Saving ‘Dre

As part of Hechinger’s excellent Promise to Renew series on a Newark turnaround school, Sara Neufeld looks at a 12-year-old boy who’s doing well in school. D’Andre has lived with his paternal grandmother and her husband since the age of three.Grandma Jean is very involved with his school, Quitman Street Renew School. Will it be enough?

Click to read the entire seriesDre’s mother — who was 19 when she had her second child — gave up custody because of her depression and drug addiction. The boy’s half-sister, who lives with the maternal grandmother, is doing poorly in school.

“From the nights Grandma Jean dried his tears as a little boy missing his mom to her constant presence at school events, D’Andre has seen the extent of her devotion time and again, and he couldn’t bear to let her down,” writes Neufeld. “At the same time, he has never stopped longing for his mother, and he’s held out hope that if he is successful enough, she will want a bigger role in his life.”

Dre works hard in schools, reads goes to the library and created his own home science projects over the summer.

As Quitman strives to reverse years of low academic performance and produce more students like D’Andre, he is a testament to the power of a highly involved caregiver, even with minimal financial resources. Jean, 68, is more protective of her grandson than she was raising her own three boys: No violent games on his Xbox, no Facebook whatsoever, and when he plays outside, she’s there watching from the living room window, with lace curtains inside and protective bars outside. . . . D’Andre stays indoors, watching “How It’s Made” on the Science Channel or building an elaborate dragon or tank out of Legos.

Dre’s mother is thinking of taking her son and daughter to Texas, where her boyfriend has moved. His father may take the boy to Pennsylvania to live near his girlfriend’s family.

Meanwhile, Grandma Jean has persuaded Dre to apply for a foundation-funded program that prepares top students to apply to elite boarding schools throughout the Northeast. If selected in the spring, the seventh grader “would spend a year attending local classes to build his academic, social and emotional capacity and then receive ongoing support once away.”

Can charters require parents to volunteer?

Thirty percent of California charters require parents to provide unpaid labor, according to a Public Advocates report. “Forced work” is an “illegal school fee” that restricts access, charges the group.

Requirements range from one hour per year to 96 hours, according to Charging for Access.  Some schools charge parents $10 to $25 per hour or the equivalent in school supplies for unworked hours.

A parent helps a student with vocabulary at a KIPP school in Los Angeles.

A parent helps a student with vocabulary at a KIPP school in Los Angeles.

A charter school “may lawfully include reasonable admission criteria, including a requirement that parents agree to do work for the charter school,” according to a 2006 memo by a state Education Department attorney.

The report calls on the department to end the practice or face a lawsuit.

Charters should not make service hours an enrollment requirement, says the California Charter Schools Association. However, CCSA is unaware of any school that’s excluded a student “as the result of the parent’s failure to volunteer.”

I checked out the local charters on the report’s list.

ACE charters in San Jose require one hour a month: Parents may volunteer from home, such as phoning other parents with information.

Rocketship schools require 30 hours a year. Again, there are opportunities to meet service hours after school, on weekends and from home.

“Parent participation” schools ask the most.

Village School, a “district dependent” charter in Campbell, asks parents to volunteer three hours a week. It’s not clear whether parents have alternatives

Discovery, which also uses the parent participation model,  promises to “work with you individually to find a mode of involvement that works for you.” No child will be turned away because parents can’t volunteer, the web site states.

Photo: Lance Iversen, The Chronicle Ma Elena Villagas (center in pink) a teacher at Adelante Academy in San Jose gets help from parents.


Ma Elena Villagas (center in pink) a teacher at Adelante Academy in San Jose gets help from parents.

Some district-run schools also require parents to support their schools. In Alum Rock, a heavily immigrant district in East San Jose, Adelante Dual Language Academy, a district school of choice, requires 30 hours. 

Alum Rock considered requiring all parents to volunteer 30 hours a year, not just those at schools choice. That idea didn’t fly.

Two district-run choice schools in Sacramento require parent hours, reports the Sacramento Bee.

Leonardo da Vinci sets forth an annual parent contract requiring at least 40 hours a year for a family with one child enrolled, according to the school’s website. “Parents who fail to meet the obligations of the contract will lose sibling preference and may be given voluntary school transfer opportunities,” according to the school’s website.

The Phoebe Hearst website specifies that families “are required to donate 40 hours of volunteer time per year” and can do so by helping in the office, ensuring safety on the playground or in the school parking lot or helping in the classrooms. Parents can also donate $5 an hour in lieu of volunteering to cover up to 20 hours, according to a parent participation form that families are asked to submit each month.

Asked about the requirement, a district spokesman said “the language would be removed from both schools’ websites,” reports the Bee.

I suspect most California schools will drop the requirements. But is it wrong for a school of choice to require parent participation?

School stops $100 ‘homework buyout’

A California school canceled a “homework buyout” fundraiser — $100 for a week without homework — after parents complained. The money would have helped pay for classroom supplies.

‘Normal Barbie’ comes with acne, tattoos

Lammily stands next to taller, thinner Barbie

Lammily stands next to taller, thinner Barbie

“Normal Barbie” — a fashion doll with the body of a typical 19-year-old American — now can be customized with acne, tattoo, cellulite and stretch-mark stickers.

Other options are “freckles, glasses, blushing, adhesive bandages, moles, temporary tattoos, stitches, scrapes & scratches, bruises, casts, scars, mosquito bites, and grass and dirt stains,” reports BuzzFeed News.

Imperfections make “Lammily” more “relatable,” says designer Nickolay Lamm. “I want to show that average is beautiful.”

At 5’4″ and 150 pounds, the average 19-year-old is pudgy, notes Virginia Postrel. Lamm has declared she’s an athlete to justify her “firm plastic tummy.” (Do average 19-year-olds have stretch marks?)

When I was 19, I was 5’4″ and 120 pounds. That was normal in 1971.

Where are the boys in choir, orchestra?

Boys are on the wrong side of a “gender gap” in music education, reports Pacific Standard. Girls outnumber boys by roughly two to one in high school choirs and orchestras, according to a University of Maryland study.

From 1982 through 2009, the average high school choir has been 70 percent female to 30 percent male, reports Kenneth Elpus. Orchestras have averaged 64 percent female and 36 percent male. Boys are more likely to participate in band, but girls are the majority there too.

Libros for los ninos

In the San Jose neighborhood where Cesar Chavez got his start, immigrants’ children struggle with reading, reports National Journal.

A group called Somos Mayfair has organized parents — poorly educated, Spanish-speaking gardeners, cleaners and restaurant workers — to share children’s books. This month the En Nuestras Manos (In Our Hands) campaign organized reading circles at a local park and in someone’s driveway.

“Cesar Chavez Elementary School is among the lowest-performing schools in California,” according to National Journal. This is untrue. On the state’s most recent Academic Performance Index, the school’s scores are slightly above average — way above average compared to schools with similar demographics.

Mayfair is in the Alum Rock elementary district, which has a number of high-performing charter and district schools. It’s the most-improved district in Silicon Valley.

Texas educates ‘Generation One’

In Texas, one in three children has a parent who’s an immigrant — or they’re immigrants themselves, reports KERA News in Generation One.

Carnival of Homeschooling

Autumn Leaves by John Everett Millais (1829–1896)Autumn is the theme of this week’s Carnival of Homeschooling, hosted by Janice Campbell.

At Amongst Lovely Things, Sarah offers a list of Favorite First Novels to Read-Aloud with Kids. She recommends Betty McDonald’s Mrs. Piggle Wiggle (one of my childhood favorites), Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach (I read it aloud to my baby brother), Beverly Cleary’s The Mouse and the Motorcycle and more.

My mother read us Black Beauty. My sister and I loved it. When she finished, we begged for her to read it all over again. Mom thought it was Victorian treacle, but she read it twice. Then she told us to learn to read so we could read it for ourselves. I did reread it years later. Mom had a point.

Unsafe on Sesame Street

Sesame Street‘s early seasons come with a warning to parents: Not safe for today’s children. Producers cite Cookie Monster’s dietary choices and children shown riding bikes without a helmet and running through a construction site, writes Peter Weber on The Week. “In the opening scene of the very first episode, a young girl being shown around Sesame Street by a grown man, Gordon, who is not her father and is holding her hand.”

Weber highlights 10 classic Sesame Street moments we wouldn’t show today’s kids, including Ernie’s encounter with an O-pusher. “Kids, if a strange man approaches you and starts to open his trench coat, run,” advises Weber.

The case against universal preschool

Preschool for all is politically popular, writes Alia Wong in The Atlantic. But it’s not the “panacea” that President Obama and other advocates claim it is, say researchers. It may be counterproductive.

Making it universal is “a very bad idea,” says Ron Haskins, a preschool expert who co-directs the Center on Children and Families at the left-leaning Brookings Institute. “Invest (government dollars) where they’re most needed and that’s with low-income kids. (This) is going to waste a lot of money on families that don’t need it.”

“You have to look at the trade-off,” said Darleen Opfer, the education director at the RAND Corporation. “If you have a state that can’t afford high-quality preschool for everyone, where does the investment really make sense?”

Intensive early-learning programs — done well and at significant cost — can help the children of poorly educated parents develop develop language skills, most agree.

But that won’t “inoculate them” from the effects of mediocre schools, says Bruce Fuller, a Berkeley researcher.

Head Start’s benefits fade in elementary school. “Preschool has been oversold,” says Cato’s Neal McCluskey. “People too often speak as if it’s a certainty that preschool has strong, lasting benefits.”

I’d like to see more investments in helping parents improve their parenting skills.