Monday, December 27, 2010

There is a problem: Is it the school or the parents?

Sixty-eight percent of respondents in a recent poll blamed parents for problems in America’s education system. More people faulted parents in the Associated Press-Stanford University Poll than teachers, teachers’ unions, school administrators or government.

Mothers (72 percent) were more likely than fathers (61 percent) to blame parents; conservatives were more likely than moderates or liberals to do so.

I realize that the respondents were prompted by the poll to place blame on someone. And maybe there’s some value in any poll or study or other vehicle that draws attention to education and the role that we all play in ensuring our children learn.

But we have to stop the blame game. It’s not productive. In fact, it’s counterproductive; at the very least, it discourages people and makes them defensive and, at worst, it angers people and causes them to point fingers all the more.

Instead of blaming other parents – because it’s against human nature to consider that we may be part of the problem – it would be more productive for each of us to take a look in the mirror and ask, “What can I do to advance the education of my child and other children?”

And instead of paying attention to a poll that may identify a problem but fails to offer a solution, let’s recall a 2008 report by Civic Enterprises, a Washington D.C. nonprofit organization. It found that the a huge majority of parents deemed it important for them to be involved in their children’s high school education, but that most parents of children in low-performing schools thought those schools did a poor job of involving parents.

The importance of parental involvement in schools is becoming clearer and clearer. Those of us who have the wherewithal to step up must not only become engaged with our children’s schools, but also must insist that the schools live up to their responsibility to engage other parents who may not feel empowered to speak up or become involved.

Enough of the blame game. Let’s stand up for each other and for our children.

by Jackie Garvey

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Michelle Rhee, the answer to education reform?

Have you seen the documentary Waiting for ‘Superman'? It’s a movie that advocates for national public education reform through several means, including eliminating the inequities in many families’ ability to access high-performing schools for their children. It also tackles the controversy of whether or not teacher unions are protecting ineffective teachers. For example, Waiting for ‘Superman’ promotes the addition of more publicly funded, controversial charter schools that are allowed to function similar to private schools.

It also profiles the now former chancellor of Washington D.C. schools, Michelle Rhee. In 2007, the educator blew into her position like a firestorm and promised huge, immediate change for one of the worst school districts in the nation. She professed to not care whether she was liked; she only wanted to get the job done. She had complete support from Mayor Adrian Fenty. 

Amid some anger and outrage, Rhee closed 12 schools, fired hundreds of teachers and administrators and began to see test scores go up. Now her mission is to reform education across the nation. She quit her job and admits Mayor Fenty probably lost his seat due to her unpopularity. On the flip side, governors and companies coast to coast begged her to come help them.

Instead, Rhee has started her own foundation called Studentsfirst, www.studentsfirst.org. She hopes a million people will become members of her website and she pledges to raise $1 billion the first year for education. She says StudentsFirst will support great teachers and fight against “ineffective instructional programs and bureaucracy.”

In a Newsweek cover story, Rhee says, “we’ll support and endorse school-board candidates and politicians . . . who want to enact policies around our legislative agenda.”

She says – again – that this will be no popularity contest. Rhee says she will not shy away from conflict and hopes her supporters won’t either.

Readers, what do you think? Could Rhee launch a real reform effort that will give all children an equal opportunity for a high-quality education? Or is she going about this incorrectly by “taking no prisoners,” as the saying goes?

Let the discussion begin!

Jackie

P.S. Look for the next blog entry to see newly released data on how Hoosier children are performing.

The Indiana Partnerships Center encourages and enables parents to engage with their child’s school, to the mutual benefit of the child and school. The center, which serves all of Indiana, is one of 62 Parental Information Resource Centers funded by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Innovation and Improvement.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Parents: Speak up, advocate for change

There’s good news and there’s bad news in recent educational happenings in Indiana and beyond.

Indiana children scored higher on standardized tests last year, according to data released recently by the Indiana Department of Education. More students graduated too; the rate reached 81.5 percent in 2009, up 3.7 percentage points over the previous year’s rate. (http://www.doe.in.gov/news/2010/01-January/GraduationRateImproves.html)

Schools performed better too; 101 schools graduated 90 percent or more of their students in four years. And in the fifth year in which schools were rated on whether they had achieved “adequate yearly progress,” 38 percent of schools made exemplary progress, 8 percent made commendable progress and 27 percent made what the department calls academic progress. Three hundred nineteen – 18 percent of all schools – have made adequate yearly progress in each year that they’ve been rated, 233, or 13 percent, have missed just one year. (http://www.doe.in.gov/news/2010/11-November/ayppl221.html)

Then there’s the bad news.

One hundred forty-six schools – 8 percent of the total – have failed to make adequate yearly progress in each of the five years. Twenty-six of them failed in more than half of the categories in which they were assessed. Most of the latter schools – 88 percent – were located in high-poverty urban areas (46 percent were in Central Indiana and 23 percent were in Northwest Indiana).

What’s more, about 23,000 Indiana youths did not graduate with their class in 2009.

The news gets bleaker. The Program for International Student Achievement recently released data on testing of students in 60 countries. Students in six countries had higher average scores in reading literacy than U.S. students. Those in 13 countries scored higher than the U.S. in science. And the youths of 17 other countries had higher math scores than students in the largest, most powerful nation on the planet.

So why does this matter? And what can parents do? We need to speak up, to advocate for local, state and federal agendas on education policy and funding.

I want to know what you think. What do you think must happen in our schools to improve the overall education of our children? In particular, how can we ensure that our schools hire and retain effective teachers? And how can we ensure that our schools provide the 21st-century skills and knowledge that our children need to graduate on time and to prepare them for college or trade school training that will lead to successful careers?

Jackie

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Time for Teacher Gifts

It was a dilemma several years ago, when my own children were in school, and it continues to be: what, if any, gift to give teachers for the holidays.

A friend of mine recently mentioned that in her children’s school, buying the “perfect” gift for teachers has become somewhat of a competition among parents. Students love to see the look of appreciation on the faces of their favorite teachers. But has it become more than that for parents? Are families giving gifts to keep up with the Joneses and perhaps buying a little favor for our kids? Or are we doing it for the right reason: to show true appreciation for the hard-working professionals who have such a tremendous responsibility for our children?

Assuming the best intentions for everyone, here are a few suggestions to avoid a competition:
  • Take up a class $$$ collection and buy a gift card for teachers at an education-supply store or book store. I would suggest that no specific amount of money be requested from parents.
  • Ask the teacher if he/she has a specific need for the classroom.
  • Ask each child to write a personalized note to the teacher to be included with the class gift.
  • Include all the students’ names regardless of their family’s ability to chip in for the gift.
  • Don’t buy religious or holiday-specific gifts. Keep in mind that teachers come from different cultural and religious backgrounds, and thus celebrate different holidays. Make it just a gift of appreciation.
And here is another dilemma my friend raises. For how many teachers and school personnel do you buy? Students have several teachers, some of whom may be forgotten. What about the art, music and gym teachers, bus drivers, lunchroom helpers and classroom aides?

What do you do? Let’s use this opportunity to discuss your ideas.

Regards,

Jackie

The Indiana Partnerships Center encourages and enables parents to engage with their child’s school, to the mutual benefit of the child and the school.  The center, which serves all of Indiana, is one of 62 Parental Information Resource Centers funded by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Innovation and Improvement.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Going Year Round

By Jackie Garvey
The Indianapolis Public School district is joining with an estimated 3,000 other public schools nationwide who’ve moved to a year-round calendar.  That’s a little less than 10 percent of all schools but the trend is inching upwards. 

Year-round means many things to many school districts.  For some, it means additional days are added to the typical 180 day school year.  Summer vacation is reduced to a month or less but breaks throughout the year are longer.

For IPS, the initial plan is to stay with 180 days a year.  Summer vacation will be reduced from 10 weeks to 8.  Students and faculty will have two weeks off in October, one week off for Thanksgiving, two weeks off for winter break in December/January and two weeks off in the spring.  

Within those breaks, opportunities for remediation and enrichment are expected to be offered.

The primary reason most school districts give (IPS included) for changing the calendar is so that during a shorter summer break, students have less time to forget what they learned during the school year.  We know it’s true that many children’s families do not have the resources to provide camps and vacations for summer learning experiences during the time away from school.

Yes, we also know that many families have legitimate concerns about childcare, transportation, vacation time and such.  But since this is a done-deal, I would like to hear some thoughts and stories from families who’ve been engaged in year-round school.  Perhaps you could share with other parents and guardians how you have adjusted.  What changes did you make?  How did you cope?  What advice can you share? What are some advantages you’ve experienced?

We look forward to hearing from you.
Regards,
Jackie

The Indiana Partnerships Center encourages and enables parents to engage with their child’s school, to the mutual benefit of the child and the school.  The center, which serves all of Indiana, is one of 62 Parental Information Resource Centers funded by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Innovation and Improvement.