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.”

If parents fail, schools will too

In Raising the Curve: A Year Inside One of America’s 45,000 Failing Public Schools, Ron Berler takes readers inside Brookside Elementary in Norwalk, Connecticut, which is trying to raise chronically low test scores. About half the students come from Hispanic immigrant families; 41 percent qualify for a subsidized lunch.

The book follows two fifth-grade friends: Hydea does her work, but has only second-grade reading skills. Marbella is only a year behind in reading, but would rather obsess about her social life — and Justin Bieber — than do homework.

The literacy teacher works with teachers to improve their skills, but breaks away before the state exams to coach a small group of children who are close to passing. She has no time for those who are way behind or for children in untested grades. Some students have been passed along with subpar skills. Others have received tutoring or summer school help, but remain behind.

Berler, who volunteered as a mentor and teacher’s aide at the school, is sympathetic to teachers and the principal, but frustrated with uninvolved parents. Some don’t know how to help, he writes. Others are too busy working to supervise their children closely.

When fifth-grade teacher Keith Morey asks students about their responsibilities at home, a clear pattern emerges. The responsible students are expected to do chores; the kids who don’t do homework don’t work at home either.

Schools need to engage parents and teach them how to support their children’s learning, writes Berler in the Huffington Post.

Teachers are less satisfied

Teachers are less satisfied with their jobs, but parents are more engaged with their children’s schools, according to the new MetLife Survey of the American Teacher.

Teacher job satisfaction has fallen by 15 percentage points since 2009, the last time the MetLife survey queried teachers on this topic, from 59 percent to 44 percent responding they are very satisfied. This rapid decline in job satisfaction is coupled with a large increase in the number of teachers reporting that they are likely to leave teaching for another occupation (17 percent in 2009 vs. 29 percent today).


Not surprisingly, more teachers say their job is not secure. Two-thirds of teachers reported layoffs in their schools; three-quarters said there were budget cuts in the last year. Sixty-three percent said average class size has increased in their school.

Parent involvement has increased since it was first surveyed.  Sixty-four percent of students say they talk about things that happen at school with their parents every day, compared to 40 percent in 1988.

Teachers will run Detroit school

The Detroit school district — losing students and funding at a rapid rate — is letting teachers run a school, reports the Detroit Free Press.

Barbara Jordan Elementary, will open as a K-4 school and grow into a K-8. The school will receive the same funding as other district schools, but will offer an extended day with music, art and other enrichment programs, and a longer school year. (The Free Press doesn’t explain where the money will come from for the longer day and year; there must be grant money on tap.)

Parents will have to sign a contract promising to support their child’s education and be involved with the school. Admission will be based on parents’ willingness to participate, the Free Press reports.

This first year, the DFT (Detroit Federation of Teachers) will hire the teachers, but Barbara Jordan teachers will eventually take over that task. There will be no principal. There will be a building administrator, probably with experience as a principal, to handle the administrative duties that teachers aren’t familiar with. That position is expected to be phased out in about three years, with teachers taking over those duties, as well.

School governance will come from teacher committees. Teachers will meet in small groups to make decisions for their students.

Running a school by committee could prove challenging, though I assume the school will be staffed by teachers who are committed to the model — not by those with the most seniority. With a dedicated staff and the right to admit only students with motivated parents, Barbara Jordan is likely to be a success.

In Los Angeles, teacher-led teams are taking over 29 low-performing schools. This is a great experiment. I’m eager to see if teachers can make a difference.

Requiring parents to 'volunteer'

An East San Jose K-8 district is talking about requiring parents to volunteer 30 hours a year in the classroom, reports the San Jose Mercury News.

In Alum Rock, where 88 percent of the students are poor and 54 percent are language-learners, most of its 28 schools don’t even have a PTA. But even as some critics warn working parents don’t have extra time, trustee Gustavo Gonzalez is pushing volunteerism, citing studies showing that students do better when their parents are involved.

Many Alum Rock parents are immigrants from Mexico, Central America, Vietnam and dozens of other countries. They don’t have the education or the English skills to be classroom tutors, if they had the time, which they don’t. They can be involved with their children at home.

This is a trial balloon that will deflate quickly. It’s got to be illegal to require parent work time at all public schools as a condition of enrollment.

First, educate the kids

It’s possible to create a good school for low-income students without parent involvement, argues Jay Mathews in the Washington Post. Parents will support the school when it proves itself, not before.

Low-income parents may often be distracted just trying to make a living, but they know what works. Once they see a school keeping its promises, they provide the kind of support found in suburban schools. But it’s important to remember that good schooling must come before parental support, not the other way around.

Poorly educated parents may not know how to support their children’s learning. It’s a role they need to learn from their kids’ teachers and school leaders.

Flypaper’s Andy Smarick agrees with Mathews and points to the Education Next article on paternalistic schools.