have hybrid teaching positions (60% vs. 43%).

The hybrid role is appealing to many teachers for themselves.
Nearly four in ten teachers (37%) agree they would like to
teach in the classroom part-time combined with other roles or
responsibilities in their school or district, including 46% of new
teachers (five years or less experience).

This passage reminded me of a few lines I was asked to write by the Teachers Leaders Network about my vision for a “hybrid” teacher who was partially released from the classroom to spend more time engaging parents.

Here is what I wrote:

Teachers would spend time not just talking with parents about their children, but also try to learn from parents the hopes and dreams they have for themselves — in addition to the challenges they face and what they worry about at night. Through the conversations they have with parents, and the trust that they start with and can build upon, they can help parents connect with other parents who have those same hopes, dreams, worries, and challenges and help them, in turn, to connect to other community institutions so they can launch effective public and collective action to accomplish those dreams and confront those challenges. Through this kind of “agitational” role, teachers can help confront the many issues that have their basis outside the school house walls (unemployment, safety, health care, etc) but that have a huge effect on what goes on in the classroom.

Teachers would need to develop the capacity to recognize that they don’t have all the answers — that, in terms of organizing, their most important tool is their ears and not their mouths. They need to recognize that as they build the trusting and reciprocal relationships needed to move this kind of effort forward, they not only have to listen to people’s stories; they have to open up and share their own.

It would be nice, and an effective strategy for student achievement, if schools would encourage this kind of a “hybrid.”

For another take on this part of the study, you might want to read Heather Wolpert-Gawron’s blog post.

“To Close Achievement Gap, US Must Address Major Health Risks for Urban Minority Youth, Study Finds”

To Close Achievement Gap, US Must Address Major Health Risks for Urban Minority Youth, Study Finds is the title of an article from Science Daily.

It reports on research from over 300 sources highlighting the impact health issues have on student learning.

As I describe in the book, it’s unlikely political will can be generated to effectively confront these issues (and get our public officials to confront them) without schools connecting with parents and other community institutions.

As Richard Rothstein says, without making these kinds of changes on issues outside the schoolhouse doors (like health), schools might be able to narrow the achievement gap, but not bridge it.

“Empower teachers, engage parents”

Education leader: Empower teachers, engage parents is the headline of an article that appeared yesterday in the Reno Gazette-Journal. It’s describing a meeting of 600 teachers from the National Education Association.

Here’s an excerpt focusing on speaker NEA Vice-President Lily Eskelsen:

Bringing parents into the school improvement process is vital, she said, noting that means more than having a parent volunteer for a field trip.

“Engagement means you listen to them,” Eskelsen said.

The article is worth a look.

“Parents and children defend homemade treats at City Hall rally”

Check-out this interesting story: Parents and children defend homemade treats at City Hall rally.

I tend to agree with those New York City parents who are saying that there are more effective ways the School District can combat childhood obesity than banning the use of homemade items at school bake sales.

Of course, it would also be nice if schools looked at parents as more than just suppliers of baked goods….

National PTA Reacts to Obama Administration’s Blueprint for the Reauthorization of ESEA

Here’s an excerpt from a statement issued by National PTA President Charles J. “Chuck” Saylors about the Obama Administration’s new education plan:

“…we are deeply concerned that the blueprint contains no comprehensive plan for meaningful family engagement in education. The blueprint, which is aligned to the President’s FY11 budget, signals that the Administration lacks a clear vision and strategy to build capacity of states, districts, and schools to partner with parents and families. The budget proposes the elimination of the sole federal program dedicated to family engagement, and the ESEA blueprint removes essential mechanisms for engaging parents in the education of their children. The blueprint limits parent engagement to afterschool programs and programs administered by the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools – programs that already require parent involvement under the current law. Engaging parents in decision-making and school reforms is essential to all school turnaround strategies.”

Here’s a video from the PBS News Hour on the new blueprint. Listen to what Diane Ravitch has to say to learn more things that are wrong with the proposal.

Can The Brookings Institution Really Be That Clueless?

The Brookings Institution just came out with a major report on schools called The 2009 Brown Center Report on American Education: How Well Are American Students Learning?. It’s divided into three sections. I am dumbstruck by the second one, which is what led me to write an uncharacteristically strongly-worded headline on this post.

That part is titled “Do Schools Ever Change?” You can read an Associated Press news report summarizing its conclusions. It basically says that most schools in California twenty years ago are still there now, and most that were near the top remained there, as well. I don’t think that conclusion is a particularly surprising one to most people.

Here’s a quote from the study’s author that appeared in the AP story:

Loveless, who taught in California public schools for nine years, said the “persistence of school culture” — created by teachers, administrators, parents and students — could help explain why so few low-performing schools become high performers.

“We don’t know how to sever this link between past and future,” he said. “We need to learn a lot more about how schools create their cultures.”

You may be wondering what I’m so upset about.

Their data seems quite accurate. Their conclusions, however, demonstrate that they seem to be..clueless.

Nowhere in the study does it even elude to the fact that conditions outside the school might have some impact on the lack of change — it’s all focused on what happens inside the schoolhouse walls. As Richard Rothstein writes, schools may be able to narrow the achievement gap, but they can bridge it. I’d wager that the socio-economic (God, how I hate that phrase) conditions in the neighborhoods surrounding those schools have not changed much or, if they have, it’s been for the worse.

One possible effective response is for schools to connect with parents and other community institutions to work and confront issues like neighborhood safety, affordable housing, jobs, health etc. Perhaps if those problems were alleviated a bit we might see more profound change in local schools.

P.S. to Mr. Loveless: I’d recommend stop trying to compare how multimillion dollar professional sports teams successfully achieve turnarounds with how schools in low-income communities can do the same (as you do in the report)….

Part Two of MetLife Survey Of American Teacher Released — What It Says About Parents

Part Two Of The MetLife Survey Of The American Teacher has just been released.

I posted earlier this month about Part One of the survey — see The Saddest School-Related Statistic I’ve Heard In Awhile….

I’m just going to share one item from Part Two that stands-out for me. For further thoughts on the report, I’d encourage you to read Today’s Education News: Rife with Contradictions by Barnett Berry of the Center for Teaching Quality.

I was struck by this one on connecting with parents:

Teachers and principals believe that the most important factors for improving student achievement are having adequate public funding and support, and involving parents. Nine in ten teachers and principals believe that having adequate public funding and support for education (92% of teachers and 96% of principals) and that strengthening ties among schools and parents (88% of teachers and 89% ofprincipals) are very important for improving student achievement.

It’s great to hear that there is that high of a belief in the power of connecting better with parents. One question, though, is do teachers and principals see parent engagement or parent involvement as the way to strengthen those ties (see Expert Advice about Parent Engagement: An Interview with Larry Ferlazzo to learn more about the difference between the two).

Profiles in Family, School, and Community Engagement

Taking Leadership, Innovating Change:Profiles in Family, School, and Community Engagement is a new report that highlights what the authors believe to be twelve excellent examples of school/parent engagement.

It’s a free downloadable report.

I’m familiar with a couple of the authors, and have respect for them. I’m not familiar with all twelve examples they describe, though I certainly do know about the Parent Teacher Home Visit Project, which is included. It’s too bad they didn’t include any of the community organizing examples I cite in my book. I’ve heard some pretty mixed reviews about the Miami School District’s Parent Academy, so was surprised to see it on the list.

Even with those concerns, I’d say it’s a must-read for anybody concerned about parent engagement. There are some pretty darn creative initiatives described in the report.

Two New Studies Point Out That Schools Can “Narrow” Achievement Gap But Not “Bridge” It On Their Own

As I highlight in my book, a major reason schools need to engage parents is to develop allies and respond to the many issues outside of the schoolhouse walls that affect academic achievement within them — health, unemployment, safety, etc.

Two new studies have just come-out reinforcing that view. You can read about them in these two articles:

Health Problems Fuel Achievement Gaps, Study Says
comes from Education Week.

‘Education Does Not Begin Or End At The Schoolhouse Door’

“What’s next for ‘parent trigger’?”

As regular readers know, I am not a supporter of the so-called “parent trigger,” the new law in California that lets parents “trigger” an overhaul of a school.

To make matters worse, there is no mechanism in place to guide how it is put into practice.

The Educated Guess, a California education-related blog, reports on some potential next steps in that regard in “What’s Next For ‘Parent Trigger.” I’m not thrilled about what seems like an gratuitous slap at Los Angeles teachers in the post, but the other information is useful.