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How Important is Good Parenting to School Success?

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It's very important, if you look at the lively comments being posted to a blog item that I wrote earlier this week in response to a Barack Obama speech. However, some of the commenters also pointed out that it's important not to overlook bad teachers. And one writer took exception to Obama's tone. Check out the dialogue going on, and please weigh in!

5 Comments

Notice that Obama said "Don't blame ..." NCLB is driven by shame and it helps bring out the worst in people.

I tried a longer, more NPR-like post, but gremlins kicked me off the computer. But, why can't we engage in a discussion where we listen to parents and teachers and other educators? After all, who could be a better moderator/inspirational leader than Obama?

Its been four years since Karl Rove said that NCLB would spark a bitter fight between parents, teachers, people of color, unions, and the core constituencies of the Deomocratic Party. In fact, he predicted that education reform would be one of three tactics that would DESTROY the Dems.

When I first started teaching in an inner city high school I witnessed the problems that liberal supporters of NCLB wanted to address. Many teachers did a great job with the attentive kids in the front while the others slept in the back. Probably an equal percentage of teachers were hopelessly mis-matched. (but I don't think that "reformers" had enogh concrete knowledge of the institutional irrationalities that turned "good" teachers into "ineffective" teachers.) Many classrooms and many halls were orderly and safe. But other areas, and the periphery of the school were completely lost to adult supervision. Gangs largely kept their business off campus.

Reread the tracts of liberal supporters of data-driven accountability who argued that curriculum-driven "reforms" combined with high expectations could turn around high poverty schools, and you have to conclude that these well-meaning people had little understanding of the magnitude of the task. Neither did they understand the harm that would be caused by aggravating the tension between those who blamed parents vs. teachers. Rove didn't either, but he had an intutitive understanding of the power of shame, and a visceral understanding of how to provoke fights.

Lets start over. I witnessed first hand the process that turned some of my friends and neighbors into "those parents." In my state, 10% of jobs disappeared in 1983 and 6% in 1991. Three sets of tax breaks, called Supply Side Economics, encouraged businesses to shut down factories and relocate to the suburbs and the exurbs. Many of our working class parents relocated with the jobs. Many taught their kids the skills needed to survive in magnet schools and to prepare for the global economy. Many who remained in our deinstrstialized core did not successfully make the transition OVERNIGHT from the 19th to the 21st century.

Maybe we should be a crass as Rove, get it all out of our system and them move on. We could decide how much shame we should heap on parents. Then decide how much shame we should heap on teachers. Then we have a modern version of throwing the appropriate amount of rotten tomatoes at our outcasts. Then maybe we could move on and address the real needs of poor kids.

If we do, we'll realize that "Got Hope?!" is more than a slogan.

John:

I think that you have sensitively portrayed exactly the "what is" (at least the "what was") of our urban systems. I do believe that not only were the problems underestimated from the outside--but there have been huge complications from the denial within.

As one of those liberals who gained hope not from the deck-chair shuffling provisions of NCLB, but from the potential for parents to be able to look at data that went beyond their own child, their own child's building and their own child's district--in a context that commits to EVERY child, I have always believed that NCLB coming out of the Bush administration was some fluke that our dear C-average prez just didn't get.

As a parent, I have found a rich availability of data, but the hoped for ability to (successfully) advocate for my child by advocating for improvement for all has never materialized. It turns out that there are lots of ways to overlook the parental involvement provisions (do a survey, hire a parent, don't publicize the meetings, or schedule meaningless "development opportunities" on how to be a better parent, or just ignore the who thing). This is unfortunate, because at a minimum, parents can ask some pretty hefty questions about what is going on to make learning better.

But the denial piece within schools has led us down some clearly unintended paths. I would argue that the automatic shaming that comes with published test scores has operated far more heavily that any of the "draconian sanctions." The first line of defense was that the tests weren't any good, they weren't measuring what "our kids" were learning--but the one that seems to have taken hold from a practice standpoint is the one that says "some kids just don't test well." Now it's pretty hard to make that link with any research that I have ever seen or read. Nonetheless, it gets teachers off the hook of feeling shame that "their" kids are doing so much worse than some others (and there are lots of other tactics to discount why another similar population is doing better). But it has also ushered in a lot of "curriculum" aimed at making kids better test takers. Teachers hate it, kids hate it--it hasn't solved the problem (of poor achievement), but a school can claim that they are responding to their data.

Add to that the unfortunate reality that most teachers unions have dug in their heels in opposition to NCLB--which gave us the data to see the disparities--and you have the kind of divisive situation that you describe. I personally see very little hope for progress in education at this juncture. The candidates are afraid to talk about it, although the Democrats appear to have agreed that they should trash NCLB if it comes up (and Obama appears to enjoy the applause that can be garnered by blaming parents). Who knows what the Republicans want--although there is credence to the rumors that they serve a constitutuency who stands at the ready to move in with contracts waving to soak up education dollars.

I truly don't have a lot of answers for what it would take to change the culture we are in. It might help for unions to understand that they represent the working rights of teachers--and allow a greater voice for parents to represent the eduational rights of students. I do greatly fear that the next administration will be one that accomplishes decreased accountability with perhaps some increased dollars. That was the kind of liberal dream that attached to the creation of Title I back in the 60s. Have we learned anything since then? Or can we honestly say that the dollars have been well spent in terms of curing the ills that they were originally intended for?

Margo/Mom,

I would be open to anything that promotes open discussion of honest data. IN MY EXPERIENCE, NCLB has corrupted data far worse than anything I would have imagined. In my experience, the category of Highly Mobile Population can be used to produce amazing good news. We've just read about NYC's Credit Recovery program. Down here we're extra familiar with the tricks they play in Texas.

I also have a fundamental objection to the the falsification/manipulation that NCLB has promoted. I invest a lot in honesty with my students. Were I a suburban teacher, everyone would expect me to stand up for honesty in intellectual pursuit. I do the same for my kids.

One week into Testing and we all - adult and student - have seen the worst in us come out. I can't reveal confidentialities, but you wouldn't believe what I experienced with my kids last week.

Whatever good may have come out of NCLB, I have a hard time balancing it with the harm I see.

John:

Yes, the schools are becoming masters at gaming the data. In some cases there are checks in place (example: 95% of kids must be tested--so that you can't just encourage the low achievers not to show up). There is movement in the direction of consistency in graduation rates. While I am already hearing (in my local district) about what is wrong with yet to be published newer graduation rate (and guess what--it is lower than previously thought), it is still better than what was previously available. Each school was free to count/not count graduation rates in any way they felt like. One of my kids' schools told me theirs was pretty high--almost 100%. Turns out this meant that of the kids who started 12th grade, most of them graduated.

My district now also has "credit recovery" programs. It's an online set of hoops to jump through. It is rapidly eclipsing summer school (you know, with actual teachers). You have to fail the class in order to participate (therefore having achieved the Carnegie units of "seat time") I have little hope that kids are learning anything--but then the tests help to bear this out.

NAEP has served as a "check" on the rigor of state testing systems (and I would not be opposed to use of national standards and testing overall--it just seems to be more efficient).
I am distraught that the only "intervention" offered in my district (for kids who have not passed or are at risk of not passing tests) is a Saturday morning test prep course (purchased, of course). But that is an issue to hold the district accountable for. Were it not for NCLB, they wouldn't even be doing that.

To me, blaming NCLB for the emerging "worst" in everyone concerned is like blaming desegregation for bringing out bigotry. Meanwhile, we still have a number of educators who are willing to "wait this one out" so that they can return to whatever they were doing, or not doing before.

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