Great Teacher Home Visit Video Clip

I’ve just watched the movie “Dangerous Minds” (I might have been one of the few teachers out there who hadn’t seen it earlier).

It’s an engaging movie, but it’s one in a long line of nauseatingly paternalistic hero teacher films out there.

However, it does have a great two minute clip of a teacher home visit that shows the importance of telling parents positive news about their children. It’s embedded below:

“Home, Preschool and School Coordination Boosts Achievement”

A new study recently was published that, while there doesn’t seem to be anything new in it, it does reinforce the important of parent involvement/engagement.

Science Daily writes about it in a piece titled “Home, Preschool and School Coordination Boosts Achievement.”

Here are are some excerpts from the article:

Children whose minds are stimulated in several early childhood settings — home, preschool, and school — have higher achievement in elementary school. What matters is not whether children’s learning is supported at home, or stimulated in preschool or in elementary school, but that all three of these occur.

“The study has implications for policy as Congress reauthorizes the No Child Left Behind Act,” notes Robert Crosnoe, associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, the study’s lead author. “Our findings point to the importance of improving coordination among parents, preschool classrooms, and elementary schools to boost children’s achievement.”

This study suggests that increasing coordination among the three main contexts involved in the transition to formal school is critical. “To do so, policymakers must put renewed focus on the home-preschool partnerships often advocated by early intervention programs and the family-school partnerships advocated by No Child Left Behind, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act,” according to Crosnoe.

“City OKs Layoffs Of High School Parent Coordinators”

City OKs Layoffs Of High School Parent Coordinators is the title of a New York City online video and article that appeared today.

Here’s how it begins:

Testifying before the City Council Monday, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein said he will allow school principals to lay off parent coordinators and abolish the position as a way to combat the city’s money woes.

In 2003, Mayor Michael Bloomberg started mandating schools have them, as one of his first education reforms. His administration has defended the position as integral in parent engagement and outreach efforts.

Thanks to Linda Aragoni for the tip.

Guest Post: Report From Parent Engagement Conference

Carrie Rose, Executive Director of the nationally-recognized Parent Teacher Home Visit Project, recently attended a National Education Association-sponsored conference in Tennessee about parent engagement/involvement. You can read more about it in my previous post, “Union-Led Conference Targets Family Engagement in Schools.”

You can also read an interview I did with Carrie last month.

Carrie was kind enough to write a short report for this blog about her experience there:

Recently, Yesenia Gonzalez, one of the founding parents of the Parent Teacher Home Visit Project, and I had an opportunity to present the work of our non-profit collaboration and participate in a family, School, Community Engagement Summit in Nashville last month. This event, hosted by the Tennessee Education Association in partnership with the National Education Association and multiple other state partners, had over 300 participants and was designed to facilitate a dialogue on policy and practice for improving family engagement in schools and actually begin to shape recommendations for policy and practice via a compilation of measures local and state policymakers should consider and ultimately implement. While we attend many conferences and presentations during the year, this gathering differed in a few key ways.

First, one of the first things we noticed right away was a true feeling of optimism. As a recipient of Race to Top funding, Tennessee’s gathering provided a unique conversation where ideas were shared in an atmosphere of available resources. Both Yesenia and I realized that it had been a long time since we’ve been involved in a conversation about family engagement where cost was not an immediate concern/barrier to address.

Second, I was struck by the high ranking public officials who attended the summit. All talked about the importance of aligning interests and parent engagement as important to education reform efforts. In fact, given that most of our work happens at the site level with staff, students and families, I was interested in the fact that most participants in the sessions we attended and held were community members, state education department staff, and district administrators (many also identified as parents or caregivers).

Third, both Yesenia and I noticed that there was a lot of conversation about the changing needs of the community, students and families. Language resources, for example, were needed in much greater numbers than in the past. There was also a significant amount of conversation about the changing understanding of effective family and community involvement and a reflection on past work and outcomes.

Finally, as we left, I wondered what all of the formal recommendations would be, how much of it would be research based, and what the next steps on those recommendations would look like as they moved forward in Tennessee. On the whole, I thought that the idea of regional summits lifting up successful grassroots practices and engaging community members in forming recommendations for consideration at the statewide level was great and should happen everywhere. I understand other summits are taking place and wonder how much it differs in communities without the resources currently available in Tennessee.

Thanks, Carrie!

May FINE Newsletter: Innovations in Family Engagement

The May newsletter of the Family Involvement Network of Educators (FINE) from the Harvard Family Research Project has just been published.

Here is how they describe it:

With the introduction of the Department of Education Investing in Innovation Fund (i3), innovation has emerged as a hot topic in education. In this issue of the FINE Newsletter, we consider what innovation means and how to foster it within the field of family engagement. In the commentary, HFRP Consultant Margaret Caspe talks with Heather Weiss, Sherry Cleary, and Jane Quinn about innovation in their respective disciplines and presents a framework designed to help schools and organizations develop breakthrough ideas.

This issue also highlights two new resources focused on innovation. The first is a case study from New Visions for Public Schools that describes a pioneering effort in New York City to engage families in students’ academic success and college readiness by helping parents understand student data. The second resource is a paper from the National Family, School, and Community Engagement Working Group that compiles 12 examples of leading innovations in family engagement as an integral and effective strategy in systemic educational reform.

Voices from the Field recounts how an Early Head Start/Head Start program in East Harlem rethinks its family engagement strategies to reach the many parents who are hesitant to get involved due to their status as undocumented immigrants. The program’s innovative approach incorporates civic advocacy, while new evaluation tools ensure the impact of this outreach work is measurable. Rounding out the issue, our featured teaching case highlights the dilemmas that arise when innovations in teaching methods and curriculum are neither developed in collaboration with families and communities nor well-communicated to these critical stakeholders. And, as always, we provide a listing of new family involvement articles, news, and resources.

Here We Go Again: Private Foundations Have A Place (And Have To Be Kept In Their Place)

(Cross-posted at my other blog)

Private foundations have supported a lot of good work over the years. And many supported the community organizing that I did during my twenty-year organizing career.

I often felt frustrated, however, by how most (though not all) foundations who sought public policy change would decide that they knew what the problem was; they knew how it should be fixed; and they knew how long it should take to fix it. Community groups, desperate for funding, would then often tailor their priorities around the funders’ agenda and the funders would become the groups de facto constituency. The groups’ genuine constituency — low and moderate income residents — would then be “brought along”….sometimes, and often for the short-term.

Of course, this strategy is contrary to how many major policy changes have often been made. In many instances, people who are most affected by the problem take a primary role in developing a solution and the political power to make it a reality (I’ll write more about this history in a future post). The foundation-driven strategy is the antithesis of how long-term effective community organizing works.

But many well-meaning foundations just don’t seem to see this.

A report issued this week from the Annie E. Casey Foundation is the latest example. Learning To Read:Early Warning! Why Reading By The End Of The Third Grade Matters provides an excellent summary of research on how poverty affects children’s academic growth. There’s doesn’t appear to be much in it that you couldn’t get from reading Richard Rothstein, but I figure you can never get enough well-written material showing how you have to deal with problems outside the schoolhouse walls in addition to inside them.

The report then announces the Foundation is joining with other funders to initiate an effort to expand after-school programs and summer learning opportunities.

Those are good things. However, they may very well not be the priority issues of the residents in the communities that the foundations are targeting.

A perfect example of this foundation mindset is how they write about parents:

Parents should read to and converse with their young children….Parents should understand why it’s important to read proficiently….Parents should…..Parents should find after-school activities for their children….Parents should….

There’s a lengthy list of “shoulds” for parents. Again, I’m sure it’s all well-meaning, and it’s “right.” I’m just not convinced that it’s “effective.”

Instead, how about if they had written something like this:

We feel that the best way to respond to the research findings in this report that highlight how poverty issues affect student academic achievement is by helping parents, schools, and other community residents participate more in public life and develop the self-confidence and life skills to do so effectively. Funders should support schools and community groups who want to engage residents and local institutions like religious congregations, business groups, neighborhood associations in conversations about how these problems affect their local communities and what they think should be done about it. Funders should support those schools and community groups who want to listen and work with residents as partners. Funders should leverage the relationships they have with public and corporate officials so these community groups can develop their own relationships with them.

I would characterize the kind of well-intentioned attitude that funders like Casey exhibit as paternalism. This is how one dictionary defines that word:

when people in authority think or act in a way which results in them making decisions for other people which are often to their advantage but which prevent those people from taking responsibility for their own lives

In the education field (and I’m sure in other areas, too), I’d suggest that there are a sizable group of funders who go further, and who can be even more damaging to the long-term public good. This is how Diane Ravitch describes them:

“The Billionaires Boys Club” is a discussion of how we’re in a new era of the foundations and their relation to education. We have never in the history of the United States had foundations with the wealth of the Gates Foundation and some of the other billionaire foundations—the Walton Family Foundation, The Broad Foundation. And these three foundations—Gates, Broad and Walton—are committed now to charter schools and to evaluating teachers by test scores. And that’s now the policy of the US Department of Education. We have never seen anything like this, where foundations had the ambition to direct national educational policy, and in fact are succeeding.

I’d characterize their attitude as being closer to neocolonialism, which a dictionary describes as “dominance by economic and cultural influence.”

Many might say that I’m overstating the case. But it seems to me that Eli Broad doesn’t hide that perspective when he tells the Wall Street Journal:

…he is enthusiastic about all the change that is possible when urban school districts go bankrupt—as Oakland, Calif., did a few years ago—”or what happened in New Orleans, which is the equivalent of bankruptcy.”

What do you think? Am I being too harsh?

Parents United for Responsible Education

Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE) is a Chicago organization that has lots of useful resources on its website.

Here is how it describes itself:

Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE) exists to build support for and enhance the quality of public education in the city of Chicago by informing parents about educational issues, bringing the views of parents into the decision-making process, and acting as an advocate for parents in their relationships with the school administration.

Each year, PURE provides direct assistance or referrals to hundreds of parents and local school council (LSC) members calling our hotline for help and information. PURE provides informative and empowering workshops for LSCs in all areas of their responsibility. PURE also offers a variety of parent workshops and develops new workshops to meet parents expressed needs. PURE publishes four newsletters to keep parents, LSC members, and other school leaders informed of current educational changes and issues. PURE works actively to focus attention on the parents’ perspective in any discussion of critical school problems through such means as press conferences, public testimony, and editorials.

If you’re familiar with PURE’s work, please leave a comment about what you think of them….

“When upset parents get organized, they can be very powerful”

“Principal’s e-mail draws attention to parent-school relations” is the title of an article in the Miami Herald today. The headline of this post is a quote from that article.

The piece begins by talking about a way not to encourage parent involvement/engagement — a principal wrote an email to a parent saying she should “Eat s____t and die.”

It goes on to provide some good examples, and discuss some of the potential tensions that arise between parents and schools.

“School to Parents: Volunteer or Else!”

School to Parents: Volunteer or Else! is the title of a post on one of the New York Times’ blogs. It’s about a school district in San Jose that is planning to require 30 volunteer hours a year from each of their 13,000 students (88% of which are poor, according the the article).

Now, that’s going to work out well….

Why not make something mandatory — which is not going to be enforceable anyway (are they going to punish the child if a parent doesn’t participate?) — instead of putting energy into building trusting and reciprocal relationships with parents; learning their concerns, visions for themselves, and visions for their children; helping families find the energy and capacity within themselves to want to act; and then working together to do something?

Why do people who should know better think of these things?

To paraphrase the late famed community organizer Fred Ross, Sr., “Using shortcuts will take you to detours which will lead to dead-ends.”

”The problem is that the teachers don’t have to listen to us”

The Boston Globe today has what I think is a pretty scary article today titled “Class difference: Poor neighborhoods around the world embrace a surprising idea: incredibly low-priced private schools.” It’s about the privatization of education in developing countries.

The article includes a short paragraph pointing out the dangers of this happening:

For critics, though, the popularity of low-cost schools is a dangerous trend, one that will ultimately marginalize the very poor. Society’s poorest, says Dina Craissati, UNICEF’s senior education adviser, often cannot pay even the very meager fees of budget schools. Worse, low-cost schools are ultimately unsustainable because ”in times of economic crisis, the poor will sacrifice nonessentials like schools fees first.” And finally, public schools are the only way to hold governments accountable for providing their citizens with education–a right that many countries have enshrined in their constitutions.

I was struck by what one Indian parent said when she described why she pulled her child out of a government school:

”The problem is that the teachers don’t have to listen to us.”

I don’t know much about the school system in India, but I suspect that countries around the world might want to start focusing more on parent engagement.

“Put the Parent Voice back in Public Education!”

“Put the Parent Voice back in Public Education!” is a letter hosted by where parents can sign and communicate their unhappiness with the Obama administration’s school “reform” efforts, including their lack of making parent engagement a priority.

I like what the letter says. However, during my twenty-year community organizing career, we always looked at letters and surveys as good for only being an excuse to talk with people face-to-face. I’m a bit skeptical that letters like this can really have an positive effect and, at times, can have the exact opposite results of having people feel like they’re doing something of substance when it’s unlikely to have any results.

I’m certainly open to being proven wrong.

Family Engagement in Education Act Introduced In Congress Today

The Family Engagement In Education Act was introduced in Congress today. The bill, championed by the National PTA would:

provide incentives to districts and schools to implement best practices, such as parent leadership academies, placing family engagement coordinators in schools, and professional development for educators on how to partner with families.

The Family Engagement in Education Act would also strengthen the sole federal program dedicated to parent engagement, the Parental Information and Resource Centers (PIRCs), to scale-up research-based strategies for engaging families. PIRCs currently serve over 16 million parents in all 50 states.

You can read more details about the bill in this downloadable PDF. It sounds pretty good to me.

However, I don’t have a clue what chances it has for passage. If you do, please leave a comment.

Ed Secretary Duncan Gives Speech On Family Involvement

Education Secretary Duncan just gave a speech on family involvement in schools which you can watch and hear at the Department of Education’s blog.

I was less than impressed.

He did say the administration wanted to double the spending requirement on parent involvement activities from one percent to two percent of Title 1 monies, but I’m not sure how big of a deal that is.

There wasn’t much to the rest of the speech.

I think in a future post I’ll write the speech that I’d like to hear him give….

What do you think about what he said?