President Obama On Parent Engagement

I’ve just written a post at my other blog about today’s Univision Town Hall Meeting on Education with President Obama. Here’s is an excerpt from his comments:

What we’re trying to do as the government is to make sure that we’re providing more incentives for schools to improve their parental involvement programs. We’re trying to make sure that schools are open and understand that it is up to them to provide a welcoming environment to parents so that they can be involved in their child’s education.

And specifically with respect to young people who are coming to school and English may not be their native language, we’ve got to make sure that we continue to fund strong programs, both bilingual education programs but also immersion programs that ensure that young people are learning English but they’re not falling behind in their subjects even as they are learning English.

And there’s a way to do that that is effective. We have schools that do it very well; there are some schools that don’t do it as well. We want to lift up those models that do it well. And parents should be demanding and insisting that even if your child is not a native English speaker, there is no reason why they can’t succeed in school, and schools have an obligation to make sure that those children are provided for. They have rights just like everybody else.

Now It’s Hartford’s Turn To Show How NOT To Do Parent Involvement

I was a community organizer for nineteen years prior to becoming a teacher, and one of the lessons we learned from the work of Saul Alinsky (the father of modern-day community organizing) was that “the price of criticism is a constructive alternative.” I think I’ve provided plenty of examples of effective parent engagement/involvement — both in this blog and in my book.

I guess, though, in addition to making lists of how to do it, I will need to make a list of how NOT to do it. In the past few months, I’ve shared how badly Newark and New York City is doing on parent engagement. Now, it’s Hartford’s turn for the limelight.

NPR reports about it in a story titled In Hartford, Parents Don’t Always Pick Best Schools. School District officials just can’t believe that parents might use a different standard to judge their schools other than the arbitrary method of standardized test scores (maybe they need to read The Best Resources Showing Why We Need To Be “Data-Informed” & Not “Data-Driven”).

Because parents don’t “understand” that test scores are the only true basis on which they should judge a school, the district believe that they need to initiate a campaign “to get more information out to parents because, the theory goes, good information makes for better school choices.” They’ve even hired an advertising consultant to help them do it.

After all, what do parents like Myesha Simpson know:

“I love the school because I love the teachers, I love the way they teach, I love they way they solve their problems, I love the way they handle things,” Simpson says…She says that more information from the district might change the choices some parents make, but it won’t change hers.

No, instead of trying to learn from parents, hubris and a condescending attitude is the way to really connect with families….

Now It’s New York City’s Turn To Show Us How NOT To Do Parent Engagement

Earlier this month, I wrote about how Newark Continues To Show The World How NOT To Do Parent Involvement/Engagement.

It now looks like the school district in my native town, New York City, is giving Newark a run for its money.

The New York Times reports this about the Office of Family Engagement:

In January, at a meeting of parent coordinators from a number of schools, employees of the office asked them to forge relationships with parents who they thought might speak out in support of the department’s policies, including its controversial push to close failing schools. The employees at one point used a nickname to describe the type of parents they were looking for: “Happy Harrys,” and not “Angry Sallys,” as two coordinators recalled it.

And on Tuesday, an employee at the office circulated a petition among nearly 400 coordinators citywide, asking them to round up parents’ signatures. The petition was in support of one of the mayor’s most concerted political efforts of the year: to persuade the Legislature to end the law protecting the most senior teachers in the event of layoffs.

You can read more about this at Gotham Schools.

Of course, why should District staff spend their time asking parents for ideas, connecting them with other parents, and helping teachers and families work together to help students? Instead, let’s develop our political agenda, organize parent against parent and parent against teacher. That is what parent engagement is all about, isn’t it?

Again, Let’s Not Blame Parents

An Indianapolis newspapers has just run an article about an understandably frustrated teacher who want the state to mandate parent involvement in schools using the “stick” approach (I’ve previously posted about the dangers of that approach in Teachers Have Got To Stop Blaming Parents).

Thankfully, the reporter also contacted renowned parent involvement researcher Anne Henderson. Here is that piece of the article:

Anne T. Henderson, a leading researcher on parental involvement in schools who is a senior consultant with the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, said good outreach to parents — along with training that teachers like — are two of the most important factors in gains in student achievement.

But Henderson said parent involvement couldn’t effectively be mandated.

“I think we need to take a proactive, preventive approach, but not a punitive approach,” Henderson said. “I don’t think that would work, and I don’t think there’s any research that shows it would work.”

But, she said, there are things schools can do that don’t involve a big stick.

Teachers must reach out to parents and meet them face-to-face, either by meeting them in the afternoon car pickup line or going to their homes. They must stay in touch with parents when things are going well, not just when there is a problem. And they must send home learning materials that parents can work on with children.

“What’s important,” she said, “is that the culture of the school is family-friendly.”

“Preparing Teachers for Family Engagement”

Preparing Teachers for Family Engagement is the headline of the newest free email newsletter from the Family Involvement Network of Educators from Harvard.

Here’s a short excerpt of their description of what’s included:

Elise Trumbull, EdD, co-creator of the Bridging Cultures Project, discusses the challenges of communicating with families from different cultural backgrounds. She presents a framework to help teachers understand cultural patterns, as well as guidelines for cross-cultural parent–teacher conferences. We also feature two innovative methods for training teachers to communicate with families in Voices from the Field: Carol St. George, a visiting assistant professor at the University of Rochester, discusses an innovative method for parent–teacher collaboration in elementary school literacy learning, and we follow up with Maria Paredes from Creighton School District in Arizona, first profiled last fall, about her work preparing teachers to share student data with families through Academic Parent–Teacher Teams.