Let parents ‘be the change’

Barack Obama’s “be the change” idea “could transform the education policy debate,” writes Flypaper.  It’s assumed many parents won’t raise their children responsibly so schools must step in.

Perhaps we’ll never reach “100 percent parental responsibility,” just like we’ll never reach “100 percent proficiency” in reading and math. But maybe, just maybe, we could do dramatically better than we are today in getting parents to show up for their job as their child’s first and most important teacher.

Obama called for a “new era of mutual responsibility in education” during the campaign.

There is no substitute for a parent who will make sure their children are in school on time and help them with their homework after dinner and attend those parent-teacher conferences. . . . Responsibility for our children’s education has to start at home. We have to set high standards for them and spend time with them and love them. We have to hold ourselves accountable.

What can schools do to encourage parental responsibility?

I think schools should tell parents what they school wants them to do, such as limit TV and video time on school nights, set aside time for homework and reading, enforce a sensible bed time, serve a low-sugar breakfast, get them to school on time, whatever else is doable even by poorly educated parents.  Ask them to sign a contract, even if it will be nearly impossible to enforce it.

I’d send home DVDs (or links to YouTube videos) on how to teach manners and self-control to children. How should kids handle conflict at school? Show examples.  Another DVD could show how to read aloud with a child, perhaps how to discuss a TV show with a child. Or how to help your child get organized to do homework, even if you can’t help with the homework.

In reporting for my book, Our School, I met many Mexican immigrant parents who had very little formal education. They don’t know what the school wants of them unless somebody tells them explicitly. So, tell them.

Edspresso is collecting advice for Obama on education.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. I was an a meeting last night, of a low-performing elementary school.

    One board member asked about the role of teachers in trying to each get more of their 17 parents to read to their kids.

    One teacher responded “What do you want us to do about it?”

    The asker said “Well there’s great survey data on this. Some elementary schools in Boston have much more success in ‘flipping’ parents from non-readers to readers. Others don’t.”

    More defensive chatter.

    There is a huge disparity between how schoolteachers view low-income parents.

    In high performing schools, teachers view parents mostly as likely allies, they just need both specific asks and some ongoing nudging, often by phone.

    In low-performing schoolteachers view the same parents mostly as “good” and “bad” parents, who all deserve a letter home and a parent conference, but do NOT deserve teacher time invested into building a trusting relationship, proactive phone calls, and nudging. “That’s not our job.”

    Worse, many of these teachers view the “bad” parents as victims — UNABLE to help their kids. Not surprisingly, they often extend the same attitudes to the kids, which is why they explain away incredibly bad academic data as “not my fault.”

  2. > I’d send home DVDs (or links to YouTube videos) on how to teach manners and self-control to children. How should kids handle conflict at school? Show examples.

    Better is to do what they have done in Canada, to take these lessons and broadcast them as television commercials.

    The parents they want to reach aren’t playing DVDs or watching educational videos or reading, they’re watching TV. That’s the place to reach them.

  3. I think that educators use poor parenting as an excuse for their poor results. Improve the enviornment in the schools. Set behavior expectations and enforce them. Once the kid actually walks through the school doors they belong to the school. Catholic schools all over the world have educated poor kids from dysfunctional families, families that didn’t help their kids with homework or read to them.

    If educators were to accept their limitations; they cannot remake the American family, and simply focus on order and basic skills, they might find success. I think they underestimate the adaptability of children. I came from a very disorganized and dysfunctional family – single parent, alcoholism, welfare dependent, yada, yada, yada. I lived in a small, old fashioned town in Minnesota. The public school was the life of the community. It was absolutely clear to me and most of my peers what type of behavior was appropirate within the school.

  4. “I think schools should tell parents what they school wants them to do, such as limit TV and video time on school nights, set aside time for homework and reading, enforce a sensible bed time, serve a low-sugar breakfast, get them to school on time, whatever else is doable even by poorly educated parents. Ask them to sign a contract, even if it will be nearly impossible to enforce it.”

    I agree that schools should tell parents to limit tv and computer game time, and enforce sensible bedtimes, etc. But all that falls under the heading of, “running an orderly household.” It’s offensive to assume that parents are not doing this, and silly to think that nagging parents will improve parents who are choosing not to parent.

    Once you start telling people what to do, it’s very hard to stop. I would strongly oppose such gimmicks as “contracts”. Any such document I’ve seen produced by public school employees has been either silly or offensive. Public school employees are not in the business of telling people how to live their lives.

    The KIPP schools can require parents to sign contracts because they are schools of choice. Allow parents to have more choice, and you will see parents choosing schools which are orderly, and which expect their children to learn.

  5. To quote the new president, “just words”. No one’s going to insist the parents keep up their end of the bargain, although I do like the tv commercial idea.

  6. Margo/Mom says:

    Parent2 and Stacy:

    We gotta talk. I am so much in agreement. Personally I have totally disregarded those “parent contracts” that are set out on some table at Open House. They are there because they are included in No Child Left Behind. The schools have gotten that part right. They have contracts. Somebody found something on the web that they could download, copy and put out as evidence that they are “doing parent involvement.” What they have totally missed in every case in which I have been involved is the intent that those contracts be developed by school staff and parents together. The intent is to have an agreement about what parents expect from school and what school expects from parents.

    I have logged a good many hours in working with (and teaching) children and people with low income. This counts for naught when I walk in a school building and see red flags everywhere with regard to the things that are happening, not happening, overlooked or ignored. I am a parent, a non-teacher, an outsider, someone who doesn’t understand. Over the years, I have amassed reams of theory, research and applications in the field of education to confirm the things that I know through work experience are effective. I have learned much about the laws governing education (and particularly special education). I share these things with the professionals who work with my children. I might as well be handing them things to line the bird-cage. Yet, I am the first caller on speed dial when things go wrong–and I am expected, from the outside, to be the fixer.

    I deeply regretted the day that I had to start explaining to my son that I couldn’t count on the people in his school to care much about what kind of education he got–and that any behavioral excuse he could give would just underline what some of the his teachers/administrators had already concluded–that he was a problem and not worth their effort.

    Like Stacy, I grew up in the midst of dysfunction, a very middle class version. Most folks who talk about dysfunction have very little idea what kinds of things they are really talking about. My cover, my escape, from things that were subtly falling apart in the relationships in my household, was to excel in school. Not everyone goes that route. My brother’s school behavior provided a scapegoat condition–a focus for the family’s energies that did not include looking at the various family addictions that we were swimming in. Jumping all over the kid just plays along with the dysfunction. School have their own dysfunctions as well. Blaming parents is a real good diversion from looking at the things within four walls that can be improved.

    I don’t think it’s a bad idea for schools to communicate with parents the things that they want them to do. But it needs to be a two-way street. That means listening to the things that parents want (one of the biggest examples of school silliness is the clause in the teacher contract that allows teachers to vote on the time that they will hold parent conferences in their school–did it ever occur to anyone that maybe they ought to ask parents what would work best for them?). A really astute listener will be on the lookout for things that parents (even the most illiterate, non-English-speaking, confused and overworked parents) have to offer. You better believe that a parent who grew up with multiple brothers and sisters and cousins in their household knows a bit about how to elicit appropriate behavior from kids. Absolutely a parent who has been making it on a welfare check, food stamps, health card and trips to the food pantry knows something about budgeting, making do without resources and time management. And that’s not even touching parents who in their professional lives are entrepreneurs, computer techs, DJs, professional speakers, facilitators, artist, musicians, mathematicians, scientists and health care providers. There is a wealth of skills available–but all that is ever asked for is making baked goods. Ask a parent to provide a tour of the neighborhood where students live. Ask a parent for their tips for getting kids quiet or doing their work. Not every parent has everything–but most have more than is realized or credited.

  7. Andy Freeman says:

    > Better is to do what they have done in Canada, to take these lessons and broadcast them as television commercials.

    Tivo….

  8. I have to agree with Margo/Mom.
    “I deeply regretted the day that I had to start explaining to my son that I couldn’t count on the people in his school to care much about what kind of education he got–and that any behavioral excuse he could give would just underline what some of the his teachers/administrators had already concluded–that he was a problem and not worth their effort.”

    I deeply regretted that day I had to explain to my daughter that we couldn’t count on the people in her school to care about the education she got–that since she would pass the standardized test no matter what–they had concluded that there was no justification to work with her. We decided that we needed to be like the Little Red Hen and do it ourselves.

    I send my kids to school well fed, well rested, with their homework done and with the expectation they will behave in class. But, there is no way I can get the school people to provide them with a safe classroom, access to teachers and to material they have not already mastered.

    I was barely able to make they provide the services listed on my son’s IEP.

    Like some others listed here, I grew up in the midst of dysfunction. There will always be children unfortunate enough to have families with addictions, etc. The schools need to focus on what they can do. Provide a safe place with clear rules, clear expectations and the ability for all children to learn everyday.

    Waiting for every parent to get their act together is just an excuse for the schools not to function properly.

  9. Our school attempts to communicate all the expectations you mention. I know because my wife and I read all the information that is sent home with our children. We also attend all of the back to school nights. Our school also has groups dedicated to reaching out to Spanish speaking parents and to African American parents. But all of these methods require effort on the part of parents. Maybe the TV commercials will have a better chance of reaching the intended audience. So at least if information will make a difference it will be easier for parents to get the information they need.

  10. Ryan Booth says:

    I teach at an inner-city, “academically unacceptable” school. I chose to teach here because I really wanted to make an impact. In this, my third year of teaching, I finally believe I am accomplishing that goal.

    That said, most people have no idea of the difficulty that teachers have in a school like mine. If I need to call a parent, there is less than a 50% chance that I have a phone number in the database that is not disconnected. I communicated to parents at the beginning of the school year that students would have homework Mon-Thu evenings, but only about half of my students do their homework, and it is only that high because I provide in-class treats and rewards for students that do it.

    Almost all of my students are children of single moms, and many of them work odd shifts, leaving the kids to put themselves to bed or get themselves to school in the morning. I can only imagine how difficult life is for them.

    Folks, there are no easy answers. Those who blame teachers have no idea how undisciplined today’s students are. They don’t see the discouragement that comes from a teacher absolutely busting his butt, only to see the students fail despite his best efforts. Those who blame teachers don’t see that these students often have no idea of the world beyond their own neighborhoods and no real goals or aspirations.

    Those who blame parents don’t have any grasp of the difficulty of single parenting. It’s hard enough for a couple to keep the clothes washed, but what about when you have to take them to the laundromat? What about when you don’t really have time to go to the grocery store and the ATM? Are your kids really going to get to bed on time with their homework done? Unlikely.

    To put all the blame on teachers or parents is to ignore the complexities of the problem.

  11. I love Ryan Booth’s comment–as a single parent AND a teacher, I can tell you it’s spot-on.

    Parents should be responsible for making sure their children are well-behaved at school and that they care about succeeding in school, whatever that takes. Beyond that, it’s none of the school system’s business to micromanage my child’s life in my home. Homework for elementary students has been shown over and over again NOT to be effective, yet schools spend an incredible amount of time and energy placing homework demands on families that simply can not support them.

    Perhaps if schools left after school time up to families, parents were held accountable for their children’s behavior, and children who refused to behave or even try to learn weren’t guaranteed a place in a regular public school classroom and social promotion, we’d all be happier. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? I think it would be a beginning.

  12. Elementary teachers have told me that the purpose of homework is to inform parents of what their children are learning in school. From another viewpoint its a more detailed message about what parents are expected to help with.

    I don’t recall seeing any item on the report cards I get for my children that evaluates the level of homework completed. Anyone know of a reason why parents shouldn’t use elementary shcool homework however they see fit?

  13. Stacy in NJ says:

    Ryan and McSwain, If in my prior post I left the impression that I “blamed teachers”, I want to correct that. I had some wonderful teachers and deeply appreciate the care and dedications with which they did their jobs. I wholeheartedly believe many teachers are skilled and dedicated. But, fellas, a single teacher is one very small cog in a sometimes completely unmanageable system. The teacher is the end producer. Before you can establish a disciplined, rigorous classroom, you need the leadership in your school system to create the necessary environment. You shouldn’t need to be a superhero to be a good teacher. If you do than something is very wrong with the administration, school board, and community that you teach in. Obviously, something is wrong. It just makes no sense to pile on parents or teachers until we have schools that meet the most basic criteria for saftey and orderliness. Kids walk through those school doors alone, without their parents. Teachers take their direction from administators. In the end, I know that public education is a collaborative affair, but some folks are charged with greater responsibilites and should be providing accountable leadership. That doesn’t seem to be happening.