Teachers Have Got To Stop Blaming Parents

I’ve said it before (see Not A Good Message Via Comic Strip (Or Any Other Medium)), and I’ll say it again — teachers have got to stop reacting to all the recent teacher-bashing by, in turn, bashing parents.

A recent piece in The Huffington Post titled Dear Davis Guggenheim, Sec. Arne Duncan, et. al falls into that same trap, and I’m hearing it more and more.

Yes, many of our students have challenging family situations, and those challenges make it more difficult for our students to learn. And their test scores are hurt as a result. And, yes, then that gives many so-called school reformers a club they can use to bash us.

But if teachers want to be effective, instead of feeling “right,” we need to emphasize reaching out and connecting with parents, who are our natural allies. In fact, they are probably our most important ones.

Let’s work with him to attack many of the problems that contribute to the challenges many face — lack of affordable housing, community safety, health care.

Let’s not “cut off our nose to spite our face.”

NEA “Community Conversation” Project

From The National Education Association’s “Opening Bell:”

The Gaithersburg (MD) Gazette ) reports that residents in District Heights, Maryland, are participating in the NEA’s Community Conversation. According to Brenda Vincent, an NEA senior policy analyst, the “public engagement project began in 1997 as a way for communities to meet and identify whether family and community involvement, effective programs, or adequate resources are the key to eliminate achievement gaps in their local schools.” The first Community Conversation was held last week, and another is planned for February 2011. “After the second meeting, a final action plan will be given to NEA that can help the GDHCC identify grant money to solve specific issues by spring 2011,” according to the Gazette.

“Transforming Schools Through Family, School, and Community Engagement”

Transforming Schools Through Family, School, and Community Engagement is the title of a recorded webinar that can be viewed for free online.

The presenters are:

* Jim Shelton, Assistant Deputy Secretary, Office of Innovation and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education
* Anna Hinton, Director, Parental Options and Information, Office of Innovation and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education
* Heather Weiss, Founder & Director, Harvard Family Research Project
* Nina Sazer O’Donnell, Vice President, Education, United Way Worldwide
* Ron Mirr, Iowa State PIRC, RM Consulting

It’s the first in a series of webinars titled “Transforming Schools Through Family, School, and Community Engagement.” They’re being sponsored by The U.S. Department of Education and its partners United Way Worldwide, National PTA, SEDL, and Harvard Family Research Project.

“Parents as engaged partners (Session Highlights)”

Lyn Hilt has written a summary of yesterday’s online discussion at Connected Principals on engaging parents as partners.

Here’s an excerpt:

Parent involvement vs. engagement was a common theme throughout the session. We may have compliant students in our classrooms, but this does not necessarily mean they are engaged learners. Similarly, we have many parents who are involved in our schools in that they do what we want them to do, but we must get them to the point where they’re engaged and have a voice in what we’re doing on a day-to-day basis. Patrick Larkin addressed how we can continue to develop connections with parents and use social media to develop those connections. One of his important points was that we can’t just involve “the chosen few” in our schools, we have to have all parents involved.

How Does Michelle Rhee View Parent Engagement/Involvement?

Leigh Dingerson has an excellent article in the most recent issue of ReThinking Schoolsdescribing Michelle Rhee’s history as Chancellor of Washington, D.C. public school.

I was particularly struck with her section on parent engagement/involvement. I’d encourage you to read the whole piece, but here’s one passage:

“She creates lots of opportunities for people to learn what’s going on,” reflects Jill Weiler, a DCPS parent and community organizer. “I think she really does listen. But it doesn’t seem to influence her.” For example, in December 2007, Rhee announced the closing or consolidation of two dozen schools. Parents, teachers, and students were frustrated at Rhee’s failure to inform, much less involve the impacted communities before the announcement. As required by DCPS rules, Rhee subsequently held a series of community hearings at the affected schools, but made few changes to the plan.

It’s obviously not surprising, but it’s just another reason for all of us here in Sacramento to be concerned about her coming arrival here.

Michigan Prosecutor Has Too Much Time On Her Hands

I’ve previously posted about a Michigan prosecutor who has proposed sending parents to jail if they don’t attend conferences with their child’s teacher (and I’ve commented about why it’s such a ridiculous idea).

Happily, the idea continues to go nowhere, but she doesn’t seem to stop talking about it.

You can read updates at Worthy proposes jail for parents who skip kids’ school conferences and at Would the threat of jail time prompt parents to meet with teachers? Wayne County prosecutor pitches plan.

“Engaging Parents As Partners”

Connected Principals, a group of administrators from the United States and Canada for whom I have the greatest respect, are sponsoring a free online discussion this Sunday afternoon on:

…the importance of parent engagement in our school improvement efforts. The Connected Principals believe strongly that the only way we can have meaningful change is to have parents engaged in this work.

Parents, teachers, and other administrators are welcome to participate in the 5:30-6:30 p.m. (EST) discussion.

The announcement goes on to say:

While many of us have parents involved in our schools, few of us have parents engaged as active voices in our school improvement initiatives. This discussion will feature both the Parent and the Principal voice while touching on some of the concrete actions some school communities are taking to engage parents.

“Building Stronger Relationships Between Families, Schools and Communities”

Building Stronger Relationships Between Families, Schools and Communities is the title of a post at the National Education Association’s Priority Schools blog.

The post includes a video where “Kim Oliver Burnim, a National Board Certified Teacher and a former Teacher of the Year….. shared how to engage parents more meaningfully.”

Schools, And Parent Engagement, Don’t Seem To Be Rahm Emanuel’s Strong Suit

Rahm Emanuel gave an interview with the Chicago Tribune on Monday and spoke a lot about his plans for schools.

They were all pretty bad, including his idea about parent engagement:

The city could reward schools with greater parental involvement by giving them more money, he said. Chicago Public Schools could track how many parents pick up report cards or attend parent-teacher conferences, and those figures could be used in a school funding formula, Emanuel said.

Paying schools for those sort of minimal activities is only a slightly less-worse idea than paying parents directly. But it is rewarding the least “engaging” form of parent connection.

How about providing grants to schools who want to do programs that truly engage parents, instead?

“Digital Parent Engagement”

Lorna Costantini has developed an excellent presentation on how schools can use technology to connect with parents.

Check-out her Digital Parent Engagement – k12Online Conference 2010 presentation.

This is how she describes it:

This video shares some of the best practices of innovative teachers and parents who are using digital technology to form strong positive working relationships and give parents tools that they can use to support their child’s learning.

Not A Good Message Via Comic Strip (Or Any Other Medium)

Family Tree is a comic strip drawn by Signe Wilkinson which is often funny and insightful (coincidentally, thirty years ago she and I met several times in Philadelphia when I was an intern at the nonprofit where her husband worked).

Her comic strip today, though I’m sure well-intentioned, communicates a message that I think is not helpful to the debate about how to improve schools.

It has someone going around asking parents to sign a petition demanding teachers be evaluated by their students test scores, and shows a parent eager signing it. Then a child comes around asking parents to sign a petition demanding that parents, too, be rated, and get a door slammed in their face.

I do not believe “value-added” teacher assessment based on test scores is a good way to evaluate teachers. Parents are allies in efforts to improve our schools, and surveys show that. Let’s engage in dialogue, not ridicule them.

What A Terrible Video About Parents & Schools With A Terrible Message

Parent Revolution, the charter school affiliated group behind the faulty and ill-conceived “parent trigger” mechanism in California the facilitates charter school takeovers of schools, has produced an awful video to publicize this “trigger.”

It begins with this:

Our schools are failing because they are not designed to succeed. They are designed to serve the needs of special interests and bureaucrats — not children. The only way to change that is to give power to the only people who only care about children — parents.

Now, that’s what I call a positive message communicating the kind of cooperation we need to help our schools. Let’s start off with stomping on schools, then stomping on teachers and teachers unions (the “special interests”), and then let’s further increase the barrier by not acknowledging that most teachers are parents, too. And let’s not even mention the “special interest” of the charter school operator Parent Revolution works with.

The video goes on to not offer even a sliver of possibility of parents working with teachers and schools to improve them.

It’s amazing how much self-righteousness and hypocrisy can be combined into a four-and-a-half minute video.