Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Unlock the potential of parents and individual student initiative

Good teaching is one key to the vision of graduating all students to excellence. But increasingly, I have become convinced that we must emphasize the role of parents and individual student initiative if we are to realize the vision of graduating all of our students to excellence. For a number of years, I've been disappointed with the ability of public education generally, and here in our own school district, to establish clear, coherent expectations for parents. Much of the comment on public education and the so-called education gap has focused on curriculum and teachers. And that's fine. Teachers represent one of the important legs of the stool upon which a strong educational program must rest. And yet, there seems to be a tremendous amount of evidence that the individual student initiative and parental support are important keys to success.

At varying times, I've argued that public schools need to think about imposing expectations on parents to do more to support teachers and schools. We get great support from most of our parents, but here I'm talking about the students who aren't making it as they should. When I have this conversation with public school people, often they supply a variety of excuses for the parents that aren't stepping up to the plate and doing their part to make sure that their kids are prepared.

The other day I heard that many of our parents these days don't have enough income to buy children's books so that their children can read at home. Look. I have a great respect for the difficulties that families face when they are struggling on very limited budgets. But I'm not buying the alibi that we can't expect every family to have books in the home. Putting eduction first, above everything else, is one of the common things we hear from kids who "beat the odds" and do well despite tremendous economic disadvantages at home. They tell us that the very fact that their parents faced challenges, but made sacrifices for education was exactly the message that set them on the right path. Most every family can find a way to bring home books for their children. I The local imagination library program provides free books to any area child from birth to age six:

Imagination Library is a partnership between United Way of Central Minnesota Success By 6 and the Dollywood Foundation. Children from birth to their fifth birthday can be enrolled in the program as long as their parent/guardian lives in the United Way of Central Minnesota service area. After registering (the first book takes about eight to ten weeks to arrive at your home) the child will receive a new, age-appropriate book sent to them at their home each month until their fifth birthday. The program is offered to families at no cost.

So poverty is no excuse. When we give parents the poverty alibi for not taking care of their children s crying need to have age appropriate books in the home, we are apologizing for a form of child-abuse--the abuse that destroys a child's opportunity to make reading a lifelong part of her life. When we say that disadvantaged families cannot find a place and time for study, we are enabling and facilitating parental laziness and irresponsibility. We can be sympathetic to families in crisis, to mom's or dads who are pulling down two jobs. Nobody is suggesting that some parents don't have a tough time holding things together. All I am saying is that let's be understanding, sure, but if young people are going to succeed and graduate to excellence, we need to stop giving families a free pass from responsibility.

We can do more as a school district and as a community to set the tone for high expectations to families. The vast majority of parents want their children to do well. But we need to send a consistent message that students do well when parents create the home conditions necessary for success.

One of the programs that is gaining a nationwide reputation for success is KIPP, the Knowledge is Power Program. Its one of those successful programs that is predicated on high expectations for students, parents and teachers, and those high expectations are imposed without exception. Parents and guardians sign the following document when their students are enrolled in KIPP. When I raise this concept, I'm constantly opposed by folks who say, well we can't do this in our schools, because we're open to everyone. I agree we're open to everyone, but we also need to have high expectations for everyone. Its time that public education gets a spine, I believe, and stop using poverty or other factors as an alibi for parents. High expectations begets success. In my next post, I'm going write further about this idea that excellence comes from personal commitment to success and what public schools can do, indeed must do, to convey this fundamental idea that you can't make it in school without a personal commitment to persistence, hard work and discipline. I'll be writing about the AVID program to graduate students to excellence using a philosophy of "Advancement via Individual Determination."

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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