Parents & Homework

Here’s an excerpt from an interesting new study on parents and homework (you can read more about it here):

Parents who want to improve their child’s motivation to complete homework this school year need to change their own attitude and behavior, according to a new study by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) researchers.

In the study published in Learning and Individual Differences, BGU researchers found that if parents had a more positive, supportive attitude and communicated the learning value as motivation, rather than focusing on completing an assignment or getting a higher grade, then the child’s attitude and motivation would improve.

This study might provide some “grist” for a good conversation with parents…..

Teacher Home Visits Are Important, But The Post’s Jay Mathews Misses The Point

I often disagree with The Washington Post’s education writer Jay Mathews, but I think he’s generally pretty thoughtful. In the past week or so, though, he’s written a couple of columns where I’ve heartily agreed with his main idea. At the same time, though, some of his reasoning has been completely off-base.

I’ve already written about his column (see I Think These Critiques Of Parent Trigger Laws Are Missing The Point…) where he opposed the parent trigger  because, among other reasons, he doesn’t think parents know enough about schools to change them.

Now he writes in support of teachers making visits to parents homes. I’m obviously a big supporter of those: I’ve made scores of them; our school makes hundreds each year, I wrote a chapter about them in my book on parent engagement, I’ve written numerous related posts here, and I write articles about them all the time. In fact, my recent article for ASCD Educational Leadership, Involvement or Engagement, emphasized their importance.

Mathews begins and ends his column speaking positively of new Chicago Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard’s effort to implement a teacher home visit program there, and mentions that many spoke negatively of it there. But Mathews misses the main point, which is the mistake made by so many (though, not all) of those who label themselves “school reformers” — Brizard announced his plan without any consultation with those who were going to have to be actually doing the work, the teachers!

Oh, and what else was happening in Chicago then? Brizard announced his home visit plan within days of the Chicago School Board retracting its promise to increase the salaries of teachers while increasing the salaries of its Central Office staff. At the same time he proposed the home visits, he recommended eliminating teacher professional development days and pay increases due to seniority or teachers obtaining additional credentials. Again, without any teacher consultation.

That’s a picture perfect model of how not to initiate a teacher home visit plan.

When I talk about parents connecting to schools, I suggest that schools need to move away from one-way communication to and, instead, move towards two-way conversation with parents. That might be a good policy for school reformers and Superintendents to follow with teachers, too.

I do have issues with a couple of other items in Mathews column. First, he quotes the director of a Washington, D.C. non-profit saying this:

“Home visits by themselves do not correlate into academic achievement,” he said. “However, if done with academic goals and targets as the objectives, they do work.”

In my book and in my Educational Leadership article, I cite research studies that have indeed shown a direct connection between home visits and student academic achievement. In addition, the premiere organization in the United States promoting these visits, The Parent Teacher Home Visit Project, emphasizes that building a relationship between teacher and parent needs to be the primary goal, not academic targets (that’s not to say those can’t be mentioned, but relationship-building is the key).

Also, Mathews describes teachers going to parent homes unannounced. Hey, I’m all for teachers doing them whatever way they want, but my experience, and the experience of the Parent Teacher Home Visit Project, clearly points to a better practice of calling to arrange an appointment ahead of time. It’s more respectful, and some parents might prefer to meet at a nearby coffee shop instead. The Industrial Areas Foundation, the national organization that employed me as a community organizer for nineteen years prior to my becoming a teacher, sometimes worked with schools to organize special Saturdays where teams of teachers and parents would sweep through a local neighborhood for visits, but those were always widely publicized ahead of time.

So, yes, Jay, teacher home visits are great. But let’s try to include a little more context, please. The word “context” comes from the Latin contextus, which means “a joining together.” If Superintendents and school reformers kept that idea in mind, some of their ideas might get a more positive reception among teachers.

I Think These Critiques Of Parent Trigger Laws Are Missing The Point…

This week there have been two articles/posts published sharing critiques of the parent trigger law. Once came from Washington Post reporter Jay Mathews, who wrote Why parents can’t save schools. The other piece was in Thoughts On Public Education and shared quotes from a number trigger critics and advocates. Several perspectives in that article and Jay’s piece communicated that the parent trigger law was bad because parents didn’t know enough to effectively improve schools.

Look, I’m obviously no fan of the parent trigger as you can see from The Best Resources For Learning Why The Parent Trigger Isn’t Good For Parents, Kids Or Schools. However, I think the condescending and paternalistic objection to it that parents don’t know enough about education to effectively engage in school improvement efforts is off-base.

As most readers know, I was a community organizer for nineteen years before becoming a teacher nine years ago. An often-repeated organizer adage is that often the people most directly affected by the problem have some pretty good ideas on how to get it fixed. Education is no exception.

The key, though, is using organizing techniques in the open and respectful way that has been shown to be effective time and time again. In this process, the leadership comes from a local institution with longstanding ties in the local community; an invitation for outside assistance — if it is needed — comes from those local leaders; residents organize to ask their neighbors what their concerns are without the people doing the asking having a preconceived set of problems and solutions they want to see prioritized; community members meet with all stakeholders in the problem to share concerns, learn new ideas for solving them, and develop allies; and then negotiations begin to achieve a solution. Perhaps a little money was raised to pay for an organizer to work a few hours each week on the effort, but the emphasis is on what Saul Alinsky called “The Iron Rule” — never do for others what they can do for themselves.

Contrast this with the parent trigger campaign as it has been waged in California — an outside group with zero ties to a local community parachutes several fulltime organizers into a neighborhood that they picked for its demographics; the group has a clear agenda and is generously funded by several foundations with their own clear political agenda; there are no meetings with any other stakeholders to identify common issues and explore new solutions; and a non-negotiable demand is then announced.

This warped and manipulative use of a few organizing techniques in the cause of the parent trigger is what we should all be objecting to — not to parent engagement in school improvement efforts. Parents can and must be a key ally to educators as we fight back against attacks on us, our schools and our students and we can do so by using the genuine art and the spirit of community organizing.

Parent trigger initiatives are stalling throughout the country, which is no great surprise because that’s what tends to be the result of manipulative and condescending strategies. Let’s not let the strategists behind it pull victory out of the jaws of defeat by driving a wedge between us and the parents of the children we teach.

“Education must spread beyond school”

Education must spread beyond school is the headline of a Financial Times article discussing a New Zealand study on the topic, an international survey, and parent involvement efforts in the Middle East.

If you click on the link, you may or may not be prompted to register on the site for free in order to access the article. If that happens, you can either access it or just search for the article on the Web. Clicking on it via search results will gain you immediate access.

I’ve previously posted quite a bit about parent engagement efforts in countries other than the United States.