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Tag: parents (Page 1 of 2)

Doing The Right Thing

In a post this morning on the wonderful Answer Sheet blog, a guest writer connects those of us trying to push back against the current wrong-headed education “reform” efforts by business and government to people living under a corrupt former Communist government.

Ok, maybe a stretch.

But his major point is a good one: how do you mount a campaign against a system that is wrong in so many ways?

In the case of fighting back against the Rhee/Gates/Duncan/NCLB test-obsessed, data-driven, pseudo-reform movement now in control, he says educators can’t be the only ones involved.

What’s to be done? Working teachers living paycheck to paycheck are in a poor position to resist. Others, safer from retaliation, organize citizen groups, sign petitions, make protest speeches, write books, articles, op-eds, and letters to editors and to the president, the secretary of education, and members of Congress.

But nothing happens. If those inside the Beltway are to hear the message that the present reforms are simplistic and reactionary, that they’ve all been tried before, that they’re at odds with research and practical experience, that excellent programs have been pushed aside to accommodate endless reading and math drills, then the message will have to come from parents who love their kids enough to refuse to allow them to be short-changed by mind-limiting standardized tests. [my emphasis]

That’s certainly true.

However, I look around our relatively affluent overly-large school district and wonder how many parents are dissatisfied enough to enlist in an effort to overthrow the current system.

Most seem to be more worried about their kids racking up enough points to score a place in a college with an expensive name plate, not whether they are learning anything useful.

The first step is convincing parents and students that this familiar, insulated, comfortable, and relatively orderly system is not good for them, or the country as a whole, in the long run.

Challenging What Everyone Knows

In the op-ed section of the Post this morning, Alfie Kohn, one of the smartest voices in the debate about American education, challenges the myth that today’s parents coddle their kids more than ever, and as a result, those children are the most undisciplined generation in history.

It must be true since it says so in dozens of books and articles on the subject.

And, of course, there are plenty of stories about parents who refuse to set limits on their kids, and kids that are undisciplined narcissists.

Except, as Kohn notes, there are just two problems with those “what everyone knows” facts.

Social observers have been saying exactly the same thing about each generation of kids for more than a century.

And there is almost no research to support any of these claims, with what has been done largely based on questionable methodology.

In short,

There’s no evidence, then, that today’s parents are more permissive than parents of yesteryear, or that today’s young people are more narcissistic. But even if there were, no one has come close to showing that one causes the other.

Neither logic nor evidence seems to support the widely accepted charge that we’re too easy on our children. Yet that assumption continues to find favor across the political spectrum. It seems that we’ve finally found something to bring the left and the right together: an unsubstantiated knock on parents, an unflattering view of kids and a dubious belief that the two are connected.

Logic? Evidence?

When it comes to the debate over issues related to American education, it’s not surprising that both often go missing.

Just Ignore Those Silly, Hysterical Parents

In a recent Class Struggle post, Jay Mathews declares that the concerns about budget cuts expressed by parents in our overly-large school district (he calls it hysteria) are “silly”.

The source for his conclusion comes from the comments of parents quoted in another Post column about our economic problems.

They are hysterically concerned about things like increased class sizes, cuts in kindergarten time, major reductions in elementary school music programs, elimination of most summer school program, and more, and in doing so are “so divorced from reality as to be comical”.

So, why is none of this important to the quality of education in our schools?

Well, because our high schools still score well in his “challenge” index, the 2010 edition of which will be unleashed in a couple of weeks (you have been warned).

Beyond the fact that his index is one of the most fraudulent measures of school quality ever devised*, it should be clear to anyone paying attention that our budget problems will most severely impact the elementary schools.

Which will then impact the high schools a few years from now.

Anyway, after making a pitch for his index, Mathews goes on to make several unsupported claims about how the quality of our schools will be maintained, in spite of major, multi-year declines in revenue, all during a time when the numbers of students continues to increase.

He partially attributes this to the fact that the county is one of the richest in the country, with many involved parents like the ones who are quoted, adults who, according to Mathews, “don’t have a true perspective”.

Among other factors he also ignores the large and growing low income neighborhoods of our county, where schools must cope with increasing numbers of non-English speaking and special education students, all of who require additional services that will also be impacted by cuts.

Areas where parents are not the vocal kind that make hysterical and silly comments and who, for the most part, can’t or don’t provide the instructional support to make up for what their kids no long receive at school.

Of course, in the end, Mathews is right that our district is far better than many in this country and will likely continue to be even after the budget is sliced (although I don’t buy his confidence that we won’t lose a lot of great teachers in the process).

However, as we often tell students, the better measure of quality is not found in comparing ourselves with others but comparing ourselves now with where we should be in the future.

*Search this site for many posts explaining why.

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.

Getting Overinvolved in School

In this morning’s Post, a teacher from our overly-large school district has some things to say about parental involvement.

His focus is not on the lack of participation, however, but on those who are “overinvolved” in their children’s education.

Let me be clear: The vast majority of parents with whom we deal are wonderful and supportive. However, a rapidly growing minority is having a real, negative impact on schools, and the teaching profession, by being too involved in their children’s lives.

… by the mid-’90s, there had been a shift. Parents began to micromanage not only their children’s lives but those of their teachers as well.

Anyone teaching in the DC area has probably had more than their share of these parents.

The ones who question every assignment, argue over every grade, excuse every mistake their child makes, call the principal (or superintendent) whenever they don’t get their way.

The parents who smugly enjoyed reminding us “I pay your salary”. (A remark to which I always wanted to respond “You know, of course, I also pay my salary.”.)

But the percentage of these “overinvolved” parents has always been higher in this area.

The very first parent conference I attended after starting here many years back included four teachers, a counselor, the student, the mother – and her lawyer.

That certainly added to the pressure of teaching! But, fortunately, not to the extent that I ever thought of quitting.

For my colleague, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. She was willing to work long hours to develop dynamic lessons, to tutor students and to give second chances. But continually to allow students to make the same mistake? At this point, she knew, a school isn’t helping its students; it’s hurting them. What happened to high standards? My colleague began to consider another career.

It’s sad if parental excesses, piled on top of everything else, is really the deciding factor for teachers to abandon the profession.

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