Educrats don't want parent involvement

In giving President Obama an A+ for school reform ideas and for “getting it,”  columnist Ruben Navarette Jr. charges that “edu-crats” ignore and insult low-income black parents, then blame them for not participating in that “hostile environment.”

It’s been my experience that many teachers don’t really care whether parents go to the PTA or help their kids with homework. They just want a constant foil, someone to blame when students flounder and the schools underperform.

Navarette taught the children of Mexican farm workers for nearly five years in a central California farm town.

Does he have a point?

Via This Week in Education.

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Comments

  1. I’m sure there might be one or two like that, but I don’t think most teachers are looking for a foil. Most of us *want* our students to do well, and believe that parents can help make that happen. Plenty of parents don’t know what to do to help make that happen, and we teachers have plenty of suggestions:
    1. have a quiet place and time to do homework
    2. ask your student to write down each day’s assignment in a planner, and ask to see that planner
    3. communicate with teachers to see how your student is doing
    4. know where your kid is and what he/she is doing, and make sure he/she is in bed at a reasonable hour

    Yes, I recognize that some parents had bad experiences in school and may consider it a hostile place. Honestly, they’re adults now, and they need to get over that for the benefit of their children.

    I also understand that culturally, #1 above might be difficult for some groups (mainly poorer people, whom I’m taught have louder homes than us middle class folk). If your culture is getting in the way of your kid’s education, then either adapt or quit complaining about how rough life is and how the school can’t educate and doesn’t care about your type of kid, whatever type that is.

  2. I give President Obama an F. His Department of Education suppressed a favorable review of the DC voucher program, which yields positive results at a fraction of the unionized DC government schools. You want parent involvement? Support charter schools, school vouchers, tuition tax credits, subsidized homeschooling, or Parent Performance Contracting.

    “Culture” is a huge problem, but not in the way that defenders of the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel’s schools contend. Curriculum planners did well in high school, went to selective universities, did well as undergrads, got accepted to grad school, earned Ed.D.s and Ph.D.s in Educational Psychology or Elementary Mathematics Education, and obtained tenure. These people are good at school. They imagine that the highest form of life on Earth is the college professor and that everyone wants to be an academic. The goals to which they invite children to aspire and the incentives they offer are foreign to many normal children. Training an artistically inclined or mechanically inclined child for an academic career using a transcript as the incentive is like teaching a cat to swim using carrots as the reward.

    Compulsory, unpaid labor is slavery. It does not take 12 years at $12,000 per pupil-year to teach a normal child to read and compute. State provision of History and Civics instruction is a threat to democracy, just as State operation of newspapers would be (is, in totalitarian countries). Most vocational training occurs more effectively on the job than in a classroom.

    (Darren):” Yes, I recognize that some parents had bad experiences in school and may consider it a hostile place. Honestly, they’re adults now, and they need to get over that for the benefit of their children.”

    In other words, shut their eyes to reality.

    Hyman and Penroe,
    Journal of School Psychology.
    “Several studies of maltreatment by teachers suggest that school children report traumatic symptoms that are similar whether the traumatic event was physical or verbal abuse (Hyman, et.al.,1988; Krugman & Krugman, 1984; Lambert, 1990). Extrapolation from these studies suggests that psychological maltreatment of school children, especially those who are poor, is fairly widespread in the United
    States….”
    “As with corporal punishment, the frequency of emotional maltreatment in schools is too often a function of the socioeconomic status (SES) of the student population (Hyman, 1990).”

    Karen Brockenbrough, Dewey G. Cornell, Ann B. Loper
    “Aggressive Attitudes Among Victims of Violence at School”
    Education and the Treatment of Children, V. 25, #3, Aug., 2002.
    “Research on victims of violence at school suggests that repeated victimization has detrimental effects on a child’s emotional and social development (Batsche & Knoff, 1995; Hoover, Oliver, & Thomson, 1993; Olweus, 1993). Victims exhibit higher levels of anxiety and depression, and lower self-esteem than non-victims (eg., Besag, 1989; Gilmartin, 1987; Greenbaum, 1987; Olweus, 1993).

    Clive Harber,
    “Schooling as Violence”
    Educatioinal Review p. 10, V. 54, #1.
    (Quoting) “…It is almost certainly more damaging for children to be in school than to out of it. Children whose days are spent herding animals rather than sitting in a clasroom at least develop skills of problem solving and independence while the supposedly luckier ones in school are stunted in their mental, physical, and emotional development by being rendered pasive, and by having to spend hours each day in a crowded classroom under the control of an adult who punishes them for any normal level of activity such as moving or speaking.”

    Clive Harber
    “Schooling as Violence”
    Educatioinal Review, p. 9 V. 54, #1.
    “Furthermore, according to a report for UNESCO, cited in Esteve (2000), the increasing level of pupil-teacher and pupil-pupil violence in classrooms is directly connected with compulsory schooling. The report argues that institutional violence against pupils who are obliged to attend daily at an educational centre until 16 or 18 years of age increases the frustration of these students to a level where they externalise it.”

  3. Amen, Mr. Navarette–at last someone gets it.

    Darren–one more time, the issue is not so much individual attitudes, nor how much teachers care about their students. Dysfunctional systems need scapegoats in order to maintain. Some very, very good and caring people get caught up in dysfunctional systems and school buildings, or districts, are frequently dysfunctional. Wanting kids to do well, and internalizing individual responsibility for that can lead to painfully co-dependent situations–particularly when students do not do well. Identifying a scapegoat provides a means by which some of the pain of failure can be deflected.

    The only sort of cure or antidote for such situations is to be able to step back and take stock from a different angle to identify root causes of problems, and to reassign responsibility. Research tends to support that poor parents, do as much, if not more in the way of at-home homework support than more middle-class parents. Where middle class parents tend to excel is in joining various school-based parent groups (band boosters, etc). These activities, nice as they are, don’t have much bang for their buck in terms of student achievement. Beyond Ruby Payne, I don’t know anyone who claims to have researched the noise level of homes in poverty.

    The hostile environment encountered in urban schools is not some past memory of school failure–but in the way that parents are frequently treated in the here and now. Common courtesies are frequently lacking when parents are regarded as either benignly clueless or malignantly evil annoyances.

    The things that schools can do to improve parent engagement and involvement are not rocket science. The fact that they do so little in that arena is a tip-off that this is just not a priority.

  4. Margo/Mom–

    I’m surprised to hear you support Naverette’s argument so unreservedly. you’re generally more balanced in your assessments of things.

    You do, at least, allow that teachers who scapegoat parents might be “caring,” which is a good deal more than Naverette is willing to acknowledge in his piece. Yes, some schools do not treat parents well–out of sheer neglect for parents’ needs. Others really do want to engage parents, but they just don’t know how because they don’t know how to address cultural difference, among other challenges.

    It would be interesting to speak with educators from schools that have adopted much better strategies for truly engaging parents. Right off the bat, Granger High School in Washington State comes to mind. They had always welcomed parents in the most general sense but struggled with dismal attendance at parent/teacher conferences and other events. Only when school staff figured out how to accommodate parents’ pressing needs did they get the kind of engagement they were after. After that point, no scapegoating was necessary.

  5. We tried to organize a PTSA at my school three years ago…twelve teachers, two students and three parents showed up. We had an enrollment of about 1,100 kids at the time.

  6. My principal tried to organize a Parent Night where parents of 4th and 5th grader could discuss concerns they have. Of the 240 4th and 5th graders at our school, exactly 7 parents showed up.

  7. Mike,

    It appears that it’s a failure of your principal’s organizational skills.

    A good principal should be able to get over 50% to attend.

    Put his job on the line and he can get 75%.

  8. Foobarista says:

    A lot of inner-city school districts are part of political machines, run by and for government unions and the enablers among the local crooks, er, political leaders.

    Given that democracy is nonfunctional in these environments, the only “vote” that matters in these environments is to vote with your feet and get the heck out of Dodge.

  9. I know teachers who complain in one breath about how uninvolved parents are and then turn around and complain when parents call to ask for information or to try to defend their kids. I think some teachers want parents involved but only on the teacher’s side – once the parent is questioning the teacher, then not all teachers want to hear that. I get that, as no one likes to be called wrong, but I don’t think we get it both ways. Parents either care about their kids’ educations and are involved in making sure their kids get the best education possible (which includes standing up for their kid), or they don’t and aren’t.

    I disagree with Navarette’s statement, “It’s been my experience that many teachers don’t really care whether parents go to the PTA or help their kids with homework.” Well, I guess I can’t disagree with the statement overall (not my call what his perception of his experience is) but that teachers don’t care if parents are involved. We do. Most of us want them to be. I’m just not sure that we all have similar views as to what being involved in a child’s education means – what it actually looks like on a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly basis. Until schools start talking to parents about what parents need from us and what we’re looking for from them, and are actually open to a dialogue in which parents can respond with if they think school expectations are reasonable or not, I don’t think much will change.

  10. When it comes to blaming someone in education I see it always coming back to the teachers. It seems that teacher’s can never be good enough or do things right in education. I find it disappointing that in our society today educating a child seems to be on the shoulders of a school. And now, according to Navarette, we want to blame the parents for their child failing? But these failing grades go on our school report cards and determine our state funding or lack of?

    Most students I’ve had come from single family homes with one parent working two jobs or both parents working full time. I have had many parents tell me it is too hard to read at night or do the homework with their child. They seem to have every excuse in the book of why they can’t find the time. Even after I have explained to them concerns and given them extra materials or activities to do at home to help their child succeed in an area. So if this child fails and the parent explained to me they didn’t have time, can I blame the parent? Obviously, this is an extreme situation and I would hope that a child would not fail but when do parents take the blame for not working with their child at home? I put a lot of time calling home and sending personal notes home with students to keep the parent communication open. And yet only about half of my parents respond or involve themselves.

    At our school we have staff members that call every parent to invite them to Learning Nights we do 4 times a year. One night a year we have funding to disperse free pizza. We will have about 80% of our students and families show up, the other 3 learning nights about 30%. We run all the nights the same and focus on different academics each night throughout the year. It is organized and every parent gets a phone call but without the free food many families don’t show up.

    Parent involvement is vital to a child’s success. My school works hard involving parents and takes time to ensure they feel welcomed in our school. At some events you can see the involvement and other times our school is empty. It could be at some schools that parents are not welcomed but at my school we make an effort. In my classroom I make an effort.

    I would like to know who determines who gets the blame if a child fails. Do teachers for not involving the parents or do the parents for not involving themselves?

  11. You all seem to leave out at least one other combination. For example, I could care less if parents participate in PTA (I’m not a fan), and don’t expect parents to help with their kids’ homework, and don’t blame them for their kids’ shortcomings.

  12. I find it disappointing that in our society today educating a child seems to be on the shoulders of a school.

    Well schools are the ones who are paid for it. If schools aren’t going to take on the weight of educating children, why should taxpayers spend money on schools?
    If you don’t want to take on the responsibility of educating students, find a different job, one that you are happy to take on the relevant responsibility. (I think you will have a tough time finding a job where you are paid money but are not actually responsible for anything, politicians try to pull this one quite frequently but they still tend to get voted out.)

    Parent involvement is vital to a child’s success.

    Actually no. For example Direct Instruction has had some remarkable successes despite not relying on homework or on parental involvement.

    I would like to know who determines who gets the blame if a child fails.

    Whomever you like. Blame me if you really need someone to blame (I’m serious here, I think the blame game is pointless, so if it’s important for you to blame someone please don’t waste any more time and just blame me).
    But once you’ve blamed me, who should be responsible for trying to get the child to success? If it’s the parents who are responsible, then we should be giving them the money, not schools, and letting them spend the money however they think will be best for educating their students.

  13. It appears that it’s a failure of your principal’s organizational skills.

    A good principal should be able to get over 50% to attend.

    Put his job on the line and he can get 75%

    That’s how it may work in the business world, but in reality you can’t force people to attend an afterhours event. Either they show up or they don’t.

    Would you SERIOUSLY put a principal’s job on the line over an after hours event?

  14. If you don’t want to take on the responsibility of educating students, find a different job, one that you are happy to take on the relevant responsibility

    I’ll gladly take the responsibility for educating the kid…I just want someone to take responsibility for properly raising the kid.

  15. “I have had many parents tell me it is too hard to read at night or do the homework with their child. They seem to have every excuse in the book of why they can’t find the time. Even after I have explained to them concerns and given them extra materials or activities to do at home to help their child succeed in an area. So if this child fails and the parent explained to me they didn’t have time, can I blame the parent? Obviously, this is an extreme situation and I would hope that a child would not fail but when do parents take the blame for not working with their child at home? I put a lot of time calling home and sending personal notes home with students to keep the parent communication open. And yet only about half of my parents respond or involve themselves.”

    You know, my parents never had to do my homework with me. They had no idea what homework had been assigned, and it would never have occurred to my teachers to try to require parents to do extra activities with the students at home. If that’s your model for student success, your students are doomed to fail. Correction. You have chosen to implement a model which dooms your students to fail. And you know it.

    It’s on the same lines as schools which arrange events during the day. Most parents work. They cannot attend these events–and the school knows this–witness the screams from the teaching staff when anyone suggests nighttime conferences.

    What are the homework expectations, that a student can’t complete it without adult help? More work is not better, if it’s out of his intellectual grasp. Drop all the cut and paste artistic projects. Respect the child’s time and capabilities. Only assign homework which is necessary, and only assign homework on materials which have been covered in class.

  16. Claus said: “I’m surprised to hear you support Naverette’s argument so unreservedly. you’re generally more balanced in your assessments of things.”

    and

    “Only when school staff figured out how to accommodate parents’ pressing needs did they get the kind of engagement they were after. After that point, no scapegoating was necessary.”

    Well, Claus, I admit I have lost considerable objectivity on this topic years after deciding that I would need to be an activist parent if the schools were ever to become the kind of places that could educate my child. Now, I can assert that in my urban district I had two kinds of experience. In one child’s case, the lottery-based magnets provided an access to schools that both parents and teachers were eager to get into. These schools had active (in the sense of fund-raising) PTA’s and some other volunteer opportunities for parents. Frankly they were also more open to problem-solving when there was a problem.

    These schools were frequently so full of “regular” students that they had only limited “services” (meaning a special classroom) for students with disabilities. They typically had a tutor as the only available service. So–even if a student with disabilities got in the door, they were quickly moved to the closest “neighborhood” school with a “unit.” These default schools are a mixed bag–a few do all right despite needy populations. Many are among the worst of the worst.

    My first pass at parent activism was to approach the PTA if there was one. I discovered cheerleaders and fundraisers–but just as frequently nothing at all. They would talk about how wonderful the tutor was. The parents of students with disabilities were the least likely to be connected to anyone beyond the teacher, as their students were most likely to be coming from somewhere else (and to be sent somewhere else if a case could be made that their needs were different than the ones served).

    I was excited that with NCLB a specific role for parents in the school improvement process was defined. I found that this was even more impotent than the parent role in the IEP process. Eyes glazed over when I asked about when the meeting would be held. It took considerable asking and moving up the ladder to even see the plan that the teachers wrote–and no one cared to hear my objection that kids with disabilities: a group with very low achievement–had been overlooked (they were too small a group to count for AYP at that time).

    The district has now hired “parent volunteers,” chosen by each principal, to “participate” in planning. That is–they sign off. They may be asked about “parent involvement.”

    There was a time when I believed, as Claus suggests, that the primary problem was a lack of skill and knowledge in how to involve parents. As some of the examples above illustrate–this is sometimes the case, but only partially the case. As the joke goes, it takes only one social worker to change a light bulb, but the light bulb has to want to change.

    Involving parents does not mean putting a meeting on the calendar to see who shows up. And in a school that regards any evening meetings as voluntary for staff–don’t expect anyone else to take it seriously (and yes, I have worked jobs where the work sometimes took place in the evenings and on weekends. It was also abundantly clear that this was a part of the job. With a salaried staff, it was assumed. With an hourly staff, adjustments were made). Seldom is it recognized that a meeting, or a form such as the PTA is merely a vehicle for accomplishing something. That part of the planning is totally overlooked. What is this vehicle intended to accomplish? If the point is to show parents that they are deficient and that teachers know how to fix them–don’t expect people to rearrange their lives to hear this in person. I am a parent who shows up, even if only to ward off the accusation that I don’t care enough. I have been to some really pointless school events–such as Open House. These typically begin with herding everyone into a very large room for the welcome and introduction of teachers (I went for three years to Open Houses at a school that NEVER introduced the special education teachers). Expect a backhanded compliment that the parents who are there are better than the ones that did not come. Then some kind of run through the school schedule with four minutes per class and two minutes to find the next one. The schedule totally disintegrates by the end of the second “period.” Don’t ask how your child is doing–not the right time (although if your child is doing very poorly you may be kidnapped and dragged to see the evidence). These things happen every year, every school. They are in the contract and on the calendar. Nobody every asks what they are for or how this time might best be used. They especially don’t ask parents what they would like to use the time for.

    The commenter above is critical because pizza turns out a crowd. I can think of some very good reasons why this is. One is that for many of us, we have to choose between getting dinner on the table and going to a school event. Providing pizza meets both needs. The other is that kids are the best ambassadors. If the kids want to be there, they will bring the parents. Neither of these things are bad. But you might also want to ask about whether the meeting is fulfilling any real need for the parents.

    There are many other important questions to consider, such as how likely are parents to see school staff anywhere outside the fortress of school. If the school staff are all missionaries from somewhere else (where they have the kinds of schools that they want their kids to go to), they really need to work harder at normalizing relations. They have to overcome their fear of the neighborhood and the people that live in it (particularly parents). They have to recognize that in any group of parents there are skills and abilities that they need–NOW–not after they have provided training or remade them after their own image.

  17. Deirdre Mundy says:

    The bigger showing with Free Pizza makes a lot of sense– if both parents work, there’s not time to fix dinner AND go to the school meetings. If you provide dinner, you’ve given them 2 hours of free time which they wouldn’t otherwise have.

    Also, on the ‘cultural’ part of poorer homes being louder: It might not be a culture thing as much as a SPACE thing. In general, in a small home with siblings, it’s very hard to find a quiet spot to work, because, other than the bathroom, there is no spot where people AREN’T.

    (I’m seeing this now with my Kindergartener– we’ve outgrown our house, and it really shows when we’re trying to do phonics at the table and her younger siblings are acting their ages…….)

  18. I’ll gladly take the responsibility for educating the kid…I just want someone to take responsibility for properly raising the kid.

    That’s a big problem. I understand that at least part of the motive for compulsory schooling is to try to make up for parents who can’t or don’t care about education. We also have social workers to try to do something about parents who abuse their children and a fostering system as a backup, and finally police and a criminal justice system for those parents who kill their kids. All of these are far from perfect.

  19. timfromtexas says:

    Again, more blame storming as always from you edumacationalists. You imagine that teaching and learning will happen without a set curriculum. It won’t.

  20. timfromtexas says:

    Without a set curriculum you don’t have an answer to any question that is asked as to why this or that. Therefore, more money to more no answers. Well, then come up with a new idea or idiotic scheme that they might buy. It’s a good scam. It’s sickening.

  21. “I think some teachers want parents involved but only on the teacher’s side – once the parent is questioning the teacher, then not all teachers want to hear that.”

    Exactly! The schools are typically only interested in having parents involved as fundraisers and volunteer labor but they don’t want to allow parents any actual input on anything substantive.

  22. I have to agree with Crimson Wife; parent involvement is desired only to the extent that it is on the teacher’s and/or school’s terms. Fundraising, chaperoning field trips, Halloween parties and drilling math facts/spelling words (oh, I forgot; they don’t do that now) are fine; questioning the curriculum, methods (group work, arts & crafts etc.) or their child’s placement are something else.

    Back in the dinosaur era, the level of parent involvement that seems to be expected now didn’t exist in my public school or my husband’s parochial school. Doing the parties and chaperoning field trips was about all there was. Of course, most parents did provide for homework time/space and some did provide input when their kids “stuck” on something, but it wasn’t routine. Families, even the poor and new immigrant ones, did do the basic socialization of their kids, though.

  23. no kidding! What do you think those admins get paid for?

  24. It looks like everyone has a different idea of parent involvement. This was my first blog I have ever responded too and it’s been amazing to see the different views!
    If a parent questions me about their child, I love it! I can show all of my data to support my decisions and know that I am meeting their needs or challenging them. When I think of parent involvement in my classroom it’s not about showing up to field trips, although it’s nice =), it’s about taking time to read or play a fun game with their first grader for at least 10 or 15 minutes a night. If they can give me that much time, I am in heaven!

    And to Tracy,
    Yes, children can succeed and do succeed in my classroom and school without parent involvement. We have little parent involvement, working in an ELL & Title 1 school with 30 languages, but always have children be successful. We do get paid to teach these children and with many many hours and hard work they are thriving in school.
    I am responsible and take responsibility for student’s academic learning, I am also responsible for teaching them hygiene, honesty, responsibility, perseverance, respect, manners, school behaviors, tolerance, etc. in my classroom just like many other teachers. Because of all the things we teach in our classrooms, yes, these children will succeed.
    Reading at home for at least 10 minutes a night is proven by research to help a child learn to read. When I am referring to parent involvement I am referring to reading and playing games with them. I do call parents if I have a concern, an extra 5 minutes a night on a skill can benefit a child. If I called you and explained that your child was having a hard time counting to 10 using one on one correspondence, you wouldn’t get Cheerios out and starting counting with her/him?
    I don’t want to blame you or anyone, my point was we need to work together and quit blaming each other (teachers and parents).

    And another thing, I had no idea that teacher’s got ALL of the credit if a child succeeds. I have always thanked my student’s parents for reading with them because it showed in their reading skills.
    Hopefully, since I get all of the credit, they can pay me a little bit more so I can quit my second job!!!

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