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.

First grader’s report card has 40 grades

Forty grades on a first-grader’s report card is overwhelming, writes Dave Powell, a high school teacher turned education professor — and father — in Ed Week.

Students get “effort” grades of “excellent” (E), “good” (G), “satisfactory” (S), or “needs improvement” (NI) for art, library, music, and physical education.

They also get grades showing how they compare to “grade-level” students in these subjects plus math, science, reading and social studies: “above level,” “on level,” “developing,” “below level,” “met,” and “not evaluated.”

His son earned an “E” for effort in art, library and PE and a “G” in music. He’s “advanced” in art and PE, but only “proficient” in library and music.

In the academic subjects, effort doesn’t count.

These grades are a hodge-podge of all the other grades I already mentioned. Now, in addition to E, G, S, NI, ABV, ON, DEV, BLO, MET, and two others I forgot to mention—”medical” (M) and “not evaluated” (X)—we’ve got “advanced” (ADV), “proficient” (PRO), “basic” (BAS), and “below basic” (BEL) as choices.

. . . We’ve got 11 subjects being assessed in first grade, including “first grade work habits,” which are assessed in a class called homeroom. We’ve got 15 different grade options that can be assigned, in some combination, in these subjects. We’ve got two separate domains in some subjects (a course grade and an effort grade), and then we’ve got 17 different sub-skills that are being assessed in reading, writing, and listening alone. There are also 12 grades given in homeroom assessing those work habits.

According to the report card, his son is an advanced reader, yet lacks proficiency in reading strategies and oral retelling of stories. His writing skills are “basic,” yet he does well in the sub-categories such as “Spells Word Wall words correctly” and “Spells phonetically if correct spelling is not known.”

While the overall writing grade is on the “ADV-PRO-BAS-BEL” scale, sub-grades for writing are on the “E-G-S-NI” scale used for “effort grades” in the “non-academic” classes.

This is confusing, concludes Powell. And not terribly useful for parents.

Reading aloud linked to frequent reading

Only 31 percent of school-age children read for fun on most days, according to a new Scholastic report. That’s down from 37 percent four years ago. 

Frequent readers aged six to 11 are more likely to say their parents read aloud with them, even after they could read to themselves, notes the New York Times. Restrictions on online time also correlated with frequent reading for pleasure.

For children ages 12 to 17, “one of the largest predictors was whether they had time to read on their own during the school day.”

Children say reading aloud is a special bonding time with parents, said Kristen Harmeling, who worked on the American Academy of Pediatrics’ report urging parent to read to their children from birth.

Of course, children who love to read are generally immersed in households with lots of books and parents who like to read. So while parents who read to their children later in elementary school may encourage those children to become frequent readers on their own, such behavior can also result from “a whole constellation of other things that goes on in those families,” said Timothy Shanahan, professor emeritus of urban education at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a past president of the International Reading Association.

There is not yet strong research that connects reading aloud at older ages to improved reading comprehension. But some literacy experts said that when parents or teachers read aloud to children even after they can read themselves, the children can hear more complex words or stories than they might tackle themselves.

Other literacy experts say reading to children — or talking with them — helps develop background knowledge. “A two-minute conversation about something on television or something in a magazine or something that you’re reading yourself can also have some of the same positive effects as reading aloud,” said Catherine Snow, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

I disliked reading aloud — it’s so slow — and was pleased when my daughter learned to read books on her own. (She could read at the age of three and read fluently at four.)  However, we spent a lot of time discussing what she was reading, doing and thinking about, as well as talking about the larger world.

Here’s more on the Scholastic survey and kids picking the books they want to read, which may not be very challenging.

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.

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.