A dogged dad

Voice of San Diego profiles The Dad Who Holds Schools to the Rules.

David Page says the problem is that parents are on their own. Teachers have a union. So do principals. School board members get to vote plans up or down and top administrators make decisions in the salmon-pink offices of San Diego Unified.

But parents are often too intimidated to speak up or too star-struck with school staffers to question them, Page said. Education is a world loaded with its own numbing lingo — categorical funding, supplement not supplant, program improvement — and it seems overwhelming to understand it, let alone to fight it.

“They think, ‘They make six figures and they’re educated. Who am I to second guess them?'” Page said.

A father of six, Page has made himself an expert on school funding for disadvantaged students  “and a dogged fighter for parents in communities sometimes left out of decisions.”

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  1. “Six figures”???

    He, he, he. I’m still laughing. Try 1/3 of that! Wow. I needed that this morning. Thanks.

    **And, there are quite a few parents that have no problem forcing their way into my classroom and demanding I do specific things with their child. I teach in a Title I school (80% FRL), so it’s not necessarily a parents-with-means thing.

  2. I think he was referring to the bureaucrats/administrators when he cited six figures Lynn. But your hostility towards parents (“forcing” and “demanding”) highlights the need for someone like Mr. Page.

    We’ve made Special Education so complicated, both educationally and legally, that one needs a degree to understand all that goes on at an IEP meeting. We need to simplify, and bring parents into the decision-making realm in more meaningful ways.

  3. redkudu says:

    Somehow, I doubt a man this familiar with schools and finances was referring to teachers when he mentioned that figure. And I’m not sure how your anecdote about pushy parents has anything to do with what Page is doing – he’s not barnstorming classrooms to make demands of teachers on behalf of his own kids, he’s attending school board meetings and making himself an advocate for parents. Those interviewed express admiration for him – no gripes about pushy behavior at all. He’s holding the district responsible for doing what they’re supposed to and making sure parents are properly and thoroughly informed. Hats off to him.

  4. redkudo,

    I agree. I think most teachers would be happy to have this guys kids at their schools.

  5. I wish I had more involved parents.

  6. Margo/Mom says:

    Mr. Page sounds like someone I would like to know. Some teachers, if they have been around long enough, hit six figures. But five or six–the point remains the same. On a good day parents get a lot of pats on the head. When things go awry, well they get behind the back comments like the ones that Lynn made.

  7. Margo, I think it just depends on what the parent is doing. I don’t think teachers, even on bad days, get made at parents who are taking up funding issues with the county office.

  8. Bill Leonard says:

    Interesting comments all round. I am sure it is a multi-faceted situation.

    But Lynn: Before you become any more sarcastic than you’ve already shown, did you ever pause to wonder, even once, who actually pays your salary? Given that, did you ever once stop to think that perhaps those folk might be allowed to ask questions about where their money is going?

  9. Mark G. says:

    There is a difference between the parents who advocate for system change and those who just make demands for their own kids (an A-? my little precious only gets As. I’m calling the principal…or accusing teachers of lowering grades because they “don’t like” the kid) We need more of the former, fewer of the latter.

  10. Margo/Mom says:

    Mark–as a parent I have frequently sought to advocate for my kid in the context of advocacy for system change. Personally I don’t care much about grades–they have so very little to do with learning. However, I cannot cite the number of times that I am redirected by teachers with phrases like, “we’re only here to talk about your child,” or “I’m not comfortable talking about that (policy),” or “that’s just our policy.”

    It is too wearing to fight for a teacher or school to adhere to existing policy or law, only to find that your efforts do not go beyond that one teacher, or school and a new fight is required as soon as you move on to the next. But the reality is that any “wins” end up being applied only to one child, for one year, by one teacher. IDEA requires many things with regard to process, reporting, discipline, etc. The responsibility for ensuring accountability with many of these things falls heavily on parents. One very simple requirement is that parents receive a report on their child’s progress towards IEP goals at least as often as regular ed kids get report cards. Yet an entire urban district (the one where my child has attended) has no mechanism to ensure that this happens. Although teachers are required to adhere to deadlines for reporting grades for regular education, there is merely an assumption that all teachers know about and follow through on their IEP reporting requirements. They can choose any way that they want to do carry this out (or not). It is not documented anywhere (no copies are maintained in student records). I have had teachers give me blank stares when I ask about why I haven’t received my kids report.

    There is a valid reason for requiring this regular reporting–so that efforts and goals can be adjusted if progress falls short or if all goals are completed prior to the expected timeframe. It provides a record of what has/has not been accomplished. It lays the groundwork for each successive IEP, so that the present levels of performance actually have meaning and don’t have to be constructed of whole cloth every year. In over a decade as a special ed parent, I never saw this change. I wasn’t asking for special consideration for my child. I was asking that the school implement practices that would bring them into compliance with federal law. That made me a thorn in their side. They really preferred the parents who could be easily confused by the federal regs and would be happy if all they had to do was sign the plan every year.

  11. Tracy W says:

    Mark G – to add to Margo/Mom’s stories, my mum was once furious at one of my brothers’ teachers because she gave him a high mark for an essay where my brother didn’t actaully answer the question he should have. (And indeed, as my mum predicted, my brother went on to do badly in his exam).
    I can’t see how demanding specific changes for one kid is *necessarily* a bad thing. And of course, on the other side, a parent demanding system-wide changes can be demanding stupid system-wide changes.

  12. Bill, other taxpayers pay teachers’ salaries as well, so that seems like a pretty weak case for individualized response. I’d venture to guess that there are relatively few families nationwide (as a percentage of the school population) who pay enough in school taxes to cover the entire per pupil cost of even one of their children. Certainly, the system isn’t based on people paying the costs of their own kids and thereby earning the right to direct the teachers.

    But your general point that public school teachers should speak contemptuously of the public is probably a good one. In return, it’s worth keeping in mind that your kids’ teacher isn’t a restaurant server there to deliver what you order that day.

    Margo- Do you suppose the issue with the IEP updates that no one teacher is responsible for compiling the report? I can understand why this would be a dilemma: push for a mandatory report to be on file every ____ weeks, and the report is likely to be pretty useless or don’t push for a report and don’t get one at all. Have you had any luck emailing specific teachers about specific goals in kind of an informal way? For example, if a kid with asperger’s had a goal to improve eye contact during verbal communication, what would happen if you initiated an informal progress report on that one goal? (Hey Mrs. Smith, Johnny’s goal is to be making eye contact in 75% of his conversations. How is he doing on that?) Arguably it’s not your job, but if the goal is really to get the information rather than make the district do reports, maybe it would be successful. This might sound pretty crappy, but I’m not sure what percentage of parents really want the level of information that you do and the last thing anyone should want to do with public ed, is to invent a mandatory educational report that no one is going to do anything with. Is your underlying fear, not just that they don’t tell you how your child is progressing, but that maybe they aren’t even assessing progress at all between annual IEP meetings?

  13. Er, I meant public school teachers should NOT speak contemptuously.

  14. Margo/Mom says:

    Is your underlying fear, not just that they don’t tell you how your child is progressing, but that maybe they aren’t even assessing progress at all between annual IEP meetings?

    BINGO! And clearly this is not a unique experience. There was a fair amount of information gathering that went on prior to IDEA and it’s predecessors. Teachers frequently point to the IEP process as “meaningless paperwork,” and treat it as such. The idea that parents should be involved in planning, or that students with disabilities are expected to make measurable progress, or that services or the location of services should be determined in any rational way for which anyone might be held accountable is way too frequently dismissed as an annoyance. Every parent may or may not know that they are to receive these things. But, it’s not too far afield to suggest that parents as a group want their children to make progress and to receive an education.

  15. The SPED case worker is responsible for compiling and sending out IEP progress reports.

  16. Mark G. says:

    Margo/Mom and Tracy W., I think the intention of my post was not communicated well. We’re talking about two different kinds of parental ‘involvement.’ I see your examples of advocacy as system advocacy on behalf of the student. The “advocacy” I tire of is “he shouldn’t have to turn that assignment in, we were in the Bahamas when you assigned it” or “just change her grade to an A so it doesn’t ruin her GPA.” I get much more of that than what I feel is productive advocacy for a meaningful benefit, as your examples are illustrations of.

    I don’t believe that demanding specific changes is a bad thing, if a parent (or kid for that matter) asks for a study guide or extra scaffolding I wasn’t originally planning to give, I provide it regardless of whether an IEP is in place. I don’t appreciate the after-the-fact “if you hadn’t assigned homework my kid wouldn’t be getting bad grades” kind of attack, but when parents are pro-active, communicative, and oriented on learning rather than grades, I welcome parent advocacy.

    And Margo, do retain hope that when you advocate for a benefit for a student, it does not only last for one teacher and one student. I have been on many wraparound teams for kids where I’ve helped science and math teachers apply the reading interventions I craft for my students in English class, and every time I make an adjustment for a student, I find a half dozen more kids who I realize benefit from that same adjustment. Perhaps for some teachers, the slate goes clean with each new crop, but I figure that if it helps that one kid, there are certainly more who would benefit as well in the present and future. While that may not be broad systemic change, it does begin to create a culture that might facilitate that change later on.

    Your frustrations as a parent of a special education student are not lost on me–the system is broken and teachers are trained in neither proper service to students with exceptional needs nor the paperwork involved. While that may sound like a cop out, it is not intended to be. I work with a special education department who is diligent in communicating with me and keeping me informed of IEP goals and progress checks. I don’t see the process as meaningless paperwork–though I know teachers who do. I use the IEP to enhance my knowledge of my students and therefore provide a better service to them.

    But I don’t want to waste my time with the parents who just want me to change a kid’s grade “because” or who want me to look the other way when little precious can’t turn in an assignment because it was prom weekend and she was hung over so she couldn’t read (yes, I got that excuse–from a PARENT).

  17. Margo/Mom says:

    LS and Mark–your words do provide hope. LS–our urban system, approaching 10,000 students with disabilities does have a special education case worker. One. For the district. There are apparently multiple issues that add confusion, such as principals who have no idea that reports are required, a system of supervision that places special education accountability under someone other than the school principal (a specialist who has responsibility for many schools), and some notion that teachers cannot be required to utilitize technology (the IEP software program that the district has provided) for anything. This last one, which is troubling for many reasons, not the least of which being that it is so widespread (including a resistance to use of the district’s email system) is generally cited as being contained in the teacher’s contract. I haven’t yet been able to track it down in writing–but the belief in its existence is strong and enduring. It is fed by the union, who frequently cautions teachers that any emails that they generate can be monitored by the administration and instructs teachers to participate in the annual online survey only from their home computers–for security reasons.