“We need a real relationship with our schools, not one where a few people get together every now and then’’

At school focus groups, parents voice concerns, call for more input is the title of an article in today’s Boston Globe. It describes a series of fourteen parent focus groups organized by the school district to “solicit input about school closings, program changes, and other plans for the district.”

The title of this post comes from a parent’s quote cited in the article. This school district efforts appears, based on the article, to be a good and sincere first step toward connecting better with parents.

I’d be interested in hearing from local people if that’s an accurate picture of what’s going on…

“A New Era of Family Engagement”

A New Era of Family Engagement is the title of an article in The Education Innovator, a publication of the U.S. Department of Education.

It provides some good information and links. I’m a bit skeptical, however, about the “new era” headline. It seems a bit ironic that the article highlights the work of some Parent Information and Resource Centers while, at the same time, the Administration’s budget eliminates their funding.

NPR Series On Harlem Children’s Zone Replication

The deadline is approaching — this coming Monday — for applications to become one of the Obama Administration’s “Promise Neighborhoods” to “replicate” the Harlem Children’s Zone.

National Public Radio has just finished a two-part series on the prospects for these efforts:

Up For Grabs: $10M For Groups Reaching Kids

Lessons From Harlem Take Root In Tribal Lands

The HCZ obviously does very good work. I do have some questions, though, about how they relate to parents and to the broader community. From what I have learned (and that just comes from newspaper articles, reading the book Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America , and seeing some video interviews with Geoffrey Canada), I wonder if the HCZ might relate to parents more as clients rather than partners. I also don’t really know what kind of relationships they have with other neighborhood institutions like religious congregations and community groups (I have those same two critiques about most schools). If they don’t have that kind of grassroots base, I wonder how any kind of real neighborhood transformation will be able to take place.

If I’m correct in those concerns, I hope some of the twenty applicants who end up being chosen and approach those issues a bit differently.

Family Literacy Project Update

Regular readers are probably familiar with the internationally-recognized Family Literacy Project we have at our school that provides computers and home internet access to immigrant families. They, in turn, use the technology for English language development activities. We have also worked with the Sacramento Mutual Housing Association (SMHA) to expand the project to their affordable housing developments.

SMHA has just finished their third “cohort” of adults who they trained in both technology and in using tech to learn English. The assessment results have been similar to previous cohorts — here are the before and after test results from the fourteen participants (a mix of Mien and Vietnamese immigrant parents):

English: before –73% after — 89%

Technology:before — 0% after — 76%

These participants were at a somewhat higher English level than previous ones, but began with less understanding of tech than the other cohorts.

Now, after the three month, twice a week course, each of the fourteen families will be receiving a free computer and will have access to Internet service at the SMHA housing development.

Because of funding issues, the future of both our school’s project and the SMHA expansion is, unfortunately, in doubt.

This Looks Interesting — Connecticut Parent Trust Fund

I’ve just heard about the Connecticut Parent Trust Fund. This is how it describes itself:

The Parent Trust Fund helps communities improve the health, safety, and learning of their children by providing the funding needed to train parents in civic leadership. This is the first initiative of its kind in the nation. The Fund was established through groundbreaking legislation passed by the Connecticut General Assembly in June 2001. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation seeded the Trust with $250,000. The William Casper Graustein Memorial Fund followed as the first Connecticut foundation to contribute. With five years of success behind it, the Fund has earned strong bipartisan support from the governor, the legislature, and local elected officials.

Funds are allocated to nonprofit agencies that give parents the technical and civic skills they need to take active roles in their communities’ decisions for improving the health, safety, and learning of children.

It appears like they’ve funded some good stuff, which you can read about on their webpage.

Does anybody know more they’d care to add in the comments section of this post?

Interesting Effort In Boston To Connect School/Community

The Public School Insights blog has an interview with the leaders of a project in Boston called City Connects. It’s designed to help connect students to both school-based and community resources, and has resulted in higher student achievement.

Here’s an excerpt from the interview — both the question and its answer:

Public School Insights: In many policy debates recently, attempts to talk about the way in which out-of-school factors impede learning are often characterized as attempts to let schools off the hook, to make excuses for very poor schooling. Do you ever run up against that characterization?

DiNatale: I was a principal in Boston for 26 years. As the school leader it was my job to look at the root causes of the deficiency in scores of some of our students. And I did not want the faculty to put heavy emphasis on what I call blaming the student or blaming the family. We have to be realistic and know that as schools and as educators, we need to do much more and to accept more accountability for student achievement.
At the same time, we are educating whole children. Children who live in neighborhoods that are very impoverished in many ways, and we know poverty has an impact on student achievement. There are growing numbers of families not able to provide the opportunities that more affluent families can. Sometimes children’s health needs are not addressed in the way they need to be for them to come to school and sit in a classroom and learn.

We cannot negate any of that. We have to put systems in place to ensure that every child has his or her maximum opportunity to learn. And we should not blame anyone. We just say we know students have strengths and needs and that we must account for that if we want every child to achieve high standards.

“Should Parents Be Punished For Truancy?”

“Should Parents Be Punished For Truancy?” is an interesting, though, I don’t think, a particularly well-written, article in the Huffington Post.

Here are a some excerpts that raise important questions (though it’s focused on New York City, I think these may be issues faced in many districts):

Kelley’s story is just one of many that illustrates the flaws with how the current system deals with teenagers; they’re treated just like little kids even though there are vast differences in the reasons why a 16-year-old and why a six-year-old might miss school. Despite these differences, teenagers make up 61 percent of educational neglect reported to ACS….

Younger kids can’t get themselves to school on time so it is not unreasonable for parents to be held responsible. But teenagers have a far greater degree of independence and don’t always use it well. Rather than manage their time, they may stroll into class 20 minutes late. Rather than deal with a hated subject, they might skip. Rather than face bullies or teasing, they may avoid campus altogether. Matt Malloy, principal of Aspirations Diploma Plus High School in Brooklyn, said that parents usually don’t know about the absences, not because of neglect, but because of the student’s own design. “Very often what happens is the student has found a way to have the home not know what he or she is doing,” he said….

While parents aren’t absolved from the responsibility of seeing that their children attend school simply because they are teenagers, schools should be taking some responsibility to fix problems that may be contribute to absenteeism. Yet many schools simply report absences to ACS and shift responsibility onto an already overworked and underequipped system. The State Central Registry, where teachers call to report parents, is used by schools to wash “their hands of these cases,” said Mike Arsham, the executive director of the Child Welfare Organizing Project and one of the advisers of the Vera report.

For many schools, it seems that the priority is not always to protect the child, but to ensure educators cannot be held legally responsible if there is some kind of neglect.

It’s a challenging issue, and some kind of balance is needed.

What do you think?

Don’t Attend A Conference With Your Child’s Teacher? Then Get Fined Or Go To Jail!

Here’s another bad idea to promote parent engagement in schools — a Michigan prosecutor wants to make it illegal for a parent to miss a scheduled parent-teacher conference.

As I wrote in my post about an equally ill-conceived plan to make parent involvement mandatory in a San Jose school District (see “School to Parents: Volunteer or Else!”):

Why not make something mandatory… 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?

A Missed Opportunity By Secretary Duncan…

As I wrote over the weekend, Education Secretary Arne Duncan spoke at the National PTA Convention in Memphis.

The Department of Education has just made the transcript of his speech available. It has a great title: “Beyond Bubble Tests and Bake Sales: Secretary Arne Duncan’s Remarks at the 114th Annual National PTA Convention.”

Unfortunately, it turned out to be a missed opportunity.

He says all the words that everybody would expect and support about family involvement/engagement, though it would have been nice if he had tried to distinguish between parent involvement and parent engagement.

After he said this:

We need parents to speak out and drive change in chronically-underperforming schools where children receive an inferior education. With parental support, those struggling schools need to be turned around now because children get only one chance at an education.

I wish that he would have also considered reframing part of the issue by following it with something like this (which is part of what I write about in my book, Building Parent Engagement In Schools and which you can read more about in an article I wrote for Public School Insights):

(Again, this is what I wish he would have said)

Our administration also recognizes that many issues affecting student achievement are based outside the schoolhouse walls. And we recognize that in many communities, schools are some of the largest and most trusted neighborhood institutions. We are developing an effort to encourage and support schools to not only have them engage with families about their children’s schoolwork, but at the same time to ask them about the other pressures that affect their families — the lack of affordable housing, neighborhood safety, citizenship, jobs.

We want to provide incentives to schools to help connect families who have the same concern with each other and with other concerned local institutions. We want schools to regain their historical importance in developing and reinforcing social capital in their communities. One of the most important responsibilities our schools have is to prepare our young people to become active citizens in a democracy. Schools can do that by helping their students’ parents do the same. And by making that kind of connection with parents, and by taking an active role in improving their local neighborhoods, we can help our students reach high levels of academic achievement.

Oh, well, one can always dream…

On a different note, Secretary Duncan also said this:

Only by moving beyond basic skills and bubble tests, can children develop the critical-thinking skills that will one day give them the ability to compete successfully in the global economy.

I was struck by this comment for two reasons:

One, it seems to me most of his education agenda is targeted towards increasing the importance of bubble tests, not moving beyond them.

Secondly, though I understand the job and career preparation is a key part of what happens in schools, I wish he would have some of the other purposes behind a well-rounded education, like becoming an active citizen in a democracy.

What’s your take on his speech?

Our High School Will Be Making One Thousand Home Visits….This Summer

Readers of this blog and my book know how highly I think of the Parent Teacher Home Visit Project.

With the support of the PTHVP, staff at our school have made about 400 home visits to students each year for the past few years.

This summer, though, under the leadership of Elisa Gonzalez, our extraordinary parent engagement staffperson, and Assistant Principal Mai Xi Lee, we’ll be making 1,000 visits over the next two-and-a-half months. The families of all incoming ninth-graders, eleventh-graders who have not yet passed the California High School Exit Exam, and all seniors will receive a visit from teachers and/or classified staff from our school. It looks like about 65% of our teachers will be participating.

I’m just going to make 10-15 of them, targeting the students who will be in my double-period mainstream ninth-grade English class. That class is geared towards those who need extra support.

I think it’s a pretty impressive undertaking…

Dept. Of Ed Hosts Meeting To Discuss Family Engagement

The Department of Education’s blog has just published a report titled “Parents Gather in Washington, D.C., to Discuss Rights and Responsibilities.”

Here’s an excerpt:

More than 250 parents, grandparents, caregivers and community members from 17 states gathered in the Department of Education’s auditorium on May 26 for a dialogue with a panel of senior ED officials.

The 90-minute discussion touched on meaningful ways to support family engagement in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), supporting children with special needs, and the allocation of Title I funding in schools.

I hadn’t heard about the meeting, and can’t find anything else on the Web about it other than that blog post.

Does anyone who reads this blog know anything more about what happened? If you do, please leave a comment…

New PostRank Widget For This Blog

I’ve just created a “widget” from PostRank, which rates the popularity (they call it “engagement”) for each of my posts.

I’ll have it on the left sidebar of the blog. It might be worth looking at now-and-then.

I tried including it in this post, too, though for some reason it didn’t work here. But, as I mentioned, you can see it directly on my blog itself.

National Center on Parent, Family and Community Engagement

The United States Department of Health and Human Services is accepting proposals to form a National Center on Parent, Family and Community Engagement. Three million dollars is allocated for the project.

Here is how it is described:

The Center will showcase key research-based strategies related to parent, family and community engagement practices that are positively associated with the development of and learning for children from birth-to-five. The Center will develop and disseminate targeted T/TA strategies for teachers, home visitors, family service workers and other front line staff who have direct contact with parents to support them in working cooperatively with families and provide parents with strategies that support their children’s education. The Center will develop strategies appropriate for linguistically and culturally diverse groups of parents and children in order to ensure that all families have access to high quality early childhood services. The scope of services may include health and nutrition education; medical and dental services; social services; and parent engagement and involvement.

It sounds interesting and potentially useful…

School-Based Health Clinics

Partnering with the Community to Ensure Student Health: Montrose County School District RE-1J’s School-Based Health Clinics is a post from Public School Insights that describes in detail the success of school-based health clinics in Colorado. It’s really quite impressive. The post also describes the rationale behind the clinics and their connection to increased academic achievement.

It’s obviously been quite successful on a number of levels. My only reservation is that, based on the article, it appears that parents — from the beginning — have been viewed more as clients than as partners in the clinics’ creation and governance. I wonder parent engagement would have made the clinic even more successful?

Public School Insights also has another important post describing more in-depth how Healthier Students are Better Learners.