“Dear President Obama…Sincerely, Parents Across America”

Dear President Obama…Sincerely, Parents Across America is a follow-up letter that was sent a few months ago (“Put the Parent Voice back in Public Education!”). A group of organized parents offer a critique of the President’s education policies.

I’ll repeat what I said then:

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.

Houston Announces They Are Going To Start Paying Parents — And Students, Too

Wow, yesterday I shared the announcement of a Delaware school district starting the very bad idea of paying parents to attend school events, but at least they didn’t say they were going to use the money to pay students to improve test scores.

Now, the Houston School District has announced they are going to go for a “twofer” by using both discredited strategies — they’re not only going to use $1.5 million to pay students for good scores, they are also going to pay parents to attend parent-teacher conferences.

What are these guys thinking?

In yesterday’s post I explained my reasons for why these are very bad ideas…

Dept. Of Ed’s Notice Of Proposed Priorities Don’t Include Communities Or Parent Engagement

Sue Ferguson from National Coalition For Parent Involvement In Education just sent out this alert:

This week, the U.S. Department of Education published the Notice of Proposed Priorities (NPP) for the Secretary’s Priorities for Discretionary Grant Programs in the Federal Register. The Secretary proposes thirteen priorities that the Department may use, as appropriate, for discretionary grant competitions in FY 2011 and future years. These priorities will allow the Department and, by extension, program participants to focus limited Federal resources on areas of greatest educational need. (You can see them here)

There is no mention of families or communities in any of the Priorities. Please read. You must respond by September 7th

I have to admit that I don’t the slightest idea how important this omission is or even how likely the Department will spend any money on any of the priorities. I had never even heard of an “NPP” before today.

Does a reader know if this omission is really a big deal? If so, please leave a comment….

Another Bad Parent Engagement Strategy: Delaware District Wants To Pay Parents To Come To School Events

One Delaware School District wants to use a portion of their Race To The Top monies to pay parents to come to certain school events.

Bad idea.

Very bad idea.

New York City Mayor Bloomberg recently closed down an effort that including paying parents to do the same thing. New York City had started a heralded, and expensive, conditional cash transfer program heavily focused on school-related objectives. The program announced the results of an evaluation of the program in and it didn’t work, particularly for the school-related goals.

It doesn’t work to bribe students, and it won’t work to bribe parents.

How is the district going to handle it when some parents get the money and others do not?

How about using that money to hire someone to work with parents to see if they want to develop a parent-directed Parent University.

Or maybe use it to bring in the Parent Teacher Home Visit Project and use those resources to provide stipends so teachers can out to visit parents.

I hope the District comes to its senses.

Parents & The Controversy Over The LA Times Story On Evaluating Teachers

The Los Angeles Times published a very controversial article this month publicly linking student scores to individual teachers, and using that to evaluate whether teachers were “effective” or “ineffective.” You can read more about it at The Best Posts About The LA Times Article On “Value-Added” Teacher Ratings.

Steve Zimmer, a member of the Los Angeles Board of Education, published a commentary on the Huffington Post on the article, and talked about how it portrayed parents:

The most insidious and reckless part of the Times story can be found in the final section entitled “Parental Trust.” The Times’ argument here: if you are a parent and you trust your teachers and your school you are naïve, you are ignorant and you are hurting your child. The message is damning and it is clear. The editor’s decision to highlight the positive quote by parent Maura Merino about her son’s teachers was juxtaposed with a line beneath it that said her son’s teacher was in fact ineffective. The Times seeks to explode the bonds of trust painstakingly built in schools across the city and to challenge the esteem teachers hold in many communities.

It’s a column well worth reading….

More On “City Connects”

In June, I wrote about a Public School Insights piece on a program in Boston connecting schools and communities.

Last month, Public School Insights did a follow-up interview with people in two schools who were responsible for making the program work. It’s worth reading the whole post, but here’s one question and answer that struck me:

Public School Insights: You mentioned earlier, Kathleen, that you have been able to tailor the services that kids receive to their needs and their families’ needs. How do you get into a position where you really get to know families and interact with them? Do you find that a critical piece of the work you do?

Kathleen Carlisle: I think that is an absolutely essential piece, but it is a piece that takes a lot of time and hard work. When I walked into the office, I did not know anyone. I didn’t have a rapport with them. I did not have trust. It took years to build relationships with parents and students. And it took years of effort and results before I built those relationships to the point where they feel comfortable calling me, e-mailing me, coming to my office. So it takes time. And it takes a willingness to reach out and get to know people and understand them.

Sounds like a very realistic perspective….

Parental Academy Program In Texas

Moving English Language Learners to College- and Career-Readiness is an “issue brief” from The American Youth Policy Forum.

I was particularly intrigued by a short description of what one Texas school District does to connect to parents, and how it benefits both the parents and students. Here’s an excerpt:

Hidalgo ISD has worked hard to involve parents and other local stakeholders in the process of moving
ELLs along college and career pathways. The district offers continuing educational services to students’
parents through its Parental Academy Program. The Parental Academy offers courses ranging from
beginning English language skills to entrance into two- and four-year postsecondary programs.
Depending upon their English proficiency and educational background, parents can start anywhere
along the continuum and participate in courses that include preparation for obtaining a GED and
occupational skills training.

The Parental Academy has been credited not only with helping parents to further their education, but
also with instilling a college-going focus within students’ home lives. Through this program, parents and
students are able to experience the educational process together. Families strive for higher educational
attainment, creating a culture of academic achievement within the home.

Is anybody aware of similar efforts around the country, or world?

Another Example Of What “Parent Involvement” Should Not Look Like…

How a fifth-grader spent his summer vacation on worksheets is the title of a post from Gotham Schools. It describes a school giving students a book billed as a “parent involvement resource” to complete over the summer. It’s basically a collection of mind-numbingly dull worksheets.

As a commenter on the blog suggests, why couldn’t the school just give the kid cash equivalent to the cost of the book so he could buy some books he wants to read?

“As Parents Protest, Chancellor and Panel Leave”

As Parents Protest, Chancellor and Panel Leave is the headline of a New York Times article today about how the Chancellor of Education in New York City and a city education panel walked out of a meeting rather than changing the agenda so public comment from parents could come before — rather than after- the rest of their scheduled agenda.

I obviously don’t know all the details of what occurred at the meeting. However, do know that during my nineteen year community organizing career I was regularly amazed that public bodies like city councils, planning commissions, and school boards would regularly refuse to change their meeting agendas so that the public could comment on items early so they could go home. Hundreds of people, many with kids, would often have to wait for many minutes or hours because of the petty arrogance of public officials who refused to deviate from their established routine.

One would think that this New York educational panel would want to do everything possible to encourage parent participation, not discourage it.

UPDATE: Here’s another piece on what happened. Be sure to look at comments.

Student Mental Health Needs & Parent Engagement

Lisa Lambert is the director of PAL, a statewide, family-run, grassroots nonprofit organization based in Boston that promotes children’s mental health.

She writes a blog called Hold On, It’s Not Over, and last month wrote a great post titled “Family engagement is a two way street.” It describes the difference between parent involvement and parent engagement from a mental health perspective. It’s very similar to how I describe the difference in my book. Here’s an excerpt, though I’d encourage you to go to her blog and read the post in its entirety:

Family involvement is often unilateral. A program might develop family-program activities without parent input in order to help the program achieve its own goals. A school summons parents to hear their information, not to contribute their own information. A clinical team has recommendations for parents on how to improve family involvement. In each of these instances, the program assumes they are the experts about the child and the parents are the learners. There is a single approach for all families.

Family engagement, on the other hand, is a two-way street. A program works together with families to develop activities that promote goals that they share. They always seek family input when developing plans to increase family involvement. A school listens to and includes the input of families. A clinical team believes that each person, including the parent and youth, has expertise and information to share. All of them assume that parents care about their child’s progress and well being when planning interventions and treatments. They respect the differences of each family and understand that one strategy is unlikely to work for everyone.

What Do Latino Parents Say About Schools?

The Associated Press and Univision just published a poll they did with Latinos across the United States.

You can read a summary written by Education Week and one done by the San Francisco Examiner.

And you can read the actual poll results from AP here.

You can also see an Associated Press interactive, which makes the results much more accessible.

I’m still trying to digest it myself, but here are some results that stood out to me:

* In response to the question:”Do you expect your own (child) (children) to go to college, or do you expect them to
not go to college, or don’t you have any expectation either way?” 94% said “I expect my own (child) (children)
to go to college”

That was a higher percentage than I would have expected, given some of the challenges we face with parents of some of our Latinos students.

* And in response to the question: “What do you think is the one most important goal for a girl to have right after high
school? Is it …” 74% answered “Attending a four-year college” (for boys it was 71% percent)

Again, that was a pleasant surprise.

There’s lots more there, but I just don’t have time right now to review it completely. Feel free to leave a comment on what you find interesting in it.

“The Power of the Parent Voice”

The Power of the Parent Voice: Secretary Arne Duncan’s Remarks at the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) Leadership Mega Conference is a long title for a speech that Secretary Duncan recently gave to a group that I assume included many parents of children with special challenges.

He spoke extensively about the role of parents — scroll about halfway down the transcript.

I’d be interested in hearing from parents of children in special education about how they think the Department of Education is doing in its parent involvement/engagement policies.

Please leave a comment…