A national grassroots organization called Parents Across America — a leading group in a young, growing protest movement against test-based school reform — just released its own blueprint for the rewriting of No Child Left Behind.
There are obviously a lot of concerns with doing something like this, not least of which being many families can’t afford computers or Internet access. Some school officials raise those concerns within the article, and say that’s why they use multi-lingual phone polling, too.
When I was a community organizer, we used to say the only reason to do a survey or poll was to have an excuse to engage in a conversation. Because of the belief, I’m very wary of schools making any kinds of decisions based on surveys — online or by phone. People are generally restricted to the multiple choice answers provided, and you can’t really determine how strongly people feel about a topic — some will say what they think they should say and not what they really think. You also can’t identify a person’s leadership potential or their social network, and you can’t develop a relationship with them through a survey, either.
I hope online polling doesn’t doesn’t make schools feel like they are really doing anything to engage parents. It’s just another form of one-way communication, and not the two-way conversation, schools need to have with families.
Online polling could have a small place in the scheme of things, but, if I were a school administrator, I wouldn’t place a whole lot of confidence in it.
I’m concerned, though, about many of them relating to parents as clients instead of partners.
I had some email with Mary Ann Zehr about that issue today, and she graciously gave me permission to publish it here:
First, here was my question to her:
I really liked your community schools story today, and am a big advocate of them. However, one of the missed opportunities I have seen with many is that the school staff often decide what they should offer and how, with very little input from parents themselves. I’m going to point readers of my parents blog to your story, but I was wondering if you had any sense of if parents were and are involved in the decision to be more of a community school and how the programs are run?
Here is her response:
I don’t feel qualified to say how much input parents are giving into how the community schools should be run because that wasn’t the focus of my reporting. At Lincoln School, I attended a morning “coffee” hosted by the school for parents. Several parents and grandparents told me they regularly attend such events. They expressed appreciation for input they’d received about nutrition through that venue. At the “coffee”, several community people gave presentations for programs the attendees can get involved in, such as a program to support grandparents who are raising their grandchildren. The meeting was facilitated by a parent coordinator employed by Lincoln School; she seemed to have a good relationship with the parents. The parent coordinator has used the parents’ ideas for speakers and topics at the meetings. I didn’t ask how parents were involved in the various structures, such as the School Community Council, that are in charge of the school-community connections.
Do you know of community schools that have genuine partnerships with their students’ families?
… would require that all students enrolling in school for the first time document their immigration status by presenting their Social Security number, passport or visa to the school system. According to Weaver, the purpose of her bill is to keep track of the number of undocumented students in the state and to analyze their financial impact on taxpayers.
If students don’t have those documents, they will have to provide a written affidavit saying so.
He shares a story about his supportive parents, and ends with this:
This is why I consistently remind educators never to take parents for granted. Parents can and often do make the difference for children. When parents are treated with dignity and respect by those who educate their children they can be partners who can make the job of educating children much easier and more successful.
CNN produced this video story on “Parent University” in Philadelphia. It seems like an okay program, but it could be so much more. Elisa Gonzalez, the Parent Coordinator at our school, has, I think, developed a national model of what a “Parent University” can really become — by first asking parents what they want to learn, and then having parents take leadership in development.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan spoke to this year’s gathering of the “Mom Congress.” In his speech, he told all about his family engagement ideas, but didn’t say anything about…perhaps asking parents what they thought might be needed. Here’s the video:
So many well-intentioned people don’t have much of a clue when it comes to listening….
“I’ve always talked about, especially in the past week, parent involvement, parent engagement, making sure that parents are totally invested in what’s happening in their child’s school,” he said.
Perhaps it was just an oddly-worded comment in the moment, but saying you’ve “always” been some way, “especially in the past week,” could leave one wondering how serious a commitment we’re talking about.