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A Quibbling Little Revolt

Also on the Monday education page of this morning’s post, Jay Mathews wants us to know that Educators Resist Even Good Ideas From Outsiders

With two massive parental revolts nearing victory in Fairfax County, and mothers and fathers elsewhere in the area plotting similar insurgencies, it is time to disclose a great truth about even the best educators I know: As much as they deny it, they really don’t like outsiders messing with the way they do their jobs.

He’s right. Most educators really do work very hard to keep outsiders from sticking their fingers into the process of teaching.

However, the two examples of “parental revolts” from our overly-large school district that Mathews uses are rather weak support for the case.

For one thing, neither could be considered “massive”.

In both cases, relatively small groups, one calling for a modification to our grading system, another wanting a later start time for high schools, made a lot of noise and attracted the attention of the news media. Like Mathews and the Post.

The bigger problem with these “revolts”, however, is that they address relatively minor issues.

Whether a student receives an A or a B+ for scoring 91% on a test is not nearly important as what is being taught and the quality of instruction.

Compared to the numbers demanding their kids be able to sleep later, there are very few parents storming into school board meetings demanding that those same kids receive instruction beyond what will appear on the standardized tests.

I see few who are questioning whether their kids are developing skills that are actually relevant in the real world.

There are more than a few of us in the education business that would love to see outsiders coming through the door with some good ideas.

We absolutely need to involve everyone, including the most important part of the equation, the students, in creating a better system for teaching and learning.

But it would be nice if these “good” ideas were more substantive than just small changes to the daily schedule or a tweak in the grading system to boost little Johnny’s GPA.


  1. Jenny

    Your posts so often make me want to say ‘Amen!’

  2. Cheryl_vT

    Tim, while Mathews’ examples might be “quibbling little revolts,” the larger issue that he discusses is anything but….

    Parents have been systematically locked out of meaningful discussion by an education system that has become masterful at sidelining parental inputs or questions. I say this as both a parent and as a teacher. Luckily, I worked at a school that sincerely valued parent involvement. Sure, some ideas were “out there” — but that didn’t relieve us of our responsibility to sit down with parents and discuss the situation, explaining thoroughly our position. Debate was welcomed, and doors were always open. It wasn’t easy sometimes, but the effort paid off in increased trust on both sides of the equation.

    Now as a parent, I’ve seen schools were this type of communication and openness isn’t practiced at all. Emails to administrators go unanswered. The phrase “research shows…” is bandied about freely, but is never backed up with any actual research. On the other hand, research presented by parents is ignored or dismissed without explanation. And if I had a dime for every time I’ve heard, “you’re the first parent to ever mention this problem,” I’d be rich. (Apparently some administrators think parents live in a communication-free bubble.)

    I don’t think this is a teacher issue as much as it is an administrative and school-board problem. They set the tone — and the policy — at a school. It seems like parents are tired of hearing, “we value parental involvement,” while receiving a very clear message of “Thanks, but no thanks” unless it involves help memorizing multiplication facts or buying supplies for the latest poster project.

    (Love your blog, by the way — good stuff, and always a good read.)


  3. Tim

    Cheryl: I agree with Mathews in this case. We have worked very hard to marginalize parent involvement in the education process. As I try to keep pointing out, parents and their children must be a major part in any meaningful discussion of school reform.

    My point (probably not well expressed :-) in this particular rant is that the issues that get parents worked up the most are often the most trivial compared to what I would hope they would be lobbying for. At least that’s my observation around here.

  4. Cheryl_vT

    Hi Tim!

    Thanks for the clarification — I guess I’m feeling a little overly sensitive on the whole issue! Parent should — and for the most part, in my experience, do — focus on the issues that really matter in education. Too bad Mathews didn’t focus more on those examples….

    Take care!

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