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.

Here’s How NOT To Introduce The Idea Of Teacher Home Visits…

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, its new Superintendent proposed to eliminate teacher professional development days and pay increases due to seniority or teachers obtaining additional credentials. He also wants to have teachers make two home visits a year to their students.

Oh, and he just announced these plans to the press without talking to teachers or their union.

I’m obviously all for teachers making home visits, but this is definitely not the way to get teacher buy-in…

“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.

Our High School Will Be Making One Thousand Home Visits….This Summer

Readers of this blog and my book know how highly I think of the Parent Teacher Home Visit Project.

With the support of the PTHVP, staff at our school have made about 400 home visits to students each year for the past few years.

This summer, though, under the leadership of Elisa Gonzalez, our extraordinary parent engagement staffperson, and Assistant Principal Mai Xi Lee, we’ll be making 1,000 visits over the next two-and-a-half months. The families of all incoming ninth-graders, eleventh-graders who have not yet passed the California High School Exit Exam, and all seniors will receive a visit from teachers and/or classified staff from our school. It looks like about 65% of our teachers will be participating.

I’m just going to make 10-15 of them, targeting the students who will be in my double-period mainstream ninth-grade English class. That class is geared towards those who need extra support.

I think it’s a pretty impressive undertaking…

Great Teacher Home Visit Video Clip

I’ve just watched the movie “Dangerous Minds” (I might have been one of the few teachers out there who hadn’t seen it earlier).

It’s an engaging movie, but it’s one in a long line of nauseatingly paternalistic hero teacher films out there.

However, it does have a great two minute clip of a teacher home visit that shows the importance of telling parents positive news about their children. It’s embedded below:

“Put the Parent Voice back in Public Education!”

“Put the Parent Voice back in Public Education!” is a letter hosted by Change.org where parents can sign and communicate their unhappiness with the Obama administration’s school “reform” efforts, including their lack of making parent engagement a priority.

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.

Parent/Teacher Home Visit Project

Each month, at my other blog,  I interview people in the education world about whom I want to learn more. You can see read those past interviews here.

This month’s guest is Carrie Rose, Executive Director of the nationally acclaimed Parent/Teacher Home Visit Project. Our school works closely with Carrie and the Project, I’ve written a chapter about it in my book on parent engagement, and I also wrote an article about it last year for Teacher Magazine.

I posting this interview at both of my blogs.

Can you give a brief description of what the Parent Teacher Home Visit Project is and how it came into being?

The Parent/Teacher Home Visit Project is a unique partnership between a community organizing group (Sacramento Area Congregations Together), a local teachers union (Sacramento City Teachers Association) and a school district (Sacramento City Unified School District). The project developed through an effort to address the cycle of blame that existed between parents and site personnel at several south Sacramento schools where there was a pervasive history of low student achievement, high levels of poverty, and where high percentages of children entered school as English learners. Home visits were identified by teachers as one way to build trust and respect. Community organizers recognized the potential for leadership development through home visits given the similarity to their model of 1:1 interactions. Parents, educators and community organizers came together to develop a training and model for the visits and launched the project in the 1998-1999 school year.

How did you get involved in it, and where do you get the energy to continue being the Executive Director?

My background is in social service and law. In 1999, when my children were very young, I was looking for a more flexible job. The director of Sacramento ACT offered me a part time job as a fund developer and I had to quickly learned to do grant writing and fundraising in the nonprofit world. Luckily, one of my main responsibilities was to raise funds for a new parent engagement project- the parent/teacher home visit effort. As my understanding of community organizing grew, and my participation in the logistics of the home visit project evolved, I experienced a profound shift both personally and professionally.

While I had always been involved in social justice work, community organizing offered new and effective forms of advocacy and leadership development! In 2003, the Parent/Teacher Home Visit Project became a separate 501(c) (3) non-profit organization (jointly governed by representatives from the original three partner groups) and I left ACT to become the Executive Director. Like all non profit directors, there are days when the grind of raising money, adapting to recent policy changes and other stress make me stop and question if I still have what it takes to move forward. To date, I have found a reliable remedy – when I start to have doubts, I either do a home visit or facilitate a home visit training session. As I listen to the “testimony” of parents, teachers or students, I always find the inspiration and guidance I need to move forward.

What are the biggest reservations that School Districts, schools, and teachers typically have about doing these kinds of home visits? How do you respond to them?

There are some common concerns that surface regarding home visits. Funding is always an immediate concern in this day an age of education budget shortfalls. Our partners all believe that staff participation should always be voluntary and compensated because visits take place outside of the scope of the regular work day (nights, weekends, etc). Over the years, participating districts have used various foundation, state and federal grants to fund home visit activity (as most grants have a parent engagement component) but the most sustainable source of funding has been Title I funding (which has a minimum 1% parent engagement mandate).

Administrators and staff also need to be able to talk about their concerns for the safety of staff while out conducting visits, mandated reporting requirements that may be triggered during a home visit, and possible language and cultural barriers that may prevent good home visit communication. Our non-profit provides participating school sites a three-hour home visit training session – led by parents and teachers- that is designed to provide both a clear step by step guide and a frank discussion of possible barriers and solutions to insure the visits are very effective. In a nutshell, I can tell you that no teacher has ever been harmed in the course of our home visits and the incidence of mandated reporting has been extremely rare because our model is specifically designed to insure the safety and voluntary nature- for everyone- of every single visit. Language barriers have been easier than expected to address given the non confidential nature of these conversations that allow for “unofficial” interpretation by other staff, family or community members. As for cultural barriers, teachers often report that the act of stepping into homes has been one of the most effective capacity building experiences of their careers.

Truthfully, in our experience, the real barrier to home visits working at a school is usually connected to the assumptions we hold. In other words, what does the staff already think is true about the students/families/community? What do the families already think is true about the staff and school? We spend a considerable amount of time in our training session addressing this barrier and offering a practical exercise we can all use to “check our assumption”.

You’ve had some evaluations done on the results of home visits. What do they say?

Nationally, there have been decades of research linking effective parent engagement to increased academic and social success for students. Our evaluations have focused on whether home visits are an effective parent engagement strategy. In order to measure that connection and the outcomes for students, there have been several independent evaluations spanning the course our project.

The first evaluation (1998-2001) focused on whether home visits made a difference in Sacramento schools. Dr. Geni Cowan from the California State University at Sacramento found that “Student performance has improved over the three years of the project’s implementation; parental involvement has increased, and communication between home and school has been enhanced.”

The second evaluation focused on whether the model and training were effective in California schools outside of Sacramento. EMT Associates, Inc. found “Widespread implementation of the program, increase in the number of teachers involved per site, successful dissemination of materials and subsequent trainings following initial training sessions. Participants perceiving benefits including increased parental involvement improved parent/teacher relationships and improved academic achievement.”

The third evaluation focused on the adaptation and effectiveness of home visits as a strategy to help increase high school graduation rates. Beginning in 2007, Paul Tuss of the Center for Student Assessment and Program Accountability with the Sacramento County Office of Education found that: students who received a home visit were considerably more likely to be successful in their exit exam intervention and support classes and more likely to pass the English portion of the exit exam; parents reported home visits improved their understanding of key school issues (graduation requirements, exit exam, college entrance requirements), increased knowledge of school resources and support available for their child, and improved their relationship with teachers/school staff; and, attitudinal shifts among teachers and other school staff concerning the needs of at-risk students and the barriers they face to succeeding in school.

A follow up evaluation for the initial cohort of students at Luther Burbank High School (one of the two pilot schools piloting exit exam home visits) found that visited students passed the exit exam by 12th grade at significantly higher rates and earned sufficient academic credits to graduate at significantly higher rates and graduated at higher rates. Then Paul Tuss began an evaluation on a feeder pattern plan to connect schools and conduct visits with students at key times (in elementary, transitioning to middle school and high school, and before and after the high school exit exam? The evaluation showed that these transitional home visits were associated with increased academic performance for middle and high school students.

Our evaluation focus at this time, thanks to the support of the National Education Association, we are involved in a planning process with some of the best nationally known parent engagement experts and researchers to create a common data collection instrument for any k-12 school conducting home visits with our model so that we can begin to build a consistent and meaningful set of data connecting to home visits to outcomes in the area of parent engagement, staff development and, most importantly, student success. This instrument will then be piloted in several areas throughout the country where home visits are used.

What’s happening locally, state-wide, and nationally now with your project?

Locally: There are two very exciting developments for us in our local work. First, even in the midst of budget challenges, Sacramento City Unified School District’s new superintendent, Jonathan Raymond, has prioritized the expansion parent home visits under the district’s parent engagement funding! Second, representatives from five neighboring districts in the our county are working with the Sacramento County Office of Education on a regional plan to increase graduation rates that includes a strong secondary school home visiting component based on our model.

Statewide: The California Teachers Association (CTA) recently awarded our non-profit grant funding that will allow us to expand training capacity to include more sessions on the connection between home visits and building staff cultural competency and individualized instructional skill sets. Additionally, along with another one of our statewide partners, PICO California, we are working on the release of a publication documenting the steps and outcomes of our secondary school home visiting efforts and the connection between this strategy and increased high school success for our students. We expect that publication to be available within the month.

Nationally: Thanks to a vibrant partnership with the National Education Association, most of our growth this past year has been on the national front! Currently, schools and districts in five different states have fully adopted and adapted our model- Ohio, Colorado, Montana, Nevada, and Massachusetts. We are also in the process of working with local leaders to plan and launch efforts in schools in Virginia, Louisiana, Washington DC, Maryland and Alaska.

Thanks, Carrie!

Each month I interview people in the education world about whom I want to learn more. You can see read those past interviews here.

This month’s guest is Carrie Rose, Executive Director of the nationally acclaimed Parent/Teacher Home Visit Project. Our school works closely with Carrie and the Project, I’ve written a chapter about it in my book on parent engagement, and I also wrote an article about it last year for Teacher Magazine.

Can you give a brief description of what the Parent Teacher Home Visit Project is and how it came into being?

The Parent/Teacher Home Visit Project is a unique partnership between a community organizing group (Sacramento Area Congregations Together), a local teachers union (Sacramento City Teachers Association) and a school district (Sacramento City Unified School District). The project developed through an effort to address the cycle of blame that existed between parents and site personnel at several south Sacramento schools where there was a pervasive history of low student achievement, high levels of poverty, and where high percentages of children entered school as English learners. Home visits were identified by teachers as one way to build trust and respect. Community organizers recognized the potential for leadership development through home visits given the similarity to their model of 1:1 interactions. Parents, educators and community organizers came together to develop a training and model for the visits and launched the project in the 1998-1999 school year.

How did you get involved in it, and where do you get the energy to continue being the Executive Director?

My background is in social service and law. In 1999, when my children were very young, I was looking for a more flexible job. The director of Sacramento ACT offered me a part time job as a fund developer and I had to quickly learned to do grant writing and fundraising in the nonprofit world. Luckily, one of my main responsibilities was to raise funds for a new parent engagement project- the parent/teacher home visit effort. As my understanding of community organizing grew, and my participation in the logistics of the home visit project evolved, I experienced a profound shift both personally and professionally.

While I had always been involved in social justice work, community organizing offered new and effective forms of advocacy and leadership development! In 2003, the Parent/Teacher Home Visit Project became a separate 501(c) (3) non-profit organization (jointly governed by representatives from the original three partner groups) and I left ACT to become the Executive Director. Like all non profit directors, there are days when the grind of raising money, adapting to recent policy changes and other stress make me stop and question if I still have what it takes to move forward. To date, I have found a reliable remedy – when I start to have doubts, I either do a home visit or facilitate a home visit training session. As I listen to the “testimony” of parents, teachers or students, I always find the inspiration and guidance I need to move forward.

What are the biggest reservations that School Districts, schools, and teachers typically have about doing these kinds of home visits? How do you respond to them?

There are some common concerns that surface regarding home visits. Funding is always an immediate concern in this day an age of education budget shortfalls. Our partners all believe that staff participation should always be voluntary and compensated because visits take place outside of the scope of the regular work day (nights, weekends, etc). Over the years, participating districts have used various foundation, state and federal grants to fund home visit activity (as most grants have a parent engagement component) but the most sustainable source of funding has been Title I funding (which has a minimum 1% parent engagement mandate).

Administrators and staff also need to be able to talk about their concerns for the safety of staff while out conducting visits, mandated reporting requirements that may be triggered during a home visit, and possible language and cultural barriers that may prevent good home visit communication. Our non-profit provides participating school sites a three-hour home visit training session – led by parents and teachers- that is designed to provide both a clear step by step guide and a frank discussion of possible barriers and solutions to insure the visits are very effective. In a nutshell, I can tell you that no teacher has ever been harmed in the course of our home visits and the incidence of mandated reporting has been extremely rare because our model is specifically designed to insure the safety and voluntary nature- for everyone- of every single visit. Language barriers have been easier than expected to address given the non confidential nature of these conversations that allow for “unofficial” interpretation by other staff, family or community members. As for cultural barriers, teachers often report that the act of stepping into homes has been one of the most effective capacity building experiences of their careers.

Truthfully, in our experience, the real barrier to home visits working at a school is usually connected to the assumptions we hold. In other words, what does the staff already think is true about the students/families/community? What do the families already think is true about the staff and school? We spend a considerable amount of time in our training session addressing this barrier and offering a practical exercise we can all use to “check our assumption”.

You’ve had some evaluations done on the results of home visits. What do they say?

Nationally, there have been decades of research linking effective parent engagement to increased academic and social success for students. Our evaluations have focused on whether home visits are an effective parent engagement strategy. In order to measure that connection and the outcomes for students, there have been several independent evaluations spanning the course our project.

The first evaluation (1998-2001) focused on whether home visits made a difference in Sacramento schools. Dr. Geni Cowan from the California State University at Sacramento found that “Student performance has improved over the three years of the project’s implementation; parental involvement has increased, and communication between home and school has been enhanced.”

The second evaluation focused on whether the model and training were effective in California schools outside of Sacramento. EMT Associates, Inc. found “Widespread implementation of the program, increase in the number of teachers involved per site, successful dissemination of materials and subsequent trainings following initial training sessions. Participants perceiving benefits including increased parental involvement improved parent/teacher relationships and improved academic achievement.”

The third evaluation focused on the adaptation and effectiveness of home visits as a strategy to help increase high school graduation rates. Beginning in 2007, Paul Tuss of the Center for Student Assessment and Program Accountability with the Sacramento County Office of Education found that: students who received a home visit were considerably more likely to be successful in their exit exam intervention and support classes and more likely to pass the English portion of the exit exam; parents reported home visits improved their understanding of key school issues (graduation requirements, exit exam, college entrance requirements), increased knowledge of school resources and support available for their child, and improved their relationship with teachers/school staff; and, attitudinal shifts among teachers and other school staff concerning the needs of at-risk students and the barriers they face to succeeding in school.

A follow up evaluation for the initial cohort of students at Luther Burbank High School (one of the two pilot schools piloting exit exam home visits) found that visited students passed the exit exam by 12th grade at significantly higher rates and earned sufficient academic credits to graduate at significantly higher rates and graduated at higher rates. Then Paul Tuss began an evaluation on a feeder pattern plan to connect schools and conduct visits with students at key times (in elementary, transitioning to middle school and high school, and before and after the high school exit exam? The evaluation showed that these transitional home visits were associated with increased academic performance for middle and high school students.

Our evaluation focus at this time, thanks to the support of the National Education Association, we are involved in a planning process with some of the best nationally known parent engagement experts and researchers to create a common data collection instrument for any k-12 school conducting home visits with our model so that we can begin to build a consistent and meaningful set of data connecting to home visits to outcomes in the area of parent engagement, staff development and, most importantly, student success. This instrument will then be piloted in several areas throughout the country where home visits are used.

What’s happening locally, state-wide, and nationally now with your project?

Locally: There are two very exciting developments for us in our local work. First, even in the midst of budget challenges, Sacramento City Unified School District’s new superintendent, Jonathan Raymond, has prioritized the expansion parent home visits under the district’s parent engagement funding! Second, representatives from five neighboring districts in the our county are working with the Sacramento County Office of Education on a regional plan to increase graduation rates that includes a strong secondary school home visiting component based on our model.

Statewide: The California Teachers Association (CTA) recently awarded our non-profit grant funding that will allow us to expand training capacity to include more sessions on the connection between home visits and building staff cultural competency and individualized instructional skill sets. Additionally, along with another one of our statewide partners, PICO California, we are working on the release of a publication documenting the steps and outcomes of our secondary school home visiting efforts and the connection between this strategy and increased high school success for our students. We expect that publication to be available within the month.

Nationally: Thanks to a vibrant partnership with the National Education Association, most of our growth this past year has been on the national front! Currently, schools and districts in five different states have fully adopted and adapted our model- Ohio, Colorado, Montana, Nevada, and Massachusetts. We are also in the process of working with local leaders to plan and launch efforts in schools in Virginia, Louisiana, Washington DC, Maryland and Alaska.

Thanks, Carrie!

Principal Organizes For Neighborhood Safety

The Sacramento Bee today has an extensive article about a troubled neighborhood. It’s titled Killings underscore challenges in Sacramento’s Arden Manor neighborhood.

The last part of the article tells about the local elementary school principal and his school organizing a meeting where 200 residents came to talk about how to improve the community. He called it an “encouraging start,” and I do hope the school and their parents continue to organize. It’s a great example of recognizing that a school is part of the neighborhood where it’s located, and that what happens outside the school’s walls is just as important as what happens inside.

NEA Funds Expansion Of Teacher Home Visits

I’ve written extensively about the Parent-Teacher Home Visit Project in our book, and actively worked with them. In fact, I’ll be helping with a training they’re doing later this month, and I’ll also be interviewing Carrie Rose, its Executive Director, next month for a piece that will appear in this blog.

So I was thrilled to learn that the the foundation of the National Education Association just provided sizable grants to the Columbus, Ohio and Springfield, Massachusetts school districts — in large part to expand their local home visit programs. People in those districts were trained by the Parent Teacher Home Visit Project, and leaders of efforts in those cities are quoted in my book.

Congratulations to them!