Saturday, May 29, 2010

Time for Public Schools to Demand More from Parents

This post is about schools demanding more from parents whose children are not succeeding in school. More than likely, if you are reading this post, this post is not about you. This post is not about the parents who are making huge sacrifices for their kids. I can only write about one thing at a time, and today, I'm talking about an increasing number of parents who are sending their kids unprepared to learn. My thesis is that public schools need to stop giving these parents a free pass, and that we need to impose expectations on these parents and, well, make them stick.

Another school year is almost done. In this last school year we've seen the beginnings of a number of reforms that seek to improve the delivery of instruction. One of those reforms is the launch of Skyward, an online communications system for teachers and parents. Another involves significant improvement in the collection of data about student performance and the use of that data to intervene earlier when students are not succeeding. In tandem with those reforms have come new approaches to instruction that seek to attack student weaknesses with prompt interventions. Finally, the district has installed a new accountability system that seeks to monitor with data how our teachers, schools, and the district as a whole is doing. The idea behind these strategies is to make a significant improvement in the performance of the students who are not realizing their full potential. It is a strategy that combines just-in-time-data about student performance with significantly increased demands on teachers that ask them to accommodate what they do in the classroom to the individual needs of the students that come to them.

Another piece of these reforms is a new emphasis on administrative observation of teachers. This year, principals and the superintendent made a commitment radically to increase the number of times that principals visit classrooms and observe what teachers are doing. If you don't observe what is happening in the classroom, how can you provide the professional support necessary to improve that instruction, and, how can you credibly implement accountability.

All of these things are good, but increasingly I have come to believe as a result of seven years of experience on the Board of Education that these reforms cannot succeed, unless they are done in tandem with a major change in the way that we hold parents and guardians responsible for their support of the learning process and the efforts of teachers. If you are reading this blog--if you have gotten this far--probably you are not a parent that I have in mind. You may be a parent, present or past, who made every sacrifice for your children's education. Reading to your children. Making sure that they had the social skills and good behavior so that they were ready to be good citizens in school. You did the things that made our teachers jobs easier. And so it may be hard for you to focus on what I am writing about here. Maybe you are a parent who was disappointed in some way with how a school or teacher met your child's needs, and from your perspective, schools and teachers need to do way more for students to help them succeed. So, I'm not writing about you today. One of the key components of a continuous improvement strategy for schools, is that they must listen to parents like you, and continually do better to provide quality teaching.

But today, I'm focusing on another group of parents, not you, who are sitting back and leaving the education of their children entirely to teachers. If their students don't succeed, then there is something wrong with "the system." I can't prove that there are more parents like this than there were when I was going to school. All I know, for sure, is that today, the state and federal government are both demanding that public schools educate all children to a level of excellence never before envisioned. I am saying that we can observe teachers, we can use just-in -time data, we can try new practices, or bring back some old ones, and we are never going to achieve these objectives, if we continue to give these parents a free pass. We can beat up on teachers all we want to; we can humiliate so-called failing schools; we can demand more, as we should, of teachers and public school systems, but we are never going to reach the goals set by politicians in Washington and St. Paul if we don't demand more of the families themselves.

It is time, if we are going to demand that all students succeed at a high level, that we begin to get more aggressive in imposing demands on parents and students from families that are not doing their part to make teachers jobs easier. The truth of the matter is that succeeding in school requires lots of hard work. It requires work at home. It requires persistence and dedication, habits that come primarily from adult mentoring, supervision and discipline in the home. When we don't communicate this to parents and to the community, we are setting ourselves up for failure. This idea that merely putting better teachers in the classroom, can reach our national educational excellence goals is bunk.

The fact is that these days, more and more teachers are spending more of their time focusing on motivating kids who aren't getting motivated at home. We are bringing in college student mentors; we are developing summer school programs, and a whole range of motivational devices designed to give kids a vision of the path to success. We need to do all of these things, and more. But when are we going to put our foot down and make it clear that the path to success requires sacrifice and success at home.

The other day I attended an event in which a speaker asserted that schools don't understand that in some cultures students study with the television blasting nearby. To this, I say, this is apologizing for families who refuse to make sacrifices for their children's' education. It doesn't cost a dime to turn off the television and announce that this is quite time for the children to study. Teachers and schools have a right to demand that parents create the conditions for success in the home. Increasingly public charter schools are doing this. They are making demands of all of their parents. They are saying, if you want the quality of education that we provide, we have some expectations of you, as parents.

On several occasions I have quoted from the parent contract for Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP). I'm going to quote it at the bottom of this blog again. When I advance this idea to public education leaders, they say, Jerry, we can't do this, because we are public schools: we educate everyone. To that I say, no, we merely pretend to educate everyone, when we don't impose demands on families. We are trying to do the job with one hand tied behind our back, the hand of support from parents, guardians, or the extended family who are responsible for our students at home.

Public charter schools are public schools. They have no greater powers over parents than do we. If we fail to make these demands of our parents, then we are operating at a competitive disadvantage that we cannot overcome. As a board member, I feel that its time for us to take decisive action. If we are providing extra summer school help; if we are using grant money to provide opportunities for students to catch up, if we are implementing strategies to help first generation students to succeed, we need to demand something in return from the families who are benefiting from these programs. I'm not asking that parents do what they cannot do. I'm asking that we stop giving alibis for people who won't lift a finger to help us do our job.


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.







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