Latino, black parents: Expect more of our kids

Latino and black parents think educators expect too little of their children, according to a survey, by The Leadership Conference Education Fund.

Both groups — but especially black parents — set a very high value on school safety, with school resources and high-quality teachers coming next in priority.

Both said family support made the most difference in students’ success in school, following by individual effort.

Ninety percent of Latinos and black parents said schools should hold low-income students to the same or higher standard as other students, reports Natalie Gross on Latino Ed Beat. “Some teachers have low expectations for low-income students of color – and parents know it.”

As in many school surveys, most parents liked their children’s schools, reports Education Week. However, 53 percent of African-American participants said schools nationally were doing a poor job preparing African-American children for the future.  Only 28 percent of Latino respondents agreed.

Also, about one-third of African-American and one-quarter of Latino participants responded that schools “are not really trying” to educate African American and Latino students.

“Children of color” are the “new majority” in public schools, the Leadership Conference observes.

Adventure playgrounds pop up in cities


New York City children play at a “pop-up” adventure playground on Governor’s Island.

Urban adventure playgrounds — with adult monitors, but no hovering parents — are giving city children a chance to explore, writes Katherine Martinelli in The Atlantic.

The idea started in Europe after World War II, when children turned bomb sites into do-it-yourself playgrounds.

The primary components of an adventure playground are moveable parts (which can include items like boxes, pipes, paint, hammers, and even saws) and trained, paid grown-up “playworkers,” who oversee and facilitate the play without interfering. Children are free to build their own structures, tear them down, climb, graffiti, create. They are encouraged to take calculated risks in order to learn resilience, grit, and problem-solving skills.

Eve Mosher was frustrated by New York City’s rule-bound parks and playgrounds, writes Martinelli. Her children, ages 4 and 6, “were chastised for digging in the dirt or climbing trees.” She and fellow parent Alexander Khost created play:groundNYC.

“Using an organization called Pop Up Adventure Play as a model and source for playworker training, Mosher, Khost, and their six fellow board members started hosting pop-up adventure playgrounds around the city,” writes Martinelli. They’ll open a seasonal adventure playground on Governor’s Island for kids ages 6-13 in May.

In Europe, many adventure playgrounds are in lower-income neighborhoods, says Robin Meyers, a playground designer and board member. “They become a place where young people can go and have a space that’s safe and has adult supervision. The playworkers become almost like a big brother or big sister or social-worker-type role.”

In New York City, parents will have to take the ferry to Governors Island, making adventure play a “destination” event.

Will play monitors be able to keep parents from hovering? How wild and crazy can an American playground be these days?

Let kids do ‘impossible’ assignment

Let your child tackle that “impossible” homework assignment, writes K.J. Dell’Antonia in the New York Times‘ Well blog.

Theodor Geisel

Theodor Geisel

Her two fourth graders were told to “prepare a five-minute speech from a biography, to be delivered, not read, from notes on index cards, in costume and in character and with at least one prop.”
Dell’Antonia assumed she’d have to drag them through it, but she and her husband were too busy to do more than “a little redirection to one child early on, a little last-minute glue-gun assistance to the other.”

Her son spoke about Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss), while her daughter talked about Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to graduate from medical school.

Elizabeth Blackwell

Elizabeth Blackwell

“Had I helped, the report would have been more about Dr. Blackwell and less about Ginger and Blackie, the horses she had during her childhood,” writes Dell’Antonia.

“It didn’t seem to matter. Their teacher didn’t want the best oral book reports. She wanted their best oral book reports.”

Her kids didn’t get the top grade, but they had the satisfaction of doing it themselves.

I’m tired of doing my kids’ homework

I’m always stuck doing my kids’ homework, writes Karol Markowicz in the New York Post.

For her daughter’s “100th day of school project,” she cut out 100 pictures of American Girls from the catalog, so her daughter could glue them on a board.

“I have a smart, independent, motivated daughter, but it would take her three days to cut out 100 pictures of something for her project,” she writes. Her daughter is in kindergarten. Cutting is hard work.

Even for Mom, it took over an hour and her child spent another hour glueing them on. (Doesn’t this sound like a way to make kids — and moms — hate the number 100?)

Homework should be tailored for the child’s abilities, not the mother’s, Markowicz believes.

As kids get older, their parents face ever more complex science fair projects, writes Hana Schank in The Atlantic.

Last year my son, who was in third grade at the time, came home with a sheet of paper from his school that listed three categories for appropriate projects: developing a hypothesis and conducting an experiment to test that theory, inventing something new, or researching “something specific.” The guidelines listed “whales” as an example of something specific.

Given that my son was 8 years old, the idea that he could, on his own, do any single one of these things seemed ludicrous.

It’s not fair to kids who don’t have a parent who can help and it’s not very educational for those who do.

Home visits build teacher-parent links


Stanton Elementary School teacher Sheryl Garner (right) on a home visit with the Colbert family in Washington D.C.

At both charter and district schools, home visits are helping teachers engage with parents, writes June Kronholz in Education Next.

Washington D.C.’s Flamboyan Foundation “trains — and pays — teachers to visit their students’ homes” in hopes of improving achievement, she writes.

“I had expectations of what the parents were supposed to do,” says Melissa Bryant, a math teacher and dean of students at D.C. Scholars Stanton Elementary, a novel partnership between the Washington, D.C., public schools and Scholar Academies, a charter operator. “I never heard what they wanted me to do.”

“No one ever asked me my goals,” adds Katrina Branch, who is raising six children in D.C., including the four children of her murdered sister.

Flamboyan is a partner of the Parent/Teacher Home Visit Project, which has 432 participating schools in 17 states and the District of Columbia.

Sacramento boys welcome their teachers for a home visit.

Sacramento boys welcome teachers.

It started in the late 1990s in Sacramento when a church-based community action group that launched a pilot home-visit program, writes Kronholz.

Last year, Jessica Ghalambor, a 7th-grade teacher at Sacramento’s Fern Bacon Middle School, visited the home of a shy, silent girl with reading problems named Yoveli Rosas. “The very next day,” the teacher saw an “incredible” change, she recalled. “I could tell she knew I cared.”

Ghalambor visited Yoveli again this year, along with her 8th-grade teacher and a school counselor, who acted as translator with the girl’s Spanish-speaking mother.

Josefina Rosas, Yoveli’s mother, offered to bring tamales to the school’s Heritage Festival, and promised that her husband, a landscaper, would attend a meeting about the upcoming class trip to D.C.

Finally, Ghalambor asked about Rosas’s hopes and dreams for Yoveli. To go further in school than she and her husband had so Yoveli will “have more chances,” Rosas quickly answered. Yoveli, whose reading has improved but still lags, had a more immediate goal: to read a 300-page book. “You remember last year when you came, the bookshelf was half full?” she reminded Ghalambor gaily. “This year it’s overflowing.”

“There’s not much research” on home visits’ affect on learning, writes Kronholz. However, a study for the Flamboyan Foundation found better attendance, which is linked to better reading scores, for children who received home visits in 2012-13.

Mississippi teachers could grade parents

Credit: Steve Wilson

Credit: Steve Wilson

If a bill passed by the Mississippi House becomes law, teachers would grade parents’ involvement with their children’s education.

A section would be added to each child’s report card for the teacher to evaluate parents on “their responsiveness to communication with teachers, the students’ completion of homework and readiness for tests, and the frequency of absences and tardiness.”

Is social media fueling teen suicide?


Credit: Victor Kerlow

Parents blame stress for the suicides of two 17-year-old girls in Plano, Texas. Two boys at New York City’s Fordham Prep jumped in front of trains a few weeks apart. The youth suicide rate has been rising since 2007, reports the Centers for Disease Control.

Social media may be fueling teen suicide by encouraging young people to become “disconnected from the reality of their own existences,” writes Dr. Keith Ablow.

Facebook, Twitter, Tinder and the like have made them think of themselves as mini-reality-TV versions of themselves. Too many of them see their lives as a series of flickering photos or quick videos. They need constant doses of admiration and constant confirmation of their tenuous existence, which come in the form of Facebook “likes” and Twitter “retweets.”

Heroin use is spreading, writes Ablow. “Heroin is just the powdered equivalent of text messaging, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and the rest of the technology drugs Americans— especially American teen— are mainlining every single day.”

Young people are “increasingly fascinated with dramas about vampires and zombies,” he adds. “They know something about the walking dead.”

The horror of Valentine’s Day cards

Before she had kids, Mrs. Lipstick thought assigning kids to make Valentine’s Day cards was a great way to encourage handwriting, basic literacy, creativity and parent/child bonding. Now, after helping her preschooler make and sign 25 cards, she thinks it’s parent torture.

Her daughter “discovered you could make a butterfly if you put a popsicle stick on top of a heart with a pom pom for a head,” writes Mrs. Lipstick. “That was a great idea if she wanted to make ONE valentine. But we needed 25.”

Once finished, her preschooler had to write her name on each card. It took “three evenings after school encouraging, cajoling, begging, demanding that she write her name in a legible fashion,” writes Mrs. Lipstick. “She may never write her name again.”

Mrs. Lipstick has taken a vow never to sneer at store-bought cards.

Good schools matter 

Families matter a great deal and schools very little when it comes to education, concluded the famous Coleman report, Equality of Educational Opportunity, 50 years ago. Coleman mixed up cause and correlation, writes Stanford’s Caroline Hoxby as part of Education Next‘s look back on the influential report.

Coleman “did not consider the possibility that advantaged children might have had high achievement precisely because their parents could choose good schools and ditch bad schools,” she writes.

Coleman believed teacher quality didn’t matter because measurable teacher characteristics, such as experience, education and vocabulary score, explained little of the variation in students’ achievement.

Parents always knew some teachers were better than others, writes Hoxby. These days, “numerous rigorous analyses of value-added demonstrate that teachers matter a great deal.”

Coleman failed to see that “good” families might be those who could discern which teachers were effective and get their children into those teachers’ classes. Thus, part of the apparent family effect was really a choose-effective-teachers effect.

(Before my daughter started kindergarten, I visited the two teachers’ classrooms and requested the one I liked the most. In later years, I networked with other parents to determine which teachers had the best reputations.)
Looking back, it is obvious that this early and voluntary desegregation was dominated by selection, that is, families’ own choices.Coleman also concluded that minority children achieved more when they had white classmates, Hoxby writes. But his study didn’t look at students randomly assigned to an integrated or all-black classroom. The data, from an era before desegregation orders, reflected “the sort of black families who were motivated and able to live in integrated neighborhoods.”

Hoxby attended voluntarily integrated schools in Shaker Heights, Ohio.  “Often, the blacks were professionals who already spent most of their working lives among whites, had white friends, and participated in mixed-race church and social groups. ”

Her research has found that “when students are randomly assigned to schools, it is the achievement and not the race of their peers that matters.”

Taking the ‘self’ out of self-empowerment

We’ve Had 100 Years Of Progressive Education And The World’s Getting Worse, writes Jordan Shapiro, a fellow at Sesame Street Workshop’s Joan Ganz Clooney Center, in Forbes.  “A century of well-intentioned progressive trends in education may have cultivated a generation of entitled I-me-mine individualist ‘winners’,” he suggests.

Each wealthy kid who is taught to follow his/her passion, discover his/her true vocation, or find his/her authentic self, is also inadvertently learning that personal success is a kind of implicit manifest destiny.

Parenting norms differ by social class, writes Robert Putnam in Our Kids. “Well-educated parents aim to raise autonomous, independent, self-directed children with high self-esteem and the ability to make good choices, whereas less educated parents focus on discipline and obedience and conformity to pre-established rules.”

Reformers “try to spread the message of self-actualization more equitably,” writes Shapiro. They forget that “self-confidence and individual empowerment” aren’t neutral or equitable. “Winners necessarily require losers.”

Shapiro dreams of “new classroom rules, new district wide administrative systems, new school designs and new educational customs that will break the cycle of winners and losers, haves and have nots.”

We need to teach our children that the goal is not self-empowerment for the sake of the individual, but rather for the collective. They must learn not only how to identify and discover their unique gifts, but also how to offer them up in service to the rest of us.

Do winners require losers? If Johnny learns to read well, is that bad for Susie?

And teaching kids to serve the collective is . . . kind of creepy, right?