Monday, March 22, 2010

Closing the Gap: Demanding More from Parents

For some time, I've been advocating that public education needs to demand more of parents if we want to close the achievement gap. In my last post, I argued that the so-called achievement gap isn't about race. I said that there is nothing racial, nothing ethnic, nothing about poverty that has anything to do with learning success. The road to learning success is the same road for everyone. It begins with mastering the English language, and understanding how words and sounds are put together. It requires hard work; it takes persistence; and above all, it requires the kindling of a fire within that says learning will lead me along a road to success. So every time we connect achievement to race, or ethnicity, or poverty, we run the risk of missing a fundamental point about education.

In that last post, I argued that the key to closing the gap is kindling a commitment to working harder to catch up. I've said that if you are behind, there is no magic bullet. Catching up requires extra work. It is possible for students to catch on to the working-harder idea despite their parents. But the odds are much higher if parents are part of the equation, and the parent component begins with supporting the effort required to catch up.

These days, pundits are fond of talking about school-success stories. One of the success stories that is touted nationally is the KIPP--Knowledge is Power Program. Wow, the pundits all say, they take any kid out of the toughest neighborhoods and turn them into champion learners. Let's take a look at what KIPP schools demand from their parents. Here is a sample agreement that KIPP makes parents sign, as a condition of enrolling students into one of their schools. I'd like to ask whether Minnesota school districts should be taking a page from the KIPP agreement, and raise expectation for parents whose students are behind.

Parents’/Guardians’ Commitment
We fully commit to KIPP in the following ways:
  • We will make sure our child arrives at KIPP by 7:25 am (Monday-Friday) or boards a KIPP bus at the scheduled time.
  • We will make arrangements so our child can remain at KIPP until 5:00 pm (Monday - Thursday) and 4:00 pm on Friday.
  • We will make arrangements for our child to come to KIPP on appropriate Saturdays at 9:15 am and remain until 1:05 pm.
  • We will ensure that our child attends KIPP summer school.
  • We will always help our child in the best way we know how and we will do whatever it takes for him/her to learn. This also means that we will check our child’s homework every night, let him/her call the teacher if there is a problem with the
    homework, and try to read with him/her every night
  • .We will always make ourselves available to our children and the school, and address any concerns they might have. This also means that if our child is going to miss school, we will notify the teacher as soon as possible, and we will carefully read any and all papers that the school sends home to us.
  • We will allow our child to go on KIPP field trips.
  • We will make sure our child follows the KIPP dress code.
  • We understand that our child must follow the KIPP rules so as to protect the safety, interests, and rights of all individuals in the classroom. We, not the school, are responsible for the behavior and actions of our child.
  • Failure to adhere to these commitments can cause my child to lose various KIPP privileges and can lead to my child returning to his/her home school

For some time, I have argued, and I continue to argue that public education is selling its product too cheaply to parents and students. Public education comes at a price to the taxpayers. We have a right to set expectations for parents as well. And, if we don't set those expectations, then we don't really have a chance of closing the gap, do we. I've got to get to work this morning, so I can't complete this thought, but I'm going to have more to say about demanding more from parents and from students in future posts.

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