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.”

California stops rating schools by proficiency

California is previewing the new education bill’s shift from federal to state accountability, writes Sharon Noguchi in the San Jose Mercury News. Thanks to a No Child Left Behind waiver granted in June, schools are graded on attendance, graduation rates (“inflated by the demise of the exit exam”) and test participation, rather than by English and math proficency. The pressure is off.

For more than a decade, the release of federal scores indicating California public school students’ progress — or lack of it — has incited alarm, anxiety and anguish among educators.

 But when those marks were ever so quietly posted this month, barely anyone noticed. And it seemed few cared. For the first time in years, California schools met federal standards — but only because the yardstick had been replaced with an easier-to-meet measurement.
Some schools were freed from “Program Improvement” status, despite low achievement scores.

Statewide, only 44 percent of California students tested proficient in English, and 33 percent proficient in math.

Program Improvement “doesn’t have the importance it once did,” said Dorothy Abreu-Coito, director of instructional services in the Sunnyvale School District. “We have to jump through a few hoops.”

Ironically, high-performing Palo Alto High failed because too many 11th graders refused to take state standardized tests.

“Some fear that without federally mandated high expectations and demands for transparency, schools will continue to fail poor and minority children, the intended beneficiaries of No Child Left Behind,” writes Noguchi.

“Much of the pushback to NCLB came because the law actually succeeded, in part, at doing what it was intended to do: identify and intervene in schools that were not helping students achieve overall, as well as those with large disparities in outcomes among different student subgroups, and bring urgency to the need to improve,” writes Melissa Tooley in The Atlantic.  “Under ESSA, it’s no more likely that schools will know how to improve.”

Be there or beware of failure

Students arrive at Harry Street Elementary.  Photo: Mike Hutmacher,  Wichita Eagle

Eighty percent of success is showing up, according to Woody Allen. United Way of the Plains has launched a “Be There” campaign to boost attendance at Wichita schools, reports the Wichita Eagle.

Fifteen minutes after the morning bell at Harry Street Elementary School, Crystal Botts sits just inside the front door – smile on her face, stack of tardy slips in her lap – awaiting late-comers.

“Morning, Jesus,” she says to a fourth-grader shuffling toward her. “You’re late. What’s going on?”

The boy sighs. “Waffles,” he says, shaking his head.

. . . Two weeks into the school year, Jesus already is one of their regular tardy-slip kids.

Botts tries to persuade parents that their kids miss crucial learning time when they’re late or absent.

Seventeen percent of Wichita students were chronic absentees last year, reports the Eagle.  Four high schools reported rates of 30 percent or higher, six middle schools reported rates of 20 percent or higher and several elementary schools “reported that more than one in five students were chronically absent.”

Nationwide, about one in 10 kindergartners and first-graders are chronically absent — missing 10 percent of school time — an Attendance Work report finds.

Poor attendance in the early grades correlates with school failure and dropping out in high school.

Free high schoolers to choose their education

By high school, attendance in class should be optional, argues Blake Boles, author of The Art of Self-Directed Learning. High school students should have the freedom — and responsibility — of college students, he writes.

Don’t want to show up to class? Think you can learn it on your own? Fine. Problem sets are due each Friday, the midterm is in six weeks, the final exam is in 12 weeks, and here’s a list of what each exam will test. Good luck.

Sitting in class but not participating? Fiddling around on your computer? Not taking notes? . . . Your loss.

Bored? Getting nothing out of this class? Then why are you here? Drop it and find something you love.

What would happen if students could vote with their feet and learn by consent? Boles asks.

Attendance would drop in the worst classes, he predicts. Demand would rise for electives. “Learning and engagement would “skyrocket.”

The school would adapt to offer extensive new training and support in the realm of meta-learning (i.e., learning how to learn): independent study skills, work habits, personal organization, research, and self-reflection on which courses to choose.

What if students only wanted to take “fun” classes, and not the “hard” or “important” ones? We’d have to create more engaging classes and scale down our vision of a required curriculum.

To engage the students who don’t want to study anything, schools would have to “develop new courses and programs that engage young people of vastly differing learning styles, backgrounds, and inclinations.”

A dropout’s story

Cornelius loved reading in kindergarten. Math was easy in first grade. “You could say two numbers, and I would subtract ‘em and multiply ‘em and add ‘em in my head, give you three answers in a matter of seconds.”

Why did he drop out of high school? In Butterflies in the Hallway, part of the Education Trust’s Echoes from the Gap series, Brooke Haycock uses interviews and school records to tell Cornelius’ story of failure, disengagement and more failure.

Cornelius had trouble reading “bigger books” in fourth grade. He was too embarrassed to ask for help. By fifth grade, he was getting in trouble with a friend who also was struggling. It “felt better than feeling stupid alone,” he told Haycock 

At a middle school where violence was common, Cornelius began cutting gym class to avoid older boys who he feared would beat him up.

“He never skipped math, the class where he always felt smart,” but he started cutting classes that required reading.

His friends, other “lost boys,” would “just run around the school.” Sometimes he got detention, but nobody tried to find out why he was skipping.

The youngest of nine children, Cornelius was raised by his grandmother. The summer after sixth grade, she died. “I just stopped caring. I felt like there was no one there to enforce rules on me or to make me sit down and do my homework. No one to care.”

He lived with his aunt and two brothers for several years.

Recognizing Cornelius’ artistic talent, a new principal invited the seventh grader to lead the school’s mural painting team at a district competition. Cornelius was thrilled.

But he couldn’t read well enough to do school work. “I started getting further and further behind. And I just lost interest. I felt like I was too far behind.”

He got into fights, which led to suspensions.

In high school, he was diagnosed as emotionally disturbed and placed in special ed classes. Then he was suspended for cutting class.

Some of Cornelius’ teachers tried to help, but he’d given up.

He moved to a group home and a new school for his second try at ninth grade. He failed again. At 17, still in ninth grade, Cornelius dropped out.

If he’d received help with his reading skills in third or fourth grade, could Cornelius have been saved?

Structure leads to success

Community colleges are improving pass rates and persistence by integrating “high-impact practices” into structured academic and career pathways reports the Center for Community College Student Engagement. Announcing a class attendance policy, banning late registration and requiring a “student success course” may have big payoffs.

Showing up

What Does It Take to Get Kids to Stop Skipping School? asks Emily Richmond in The Atlantic

In New York City public schools, one in five students missed a month or more of school last year. However, an intensive, community-wide initiative is raising attendance, according to new report by Johns Hopkins’ Everyone Graduates Center.

New York City’s pilot program includes “mentors, support services, staff training, better tracking and sharing of data of individual student attendance, and community outreach—particularly to parents,” writes Richmond. It’s expanded to 100 schools with more than 60,000 students.

Low-income students were 15 percent less likely to be absent at pilot schools, compared to similar students at similar campuses. Absenteeism fell 31 percent for students living in homeless shelters.

Assigning mentors to work one-on-one with students was the most successful intervention, with kids adding an average of nine days (nearly two full school weeks) of attendance per school year. High school students working with mentors were 52 percent more likely to be enrolled the following academic year than their comparison peers, suggesting the program also contributed to dropout prevention.

Some mentors are AmeriCorps volunteers, social work students, retired professionals, etc. Others are teachers, coaches, security officer and other school staffers. Twelfth graders also serve as peer mentors for younger students.

Raising attendance lowers the dropout rate, the report found. Students who’d been chronic absentees before the pilot started were 20 percent more likely to be enrolled three years later if they attended pilot schools, compared to similar students at non-pilot schools.

Daily tests cut achievement gap

Daily online testing raised college students’ performance in a University of Texas experiment.  The achievement gap between lower- and upper-middle class students narrowed by 50 percent in a large lecture class. Tested students didn’t just earn higher grades in Psychology 101. They “performed better in other classes, both in the semester they took the course and in subsequent semester classes.”

Testing teaches self-regulation, say Professors James Pennebaker and Samuel Gosling, who co-teach Psych 101.

One important self-regulatory method to improve preparation and performance is to give students frequent testing along with rapid, targeted, and structured feedback on their performance, so that they can adjust their learning and studying strategies in time to improve their performance in a course. Recent research has demonstrated that the mere act of testing helps students to remember and retrieve information more efficiently.

Each class day, students answered seven questions given to everyone and one personalized question, usually one they’d gotten wrong on a previous test, reports the New York Times.  They got the results immediately.

Most students hated it at first, Dr. Pennebaker said. Course evaluations “were the lowest ever.”

By the end of the course, however, the class had outperformed a previous Psych 301 class of 935 students that used midterm exams — scoring 10 percent higher on a subset of 17 questions that appeared on both classes’ tests. The quizzed group also got slightly higher grades, the study found.

The grade improvements were sharpest among students from lower-income backgrounds — those from poor-quality schools “who were always smartest in class,” Dr. Gosling said.

“Then they get here and, when they fail the first midterm, they think it’s a fluke,” he went on. “By the time they’ve failed the second one, it’s too late. The hole’s too deep. The quizzes make it impossible to maintain that state of denial.”

Students had to do the reading and pay attention in class to pass the quizzes. They also had to show up. Attendance usually drops to 60 percent by mid-semester, Dr. Pennebaker said. “In this quiz class it was 90 percent.”

Detroit schools offer Count Day bribes

Wednesday was Count Day for Michigan public schools. Ninety percent of state funding is linked to how many students show up on Oct. 2.

bikesHit hard by declining enrollment, Detroit Public Schools offered prizes to students who showed up, including iPad Minis, gift cards and bicycles.

Schools served a special menu: barbecue chicken, baked macaroni and cheese, seasoned green beans, cornbread muffins and peach cobbler

Bunche Academy made Count Day a no-uniform day and scheduled a dance for middle-school students and an ice cream social.

One lucky DPS student won an Xbox. Nearly one in four students received a prize of some kind.

A majority of school-age children in Detroit choose charter schools or district-run schools in the suburbs.