Halloween costume parade is on!

The Halloween costume parade will take place at elementary schools in Milford, Connecticut, thanks to parents’ complaints. The district had moved holiday celebrations to the evening, so parents could attend — and children who objected to Halloween for religious or cultural reasons would not be pressured to participate.

Supt. Elizabeth Feser sounded testy in a letter rescinding the parade ban. “We have been accused of being un-American, of denying children participation in an American tradition” by protesting parents, she wrote.

In the CBS story, many commenters assume the district is trying to accommodate Muslim parents. I think they’re actually worried about conservative Christians, who object to making light of devils, witches, etc. But most will dress their kids as a non-supernatural being and make no fuss.

The Asian advantage

Why do Asian-Americans do so well in school? asks Nicholas Kristof in a New York Times column. What’s the “Asian advantage?”

It’s not IQ, writes Brooks, citing Richard Nisbett’s book about intelligence.

Columbia University’s commencement in 2005. Photo: Peter Turnley, Corbis

Columbia University’s commencement in 2005. Photo: Peter Turnley, Corbis

Chinese-American and white children with the same IQ scores were followed into adulthood by researchers. Fifty-five percent of the Chinese-Americans entered high-status occupations, compared with one-third of the whites, Nisbett writes. Chinese-Americans with a 93 IQ did as well as whites with a 100.

In The Asian American Achievement Paradox, Jennifer Lee and Min Zhou note that many recent Asian immigrants are educated professionals. But working-class Asian-Americans tend to do well in school too. That’s certainly true of the children of the Vietnamese boat people.

The “model minority” may be a myth, but Asian kids walk into a math or science classroom knowing their teachers will expect them to excel.

Kristof credits the Confucian emphasis on education.

Immigrant East Asians often try particularly hard to get into good school districts, or make other sacrifices for children’s education, such as giving prime space in the home to kids to study.

There’s also evidence that Americans believe that A’s go to smart kids, while Asians are more likely to think that they go to hard workers.

Asian-American parents have high expectations for their children. A B is an “Asian F,” kids joke. (Kristof says A-, but I think that’s extreme.) And a B is “a white A.”

Asian-Americans also are likely to grow up in two-parent families.

“The success of Asian-Americans is a tribute to hard work, strong families and passion for education,” he concludes. “Ditto for the success of Jews, West Indians and other groups.”

But their success does not “suggest that the age of discrimination is behind us,” he argues. The “black boy in Baltimore who is raised by a struggling single mom, whom society regards as a potential menace” will not be reassured by the success of Asian-Americans. “Because one group can access the American dream does not mean that all groups can.”

Shouldn’t that kid be reassured by the success of West Indian blacks?

NYC’s door-to-door push to involve parents


Tameka Carter, left, and Bliss Requa-Trautz, knocked on doors of families with Public School 112 students in the Edenwald housing projects in the Bronx. Photo: Karsten Moran, New York Times

In hopes of turning around struggling schools, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration has spent a million dollars to “train parents in organizing techniques and to hire people to knock on the doors of roughly 35,000 parents,” reports the New York Times.

“Bringing families into their child’s education is essential,” Mr. de Blasio’s schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, said. “Study after study shows that family engagement improves student performance and attendance.”

The initiative is modeled after Cincinnati’s “community schools.”

 So on a hot afternoon in late August, one of the outreach workers, Tameka Carter, a single mother of four from Brooklyn who said she had always been active in her children’s schools, went from building to building in the Edenwald housing project in the Bronx, knocking on doors of families with children in Public School 112.

When Ms. Carter did find the parents who were listed on her clipboard, typically mothers, they listened as she explained what it meant that their child’s school was becoming a “community school.”

Parents were asked to rate “how much they would value potential new programs, like medical services, tutoring or summer activities” or “an opportunity for parents to sit at the decision-making table.”

“Meaning?” Maria Pena, a 31-year-old mother of three, asked.

Ms. Carter explained that she could “sit at the table” with P.S. 112’s “community school team,” a group of parents and staff members who would decide what programs the school needed.

“I would definitely sit,” Ms. Pena said. “The problem is if they would listen.”

The administration will spend $106 million over two years to add social and health services at schools.

Parents will come to student performances or award ceremonies, but not to workshops on how to help their children with schoolwork, says Susan Barnes, principal of P.S. 112. “Most of my parents are non-readers,” she said. “People don’t want you to know that they can’t read or write.”

Most types of parental involvement have little or no effect on children’s academic performance, said Keith Robinson, a University of Texas professor who’s studied the issue. Parents’ expectations — will their child go to college? — does make a difference.

Parents can check kids’ schoolwork, but should they?

I Will Not Check My Son’s Grades Online Five Times a Day, vows Jessica Lahey in The Atlantic.

Her son’s high school offers a “parent portal” to its information system. Parents can check their child’s attendance, grades and test scores online.

“Our best data suggests that over 80 percent of parents and students who have access – meaning their school has enabled remote access – use the system at least once a week…and many users check multiple times a day,” said Bryan Macdonald, senior vice president of PowerSchool.

Lahey trusts her son to tell her how he’s doing. But some parents love the information portal, she writes.

Teachers also have mixed feelings. The portal makes it easy to communicate — and for overanxious parents to drive their kids (and their kids’ teachers) even crazier.

Four charged for cheering at graduation

Four people face disrupting the peace charges for cheering for a family member at a Mississippi high school graduation.

What will parents be told about kids’ readiness?

“Common Core standards are more challenging than what preceded them in most places” and scores on the Core-aligned PARCC and Smarter Balanced tests will be low, writes Checker Finn. Will parents be told their little darlings are on the remedial path? He fears states will “soft-pedal” the bad news about student performance to avoid fueling the revolt against Core testing.

Students meeting Common Core standards are supposed to be on track “to succeed in college without remediation, or to succeed in a job with good future prospects,” writes Finn. Parents and teachers need to know as early as possible when students aren’t progressing toward that goal.

Yet the sample score reports for parents now being promulgated by PARCC appear to pussy-foot around the concept of college readiness, at least until high school. Check them out yourself. They talk about children’s test score performance in relation to being prepared for “further studies” and “the next grade level,” but they don’t say a word about college and career—or help parents (particularly those who haven’t graduated from college themselves) parse the meaning and implications of “further studies”.

In a sample PARCC report for the algebra II assessment, a hypothetical 11th grader’s parents are told he will “likely need academic support to engage successfully in further studies.”

That means he’s heading for a remedial math class in community college. But do parents realize that?

Smarter Balanced provides models to help states design reports. “College and career readiness” information is not supplied till eighth grade. “The hypothetical fifth grader report recently approved for use in California makes no mention of college or career — nor even readiness for further study, Finn notes.

Homeschooling up by 62%

The number of homeschooled students increased by 61.8 percent from 2003 to 2012, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Nearly 1.8 million children were homeschooled.  

More educated parents are more likely to teach their children at home. An estimated 1.6 percent of students whose parents earned a high school diploma or less are homeschooled. That rises to 2.2 percent of students whose parents have some post high school training or education, 2.4 percent of children of college graduates and 2.5 percent of those whose parents earned a graduate or professional degree are homeschooled.

In addition, homeschooling parents are disproportionately white, married, middle class and living in rural areas.

Some parents protest breakfast in class


At Mosk Elementary, a Los Angeles school, all students are served breakfast in class. Photo: Nick Ut, AP

Serving breakfast in first-period classes to all children is fueling a backlash from parents and teachers, reports AP. “They contend that it takes up class time that should be devoted to learning and wastes food by serving it to kids who don’t want or need it.”

Lilian Ramos, a mother of two elementary school children in a working-class Los Angeles neighborhood, said she takes offense at the district’s assumption that she hasn’t fed her children: She serves them a traditional Mexican breakfast each day.

“They say if kids don’t eat they won’t learn,” Ramos said. “The truth is that many of our kids come to school already having eaten. They come here to study.”

The number of school breakfasts served has more than doubled in the last 20 years. There’s more federal money available if everyone is served, even those who don’t come early to school and don’t qualify for a free or reduced-price meal.

Los Angeles Unified is serving in the classroom in almost every school. Parents at wealthier schools were allowed to opt out if less than 20 percent of students fall below the poverty line.

At Stanley Mosk Elementary, regarded as having a model breakfast program, teachers help distribute the meal, check off which students are eating and show a video to incorporate a nutrition lesson, all in 10 minutes. On a recent morning, students were given apples, cereal and a small, packaged breakfast sandwich. At the end of breakfast, there was a large cooler filled with uneaten breakfast sandwiches.

At UCLA Community School, where Ramos’ children attend, parents complained the in-class meals “took away instructional time from low-income and English-learner students,” reports AP. The district delayed, but will start serving in class soon.

Hollywood can save our families — but won’t


MTV’s “16 and Pregnant” has increased searches for contraceptives and reduced teen births by 5.7 percent, a study concludes. 

Hollywood could “save our families” by changing story lines to promote stable, two-parent families, writes Megan McArdle on Bloomberg View. But don’t hold your breath.

Raising children the way an increasing percentages of Americans are — in loosely attached cohabitation arrangements that break up all too frequently, followed by the formation of new households with new children by different parents — is an enormous financial and emotional drain. Supporting two households rather than one is expensive, and it diverts money that could otherwise be invested in the kids. The parent in the home has no one to help shoulder the load of caring for kids, meaning less investment of time and more emotional strain on the custodial parent.

Extended families can help, but single parents have fewer relatives to call on, especially if the mother was raised by a single  mother, she notes. Government can’t make up for a missing parent. “Even in a social democratic paradise such as Sweden, kids raised in single-parent households do worse than kids raised with both their parents in the home,” writes McArdle.

The distance that matters in this case is not the much-discussed distance between the 1 percent and everyone else. Instead, it is the distance between the top 25 percent and the bottom 25 percent — between the people who still mostly live by the old injunctions to get married and stay married if you want to have kids, often while politely declaring that this doesn’t actually matter, and the people who are actually having their children in much more fragile and temporary relationships.

If Hollywood “believed that married two-parent families were overwhelmingly optimal, that would naturally shape what they wrote, in a way that would in turn probably shape what Americans believe, and do,” she concludes.

Why suburban moms fear the Core

Hysteria about Common Core teaching and testing has gripped suburban moms, writes Laura McKenna in The Atlantic. She likens it to anti-vaccination fears.

Millions of children will take new Core-aligned tests this spring.  “Conspiracy theories . .  .have grown out of parents’ natural instinct to protect their children from bureaucracies and self-styled experts,” writes McKenna, who’s a suburban mom herself.

White, middle-class parents, often very involved in their kids’ education “worry that they won’t be able to help kids with homework, because the new learning materials rely on teaching methods foreign to them,” she writes. They feel powerless to stop the juggernaut.

Social media fans the fears.

There are those Facebook posts promoting articles with click-bait titles like “Parents Opting Kids Out of Common Core Face Threats From Schools,” or “Common Core Test Fail Kids In New York Again. Here’s How,” or “5 Reasons the Common Core Is Ruining Childhood.”

 I can picture it in my head: articles with stock photos of children sitting miserably at a desk or ominous images of broken pencils.

Teachers across the country, including those in her suburban New Jersey district, are turning against the Core, especially if scores are tied to teacher evaluations, writes McKenna.  That’s influenced parents.

Some states have pulled out of the Common Core.  “More than half of the 26 states that initially signed onto the PARCC exam in 2010 have dropped out,” notes McKenna. A dozen states will use the test this spring, while 17 states will take the rival SBAC. The rest will use their own tests.