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Good Families Make Good Schools

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"Good families make good schools," writes Saul Cooperman in this Education Week Commentary. Without adequate family support for learning, he argues, students will not achieve their academic potential, no matter the quality of their school. This is why some of the country's highest-spending school districts, equipped with well-paid teachers and manageable class sizes, still have surprisingly high dropout rates and large numbers of students who don't pass graduation tests, according to Cooperman.

What do you think? Is the disconnect between home and school an insurmountable roadblock to higher achievement? Is reform focused too much on the school itself, and not enough on conditions outside it?

39 Comments

I suppose I could launch into the various researchers who have valid reasons to dispute John Ogbu--among them Ronald Ferguson who has really refined many of the attitudinal suppositions that derive from Ogbu, particularly with regard to attitudes of black students toward other black students who succeed academically and the amount of time spent on homework, etc.

But, I do think that it is very important to stress that the arena where schools have the greatest ability to make change is the things that happen within the school. I am more than a bit uncomfortable when teachers believe--as Cooperman states--that the problems of education cannot be solved until families are fixed, or until poverty goes away, or until everyone speaks the same language, etc, etc.

In other disciplines, this is referred to as scape-goating. Scape-goating is an effective defense against recognizing the problems that lie within one's own sphere of influence. Scape-goating can result from a history of failure, or other reason for feeling overwhelmed by problems, or from an inability to separate one's sense of self from the success or failure of efforts, or various other boundary confusions. While it may be a normal defense, it is not generally a sign of health within a system.

As Mr. Cooper points out--there is plenty within schools that requires improvement--attention to the curriculum, teachers who have retreated into the world of their own classroom and don't know how to either influence or learn from their colleagues, teachers who would never send their own child to a school of the quality of the one in which they teach (let alone live in the same neighborhood), discipline systems that owe more to desperation than to understanding of behavior, etc, etc.

One response from the parent side is, please don't blame anything else on me until you are willing to take on some of the problems within. But I also have to offer up, that as a parent, I am willing to help. I have precious little time to put into cutting out bulletin board letters or baking brownies--but I know a few things about management, administration, and understanding how to use data to make decisions. Yet, my kids schools will never know as long as their only lens for viewing parents is as a problem to be solved.

In any educational set up, until and unless the parents are totally involved in the system of schooling, children really dont take up studies and other activities seriously. Child grows both at school and home. Parents and teachers are the most important agents who influence the child. Home and School need to be integrated to achieve results.

I write as a 59 year old white male from a lower middle class background who consults with public schools and who runs a 1,700-student adult basic education program. My consulting with schools is in the area of helping urban districts become customer focused and make the other changes they must make to compete effectively with charter schools and other competitors.

In my consulting business, I see the often- valiant struggles of school administrators to fix urban education. In my position with Read For Literacy, the adult basic literacy organization in Toledo, OH, I see the the failures of public education -- and failed families -- they walk in our door daily.

In the city and urban districts with which I consult, principals often tell me that in low socio-economic(and therefore largely African-American) schools, less than 10% of parents are positively engaged in their children's education.

That such involvement is an absolute necessity is well undestood and yet teachers do very little to actively reach out to parents to involve them in their children's education. Virtually no colleges od=f education teach that this is fudamental part of teacher's responsibility.

This lack of affirmative outreach is an artifact of decades of state funding and regulation which marginalized the role of parents.

Indeed, it is commonm in practice and even in contemporary research, to hear teachers and educators lament the absence of parental involvement. But the resulting "parent engagement" programs all too often simply result in the involvement of the 5% of parents who are already predisposed to become involved.

If this is to change, teachers and principals muct reach out repeatedly, planfully and innovatively in ways tailored to each family's situation and challenges to instrict those parents in how they must support their children and to encourage them to do so.

As stated above, this failure to reach out is partially the result of norms that developed in decades when parents were marginalized. But it is also due to middle class assumptions that parents inherently "know" what to do and that those who fail to act appropriately are simply dropping the ball. But in fact much academic research disputes the notion that poor parents, especially those from multi-generational poverty backgrounds, have a realistic knowledge of what is entailed in supporting their children's studies. So, if they don't know what to do, and the school system has not reached out to them one-to-one and individually to instruct them, they cannot be said to be failing.


This brings me to what I see in my posiiton at Read For Literacy. I want to make two points. The first is that nearly 40% of our adult learners have a high school degree. The great majority of these individuals come to us reading at the second grade level or below. It is difficult to look at this statistic and not conclude that urban schools have participated in a sham on many of America's weakest students, its tax payers and its employers.

It must be acknowledged that public schools have all too often abandoned standards and resorted to indiscriminate social passing, both of which were encouraged by state subsidies which pay schools for the "number of children in seats" not the progress children are making in those seats. This is the principle reasons we now have school choice in America.

My second point is that about one-third of Read for Literacy's adult students come to us because they have school age children and wish to be able to read to them and to otherwise support their children's (or grandchildren's) development. This statistic speaks to the well-meaning nature of many individuals who were failed by the educational system and their families.

It speaks to the fact that there is an opportunity for teachers and schools to cxreatively reach out to engage more parents, but teachers must do it and principals must do it. In the language of the customer service field, this transformation must take place at the level of the "customer facing employee," where the people responsible for serving children (teachers and principals) can reach out to engage parents not through a you-come-to-me style program, but through an I-will-come-to-you program.

I am convinmced that this is one of the most important initiatives that public schools can make. When they do so, teachers and principals create positive parent relationships that will in many instances lead to improved parent engagement, decreased behavior issues and each child having a better chance of achieving his potential.

Shool-Home, Home-School, it goes back and forth. These are the two major realms of the child, the school and the home. Children learn in both realms and in a third realm as well, the period between school and home, in their peer time or street time. It is a bit too easy to point at any one realm and state that it needs to be more in tine with any other. School is the place where certain things are learned. Home is the place where other things are learned, and the street, or the alley, ot the backyard is yet another. These areas do not always cooperate.
No one part of a child's life can be singled outby another as really out of synch. They are always in synch. All aspects of peoples' lives combine towrds the learning and achievement of the people. It is not the business of the schools to set out reforms for the home or the neighborhood. This is, as Margo points out, scapegoating. Manjunath, states that, parents need to be "totally involved in the system of schooling". In the U.S. we call that homeschooling. You cannot get much more totally involved then that. Research does not support any particularly significant achievement gains in home schools. To gte cooperation, the schools must illicit cooperation. The disconnect is too often on the part of the school. The way towards accord is not to begin by accenting the differences and to point the finger of blame.

Clearly, good families are an important component of school achievement. But with warm, caring, knowledgeable, and fanatically persistent adults responsible for their learning, even kids without much family support can learn.

Despite having these kinds of adults at the helm, as they apparently are in Newark, our educational system, particularly at the secondary level, is not set up for success. A high school that made students want to exceed minimum standards and continue their education would look like an after school sports team. It would keep team members (students) and their teachers together for most of the school day. It would emphasize teamwork, daily practice of fundamentals, daily feedback on individual and team performance, effective time management, continual communication among staff and students on how to do better the next day, continual opportunities to integrate theory and practice and to apply skills in game-like ("real world") settings, expectations of helping fellow teammates to improve, and the targeted use of technology to diagnose and improve abilities.

The U.S. has long known how to create winning teams and successful businesses. Yet the public remains reluctant to apply these principles to our secondary schools, even as it agrees the current system is not working. Only when we are willing to do so will we develop students who will want to expend their best efforts and seek an advanced education that will help them in life and in their careers. People who succeed at school tend to want more of it. It’s as simple as that.

Parent involvement is wonderful to have, but the 1950s are a thing of the past. Both parents work and the kids are left to do more on their own. In our district, some of these kids are even helping to support the family. Homework, often, does not get done. However, a comment that I often hear from parents is that the teachers think they are better than us and so we just don't do anything. As a case in point, I have a son who has reading disabilities. He was receiving very little assistance from the school. Then one day I mentioned that I was a teacher, but was enjoying being an at home mom. In a few short days, he was receiving services that he had deserved all along. What changed? I believe that teachers need to be a part of their communities and talk with parents one on one. This can be an email, a phone call, a periodic class newsletter. I really think that the big problem is societal. Everywhere we turn, we see people seeing how stupid and disrepsectful they can act. I really feel that this is the major problem. When we go back to showing respect and real concern for others, this whole picture will change. Learning will improve, parents can be parents, and we will all live in a happpier place.

Student performance is rooted in culture. Culture begins at home.

Our daughters attend Fundamental schools in Pinellas County Florida. The public Fundamental schools place modest demands on the parents and students to participate daily, weekly and monthly. This screens out the negligent parents, leaving us with the most wonderful schools! Tarpon Springs Fundamental Elementary School was the very best in Florida two years ago, and it received the NCLB Blue Ribbon Award last year! I firmly believe that the engaged positive parents make the difference, because ALL of the parents are engaged. With this basis the synergy compounds. The teachers like the better behaved children. The children like the happy teachers. Parents, like myself, enjoy volunteering in our happy school. This is the key.

What we need are more Fundamental schools. Beyond that, we need to train parents to be better 'parents of students'. Possibly we could incent parents to be more engaged econmically. For example they might earn tax credits for attending ten PTA meetings and three teacher conferences in one year, signing homework and such things.

Bottom line - parents make the difference. No offense to teachers, but teachers with a room full of crummy students cannot perform their profession as effectively as if they have a room full of Fundamental students.

Is it really suprising that many parents have "disengaged" from public education? Why wouldn't they?

They themselves went through the public education system, where they were constantly told what to do and denied opportunities for choice.

Now that they're parents, they have no choice in what school their child attends, what teacher works with their child, what curriculum is taught, what the climate of the classroom is, and what assessment methods are utilized. Instead, they're supposed to give up their children to "experts" who follow a one-size-fits-all, factory model of schooling.

When many teachers complain about parent involvement, what they're really saying is that parents aren't obedient enough to the desires of the school/individual teacher.

Parents aren't involved, because the system isn't set up to encourage participation. School choice is the answer. Put the decision making back in the hands of parents.

Let the parents decide what type of school is best for their children.

Some will choose back-to-basics curriculum, others will prefer a more personalized approach, some will want an IB program, others will want real-world internships. The bottom line is that by allowing parents to choose a school that matches their own value system, you are encouraging participation.

A couple of years ago I would have weighed in exactly on the middle of this argument, believing as I did that strong families were as important as strong schools in student achievement. After watching my daughter struggle recently with a host of issues ranging from school bullying to anxiety and depression, my belief in this has wavered. By all accounts my daughter is part of a close-knit, strong family. She has the good fortune to attend a small private school. These are factors which should point the way to good academic achievement for her. Yet she struggles academically, the result of extenuating circumstances which affect her ability to concentrate on academics and which her parents cannot completely control.

"Good families make good schools," writes Saul Cooperman in this Education Week Commentary. But good families can't keep bad things from impacting our children's ability to be good students, nor can good schools. This isn't a black and white matter, nor are there just two components to this discussion.

Further questions to ask would be about external factors which impact a student's academics. Even the best schools have students like my daughter who should be succeeding but are not. Where is the disconnect then? Scapegoating is not the answer, but understanding that Cooperman's comment leaves out a lot of additional factors which make up a good school - and good school experience.

While I agree with both sides of many of the comments posted so far, I find one piece missing that has been the subject of much of my own research and of many successful efforts to help kids: the community. I try to avoid coming across as seeing the community through rose-tinted glasses, but the fact is that not all families can be strong due to a variety of factors and many families, even strong ones, hit rough spots. The importance of communities that support schools and families is critical and yet there are very few state or national education policies that pay attention to this or create spaces for communities and schools to come together. School leaders and other educators cannot do the job of educating children alone, nor is it fair to expect that they take on all the risks associated with reform or trying out new things. Given the demands placed on the education system by testing, paper-work and legal requirements, it will take community leaders who are willing to step forward and work with (not against) our schools to ensure that all children are successful, and to fill in for parents when they are not able to provide their children the support they need.

I would like to congratulate Mr. Cooperman for an excellent, fact-filled article. Having taught thirteen years in the Newark, NJ Public Schools, I experienced first hand what he speaks about. Every day was a struggle to reinforce what was taught the day before only to have the students go home and have it undone at home. Fighting parents brought their "outside" problems to school everyday. I watched as the principal spent more time being a social worker/pschologist to parents whose problems never stemmed from school.

But,we go back to what is undeniably true: parents are a child's first and foremost teacher. Therefore my question was and still is, where are those parents? The efforts made to get parents involved in school were and continue to be mind boggling; breakfast, lunch, dinner, family math/reading classes, private one-to-one tutoring for adults, just to mention a few.

I recently attended a conference held at Essex County College in Newark. The topics among others included the Abbott decision and segregation. The audience was largely comprised of black politicans, black business owners, and black educators. All agreed that it was time to address why urban school districts continued to fail even after Abbott money has been used, that desegrating school populations is not the answer, and that schools cannot fix the world's problems.

To stop those who will say I am finger pointing at parents and making excuses for the schools, I say; can urban schools do better? Yes! Do they have a long way to go? Yes! It would seem that we all agree on this. However I think one would also find that the vast majority believe that schools cannot "fix" the ills of the outside. Anyone who believes contrary is living in a fairyland.

It is said that the truth hurts. I believe Mr. Cooperman's article will "hurt" a lot of people. I for one applaude him for having the courage to say what I have been saying since I began my education career in 1983. It may sound quite idealistic but I believe that school and student performance will not improve until selfishness and greed are eradicated. I am very saddened because I also belive that that won't happen anytime soon.

Kathy Joyce, Ed.D
Educator

Education reform has mandated accountabilty from all quarters, except parents and the home. Students, teachers, administrators, even school boards can no longer hide. Today, test scores reflect back on all of the above.

In order for children to succeed in school there needs to be a partnership between the home and school, a solid connection of mutual support. Very few kids can succeed without this aliance in place.

Safe/Sad to say, 90 percent of all problems in school (academic/disicipline) can be traced to youngsters from dysfunctional families. We seem to have a preponderance of adults, who in many cases cannot successfully manage their own lives, raising children. Talk about a recipe for disaster!

What can society do about this frustrating paradigm? Somewhere from the community, family, church, school, public assistance, there must be an answer for all these kids and all their problems.

Just this morning, my husband, myself, and the parents of our Kindergarteners' classmates were told what to expect the transition to first grade to be like. And we, parents that is, were told NOT to offset (read: derail) the school's transition plan with work at home. The transition plan consists of the same philosophy next year as this year - memorize. Throw tomatoes at me if you must, but memorization is not learning, and it is not thinking. My kids learn to think and reason and question at home, because they don't learn it at school. And they want to reform us. "You will assimilate - resistance is futile". Shameful.

Parents are blamed, the home is blamed, poverty is blamed, etc. and other; societal factors have been stated time and time again to explain why minority and poor children cannot achieve at higher rates.
However, explain why when bonuses are given to educators, with no changes made in the societal factors that have been blamed, achievement scores increase; at least that is why they get bonuses. Either the scores are being fabricated or the societal factors are not really the blame for poor achievement. Something needs explaining.

It would be fabulous if the simple answer to school reform was to improve neighborhoods and family life. There has been some improvement via title I funding. Nutritio programs like free or low cost breakfasts and lunches have helped. Tutoring has helped some as well. Family intervention is a bit tricky however. The school is not a part of a police state that has the authority to swoop down on target groups. In fact, Americans have the right to live their lives as they see fit within the law. If violence and drugs are a particular problem in a neighborhood, that is a police issue. Poverty is a social issue and that is the realm of social welfare programs.
Education is my realm and the realm of educators throughout the world. We are tasked and have taken on the task of bringing all students to the highest achievement possible. We cannot change their home lives. We cannot change their communities. We can provide the safest possible and most nuturing possible haven for learning.
I do not know what other teachers are doing, but I am teaching every student that passes through my classes to the highest potentiial that each student can reach. I do not need the Federal or State Governments to mandate standards for me. Mine are far higher than any they can come up with. I do not need any testing company to write and score tests for me. I know how to assess my students and what to assess them on. I don't want bonuses for the achievement of my students. That is counterproductive. Education is not a business and business is a poor model for education. Paying more for oil has not improved the product substantially. My car doesn't go any faster and my house isn't any warmer.
If the government wants to improve family life, that is their concern, not mine. If someone can show me a better way to teach, I will use it, a real education reform, I will try it.

It's simple: allow school choice.

Give 100% of the decision-making back to parents. Imagine how much more involved parents would be if they got to decide what type of school was a bit fit for their child.

Today's parents are basically mimicking many of our students: they've checked out of the system because it doesn't provide them with real meaning. They see school as something "done to them" rather than for them. Until we return education to families, expect the same results.

Matt, while I completely agree with parental choice, I would not be in favor of modeling education as a "free market" enterprise. I think that can do more harm then good, as it has in other business sectors.

Cheryl what do you mean? Can you give some examples of formerly government controlled institutions that are worse off now that they're part of the private sector?

Think of the GI Bill. Our government provides grants to allow our soldiers to attend any school they want, it can be a technical school, art school, business school, seminary, ect... Why shouldn't parents be offered the same opportunity for their children?

No two children are exactly alike. No two families want exactly the same things for their children. Let's treat parents and children with more respect and respect diversity of opinion. Let people decide what is best for themselves.

"Why shouldn't parents be offered the same opportunity for their children?...Let people decide what is best for themselves." I repeat, I completely agree with parental choice.

In the "free market", GM crushed electric vehicles despite a waiting list of people begging to buy them. Most Honda salespeople don't know that Honda makes a Civic GX that runs on CNG, and the few that do won't sell it to commuters (that may have changed, I haven't checked recently). Most people are oblivious that there *is* a CNG fueling infrastructure, they just have smaller signs than the gas giants. Most people with natural gas in their homes don't know they could fuel a CNG vehicle in their own garage, and most people are unaware of how many more options there are in more open-minded countries. It's not that the choices don't exist, the "free market" doesn't want us to know about them. This, incidentally, is an argument I've been making since before hybrids came around (they still run on gasoline).

But this is about education. In rural areas that can only support one school, where the population is predominantly Catholic or Baptist or LDS, that one school is likely to reflect the religious beliefs of the community. What FAIR choice will the single Jewish or Muslim family have? Or a rural school funded by Wal-Mart might want to provide just enough enough education to train the next generation of door-greeters. What happens to the kid who wants to build space-ships or cure cancer?

At best, the "free market" tends to cater to the masses rather than the individual. This could work in an urban area where the masses are diverse enough to support meaningful choice.
I don't see that as an improvement over the current system in rural areas. And I simply don't trust a company to offer a better educational model if it would be less lucrative for them.

I want the choice, *BELIEVE ME* I want the choice. But I want to be fair and meaningful.

In my own attempt to understand these issues and expand beyond my own assumptions, I have discovered "Code of the Street," by sociologist Dr. Elijah Anderson. If you have contact with kids from an urban setting, please read this book.

Dr. Anderson defines two social types operating in poor inner-city neighborhoods, "decent" and "street." Decent-oriented individuals have middle-class values and a certain amount of hope for the future. Street-oriented individuals (smaller in number, but in control because of their willingness to use violence) have an alternative value system which evolved out of profound alienation from mainstream society. What creates a sense of status for street-oriented individuals is very different than for individuals from mainstream society.

Dr. Anderson writes, “By the fourth grade, enough children have opted for the code of the street that it begins to compete effectively with the culture of the school…” He also explains that since “street knowledge” is esteemed, the quest for it begins to predominate. It ultimately competes with, and even undermines the mission of the school. Of additional importance is the need and desire for decent-oriented children to adopt street behavior (“code switch”) in order to survive. Street-oriented children are unable to code switch in the opposite direction because they have not been exposed to the models.

Because “School Choice” officially promotes and supports self-segregation and separates children along socio-economic and cultural lines, it is not a good approach if we truly want to be the type of society we believe ourselves to be. It may, however, help decent families protect their children from street-oriented kids, and I believe that is why so many inner-city parents view it as positive. Street-oriented parents are highly alienated and unable to engage, so their children will become more and more isolated.

It is crucial that we acknowledge these two social types, and their effect on each other and the wider society. Perhaps a framework could be formed for developing specialized approaches that might help. It is essential that street behavior is absolutely suppressed on campus so that students can feel safe. Alternative behaviors must be constantly taught and reinforced. If positive opportunities are force-fed to students, they will be more likely to develop feelings of status based on achievements different than those they can obtain from the street.

Bravo Mr. Cooperman! And for the rest of you, no it is not the only answer, however, it is part of the problem.I teach second grade in a school where there are only first and second grades.Every teacher in my school cares enormously about their students. Our administrators work tirelessly to invent new ways to include parents, to show them what they need to understand when it comes to educating their children. You say it's cultural, well funny thing is it's parents who's cultures that are different than ours that come to our parent workshops. The parents who have lived in th U.S. all their lives don't. I look at my class, I say to myself, (because I am always reassessing the way I teach, I want all of my children to be successful)why are some children learning and why aren't others learning? Those children who are falling behind or were never there have absolutely no one at home who cares about them. They are being raised by grandmothers with 6 or 7 other young children in the house. There is no father. I would be the happiest teacher in the world if just once somebody would check their bookbags, sit down and help them with their homework, or read them a bedtime story. My heart breaks for them. I know how cruel the real world is. What is going to happen to them? I would bring every one of them home if I could, give them a healthy dinner every night, sign them up for a sport, complete homework with them, have a converstion with them, read them a bedtime story, and tuck them in at night. It's really that simple!

It's not your kid.

Those against school choice are basically saying they are better qualified than a child's own parents to make educational decisions. Surely if a child is being abused, the community needs to intervene. However, the overwhelming majority of families (just about all of them) are good and decent. We have no right telling other people how to raise their children.

To those who argue school choice will hurt kids with weak parents, I ask: what percentage of American parents are "unfit" to make educational decisions for their children?


Good families do not make good students. Anyone the believes this will never be a good parent. Bad families make depressed, anxious, nervous, good students.

Even though there is a disconnect, it does not have to be an insurmountable roadblock to achievement; especially if schools pay attention to conditions on the outside of it. It is my belief that pre-school preparation, home environments, and the actual settings that children come upon when they enter school impact student achievement. The outrageously high juvenile arrests, reported cases of abuse and neglect, and the ridiculous number of children in foster care and group homes will definitely impact student achievement. Then there are thousands of parents who are incarcerated or are substance abusers. All of the above paint a dismal picture for a large number of children who are expected to report to school and concentrate on teaching and learning. The conditions outside of the schools need immediate attention, and focusing on readiness-for-school indicators (conditions outside the school) just may be the answer.

Yes - absolutely. Educators are being asked to serve as parents, medical practitioners and community supports - in addition to teaching! In addition, because most teachers have not been trained in managing non-English speaking students and those with disabilities, they need a lot of professional development in order to manage their classrooms. We routinely see better achievement in schools where parents are active participants, across socio-economic boundaries.
The bottom line is that students who come to school unprepared and unsupported by families, don't achieve at the levels of those with these supports. The solution does not lie in the education system; education and the values around it, starts at home! Funding must encompass the family and it must start way before children enter the school buildings.

Dr. Saul Cooperman's article of Jan. 24, 2007, "Good Families Make Good Schools" raises the question of what is 'good'. There are too many 'good' teenagers, with too many hormones flowing, getting pregnant without a clue as to be a 'good' parent. There is no question as to the veracity of Dr. Cooperman's observations. The child growing up with 'good parent(s)' has 24-hours of good education, including not only schooling, but parents who feed their children properly, read to their children, turn the TV off, have a clean bed for their child, monitor their child's friends, check their homework, etc. However, there are too many children that get only 7-hours of schooling and 17-hours of negative education at home and on the streets, because a 16-year old girl has absolutely no idea about raising a child. Alcohol and drugs in the environment makes it practically impossible to raise a child in a positive manner. That is the problem, so what is the answer to thwart this negative environment? Either residential schools in a controlled environment whereby the child is taken care of properly 24-hours a day or educating the young 16-year old mother on the proper raising of a child. Option one is too costly and would never fly. Option two however, may have greater success. The 16-year old mother should be able to bring her child to the school in which she attends, where she will be taught proper nutrition for her baby and what is not proper food for her child. Young mothers must be taught how to be 'good' mothers, or the poverty cycle will just continue and be handed down from one downtrodden, uneducated (parenting, that is)16-year old mother to her child. It is unreasonable to expect a child to raise a child. Intervention must be afforded to have any hope of saving impoverished children. The caveat however, is that attempting to control what is 'best' for children to survive educationally, economically and socially, is an uphill battle. Seven-hours of public schooling just won't cut it! David Kolodin, Pemaquid Harbor, Maine

Lisa/Teacher/Parent expressed her willingness to solve the problems in some of her students lives by taking them home, feeding them well, tucking them in, reading them stories and seeing that they do their homework--"It's that simple."

Let me relate, that I have done just that. My son is adopted--he came to me as a toddler from an excellent foster home where he had been since birth. Neither that care, nor my good middle class values, educational background and reasonably well-ordered homelife (nor the love that I give him) can rescue him from his learning or emotional disability. He has never related to school in the ways that teachers desired--and his homelife is more often than not blamed.

This is despite some pretty overwhelming data that our district performs unevenly in teaching students with disabilities, that students with disabilities are disproportionately suspended and expelled (even with legal protection), that students of color are more likely to be identified as having disabilities.

Because my district has so many families in poverty, or whose first language is not English, or who belong to an ethnic minority, the expectations for students have come to be set very low--afterall, what can you do for students like these? And because so many parents are either stressed by realities of day to day life--or lack education and therefore credibility--there are many (albeit warm caring wonderful people) teachers who play fast and loose with all legal requirements for parental involvement. When my son's first IEP was written the expectation was that I would come in and sign a piece of paper for them to attach to something I hadn't even seen. They no longer try to pull that one on me, but judging by the surprise as I raise similar issues with each new group of teachers, this is still the accepted practice. When pressed, there is talk of "some parents just don't want to be involved." Frankly--I am not at all convinced that my child's school wants parents to be involved in any home-school partnership. This would mean that they would have to give up their scapegoat and be willing to listen to and respect the views of parents. They might change the way that they answer the phone, return calls or share (or don't share)information.

Personally, I have known too many grandparents successfully filling the gap as parents to assume that a child not doing well is being raised by a grandparent, or that no one cares.

I think we are confusing family with community or social environment. If families weren't challenged with crime and other influences that impact negatively on the families' economic identities, that is if values weren't strongly compelling from external sources, etc., then the families would remain more competitive and more intact.

Schools as institutions value systems are molded by families. The financing of school, the programming of schools today are more reactive, formulaes that responsive to the detractive elements of problem society.

Just one more thing in response to Margo/Mom. What you did for your son was a very noble thing and no matter how it turns out at least you gave your son a decent chance in life. There are no guarantees that a good family makes a good student. However, the student who comes from a family where education is a priority and provides a nurturing home life as well, has a greater chance for success in both school and life. I would also like to point out that there are many grandparents doing a wonderful job raising grandchildren, by no means did I mean any disrespect to them. There are also many good families, that no matter how hard they try their children lead troubled lives. Both of these instances are in the minority though. Just as we see children who come from totaly dysfunctional families who go on to become successful adults.So maybe we need to rephrase what Mr. Cooperman said. Something like,"If a child is raised in a good family (meaning a home where he is safe, well fed, clean, loved, and has one or more parents/caregivers who are attentive to his needs and what is going on in his life, and is willing to teach them responsibility)then that child has a better chance at succeeding in school and in life.

I think it's rather simplistic to say that those who are against school choice are telling parents that they are better qualified than the parents to make educational decisions. First, parents are the people who make the decision of where their children will go to school. They decide that when they decide where to live and whether to enroll their children in public or private schools or to home-school them. In effect, all parents have "school choice" simply by virtue of being parents.
Second, the State has taken some of the educational decision-making away from parents by legislating compulsory education and state curriculum standards, among other things. So how does school choice increase parental decision-making powers beyond what they have without it?
Third, people who have been trained in education and who have experience in teaching children are better qualified than untrained people in making educational decisions. This is a principle that we accept in countless other professions, yet many Americans refuse to accept it in education. Why?

Margo Mom said:

"But, I do think that it is very important to stress that the arena where schools have the greatest ability to make change is the things that happen within the school. I am more than a bit uncomfortable when teachers believe--as Cooperman states--that the problems of education cannot be solved until families are fixed, or until poverty goes away, or until everyone speaks the same language, etc, etc."

Educators are (and have been aware) of that ability to change SOME things in school. But, others outside of our profession have assumed that because many American students are not at the proficient or advanced level of success for their age/grade then educators have not done their job. Those beliefs make me more than a little uncomfortable, as well.

No matter how hard we all wish that we can succeed with all students at the same rate of success it isn't going to happen without other significant improvements in our student's homelives, poverty rates, and aquiring of English occur.

I feel that that the disconnect between the home and school is a major roadblock in the educational process. The reason why I feel like this is because I think that students who are constantly encouraged at home and have parents who are actively involved and interested in their grades and schoolwork in the end perform better. I think that it is important at a young age, even starting with preschool or daycare, for parents to get involved look at the things their child brings home from school and go over the things that they learned that day. But to also make sure that they stay involved as time goes on so that their child knows that they care about their education and future. I really don’t think that we can take reform into consideration because there is no way that the government can establish an act to make parents involved in their child’s life. I do feel that there are excellent reform programs that have been enacted in the past few years but more will need to be established as time goes on. Therefore, I do think that there is a strong correlation between achievement in school and a child’s home life. Parents need to understand that they are just as important in their child’s education as the teachers and school that they are enrolled in.

I have a strong opinion about whether good families affect school performance or not. At the age of 21, I have been through 12 years or grade school and 3 years or college. I know what its like to be a kid and not care about school. Although I was a straight A student most of my schooling years, I was still young and immature and thought to myself, "Why do I need to know this?" If I did not have a supporting family to help me through my adolescent years (where I struggled the most with schooling) I most likely would have dropped out. If children do not have the care and support from family or guardian members, it is very likely that they will withdrawal from school altogether. Especially in those adolescent years, children need extra support and a little push from their loved ones to keep on living day-to-day. Most students at this age do not think of the consequences as well when it comes to dropping out of school or not. Again this factor plays into the role of immaturity.
If schools would involve the parents a little more into what is going on in the everyday school system, this might help the issue of dysfunctional families having drop out children. The more parents that get involved, the more positive information will spread and parents may realize, "Hey even though we may not have the best family life style, providing my child with a good education is still important."
I believe getting parents/guardians involved could help this issue and provide for positive outcomes.

This is a very controversial issue and I have some very strong thoughts on it. I am 21 years old and I have been in school for almost 16 years now. I’ve been through four school and two colleges. For 18 years of my life I lived in a “book cover” household with both of my parents and my two brothers. On the outside everyone thought I had the perfect life and the perfect family. I rarely did without much and my brothers and I participated in lots of extracurricular activities. However, when you opened that book, things were not so easy to look at. My dad had a terrible time keeping a steady job, which in turn, led to my parents fighting about money all the time. Yelling at my mother wasn’t enough for him, though. He had to abuse her, sometimes, in front of all of us. I was always so embarrassed to talk about my situation until I realized how strong my dad actually mad my mother. Neither of my parents went to college, and my mom pounded in our heads from the time we were walking to go to college and make a better life our family. My mom was the back bone of our family and her pride and belief in me is my motivation. Sometimes I feel like I just want to quit school because it doesn’t seem worth. I know in my hearth, though, that graduating and becoming a teacher is what my life goal truly is. I want to help America’s youth understand that history doesn’t have to repeat itself. You can come from any kind of family and still have a fighting chance. As long as someone believes in you, whether it be a parent, teacher, or friend, accomplish all the goals you have set for yourself!

I think that no matter what you do in life it is always harder to, "go it alone". Some students with out a supportive home life are still able to find a mentor or parent figure in a school but others who have to venture into an educational setting alone i believe have it alot harder. They have no insentive to do well, they have no help from parents on homework or encouragement. Also when you have a rough home life it opens up a whole other mess of problems. Those kids are more at risk for social and behavioral problems including anything from drug usage to depression. I think all of these are related. I believe a solid home life is a building block for success in life. Of course there will also be the special case of some amazing child who realizes their situation and works hard to rise above, but the odds are against them.

I absolutely agree with Dan's post that no matter what you do in life, it is harder to do alone. As an adolescent, a student absolutely needs support from outside the school setting. They need their family no matter how much they try to push their parents away. Every person needs someone they can rely on and be there for them while growing up. Without a positive influence in a child's life, bad things can most certainly happen. Children need role models to guide and support them. This support must come from the family. As a future educator, I am beginning to realize that a teacher can only do so much for a student. There must be a joint effort from both the teacher and the family to help guide students in the right direction and help them perform to the best of their ability

The following is a portion of a letter that I intend to mail to The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. The letter focuses on giving rewards to students, and opening a non-profit organization to provide rewards, as incentives to improve and increase a high school students interest in high school.
__________________________________________________

The other day I asked my 17-year-old son and his friends, "Would you guys do better in school if you got money for your grades? Better yet, a brand new car after you graduated!" With no hesitations their response? "Heck yeah… most definitely!"
--------------------------------------------------


Dear Mr. and Mrs. Gates:
Hello, please allow me to introduce myself; my name is Becky/ Nina. I would like to compliment you and your friend Warren Buffet for your more than generous efforts to better our school system.

I am a mother raising two terrific sons single handedly. Sean, my 19 year old is a budding businessperson; Matt my 17 year old is a talented rock 'n' roll guitarist.

However, my son Sean is a high school dropout, my son Matt is struggling in school, and I am a late bloomer, I just recently earned my BS degree in business. Like millions of others, I was a floater in high school. Therefore, in essence, "if you are in the system, you know the system."

I recently visited your website, and found that we are parallel in our view on why the high school system needs reform. I am very excited, because I have solutions, and a refreshing and innovative idea that just might make a big difference in our public high schools; therefore my incentive plan will help the literacy rate to go up, the dropout rate to go down, and may even reduce gang violence.

I touch on several specifics that your foundation may be interested in; it seems your foundation is big on fixing the dropout rate, a teen's lack of interest in school, motivation, and boredom.
Are you curious? I hope so. My aim is not to tire you, but to captivate you with my common sense approach to reforming public high schools.
As you know, school reform is a high priority for public officials, donors, and the public.

***
Executive Summary:

At this moment, although in infancy, my goal is to open a 501 (c)(3) organization. If you, other foundations, and political officials find my ideas to be sound, I shall continue with my intentions of pursuing an organization. Thus, the following takes a comprehensive look into the details. As you know, when dealing with millions of dollars one must be thorough in explanation.

I believe in changing our student's academic behavior by using incentives, to reinforce and grasp their interest to succeed. Incentives are known to encourage or motivate a particular behavior or action. All of us encounter incentives in our day-to-day activities!

I took a consensus and spoke to many educators, parents, and students, and found my incentives plan would work! It is merely based on the simple rewards system, but it is taken to another level.
Schools need more funds for supplies so they can use the “hands on” approach of teaching, and learning

I believe in real life "hands on” approach to better understand the principles of math. More educators throughout public schools should use the principles of geometry to construct guitars, kites and so forth. The problem here? Many public schools have a narrow budget to buy supplies for various projects.

My charity, will not only give out grants, but will also provide more funding for particular schools to buy more supplies.

There are various reasons why some teens do not do to well. We know there are environmental or behavioral reasons why some students do not do well in school. This is why I believe in establishing a new kind of school reform in order to grasp and engage all teenage students in public high schools.

It is not as if I made the concept up, I am merely taking it to a public level.

Money and monetary items smite teenagers. It is inevitably, universal that our nation's households give money to our youth for good grades. We also celebrate when a high school student gets a diploma by taking him or her to a restaurant, and we give him or her gifts for earning that diploma. Economically disadvantaged people cannot provide gifts, and rewards for their teens.

A pilot program would have to be launched, and statistical graduation rates would have to be reported, and compared to previous dropout rates, to see if my incentive program would work. (Perhaps a survey among several hundreds students, to see if this reward system would work would be a good onset determiner.)

It is not as if I made the concept up, I am merely taking it to a public level.

"It's a money thing!"
It is widespread to hear, that if you get a high school diploma, or college degree you will earn significantly more money. Money is a driving force for many to earn a higher degree.

“Reel em in”
If a student is not there in his or her mindset, a lot of potential is wasted; therefore, "reel em in with rewards!"
Grade wise, many teens are struggling and barely getting by, because school is not appealing.
Unfortunately, some students fall through the cracks, and some carry a vague idea of what school is really all about by having to learn about "complicating algebra" a subject some students feel they will never use in life, let a lone find it hard to conceptualize the principles, (especially after being absent a few days.) Unlike Japanese students who do well because attending school is their reward! Perhaps the students who fall through the cracks will stay on the surface and concentrate on their studies if they got rewards.

I am currently working on submitting my letter The Gates foundation and other political figures.
If you would like to read the letter in it’s entirely please visit myspace.

Becky/Nina

http://blog.myspace.com/tinasfan
my email [email protected]


Many have expressed interesting and valuable comments in this section to which I only add a small note.

As a teacher, when a parent calls or visits, to discuss their concerns about their child's learning experience in my class, I always learn from the parent important information that helps me to strategically improve my efforts to directing their child's learning. This is an opportunity I greatly appreciate!

There's plenty of blame to go around: schools, communities, teachers, kids, and parents, all contribute to the problem. What is the problem? Helping every child to reach their academic potential and/or fulfill the gifts that God has endowed them with.

Our culture today, supported by the educational establishment via the self-esteem curriculum and supported by pop psychology, is that we can achieve anything we set our hearts and minds upon. If we only work hard enough and study with the best teachers, we can become the next cultural icon of success. It's rubbish and creates a society of unfulfilled dreams and people whose failings are to be blamed on society: a bad school, a bad community, a bad teacher, a bad coach, a bad parent, a bad person etc... This creates misplaced focus on the source of the problem, and it makes the schools the primary focus for correcting the problem since they are the giver of knowledge and they have the wisdom as evidenced by their certificates and degrees.

If a school/teacher happens to have a student that is aspiring to be the next nobel prize winning scientist but the child's academic skills are 5 grades below their age level, do we blame the school, the parent, the community, or the child? Is it possible that someone put in that child's head the idea that he/she could become something that God never endowed him/her to become?

While it is true that there are bad teachers, bad schools, bad curriculums, bad communities, bad kids, and bad parents that contribute to low academic achievement, I believe too much of the focus is focusing on the wrong problem: which is how do we turn kids into something they are not. And we ask the schools to turn kids into something they are not and the schools and the teachers believe they can, thus only exacerbating the problem. Instead we need to help kids realize and become who they are. Help them to develop and nurture those unique gifts that God has endowed each of us with.

Now that is wrought with it's own set of problems as some kids may be limited artificially. The most important step to realizing that to the degree it is possible is to empower parents to choose the path their child will take. I agree with Matt, we can begin solving this problem if we put the problem in the hands of the people who have the most interest and the most ability to solve it -- the parents. They need to be able to choose the kind of education their child gets. There needs to options in the kinds of schools that a child can attend. Artistic childern should be able to attend schools that are more geared to fostering their artistic talents. Math and Science oriented kids would be better suited towards schools offering strong math and science. Elementary school parents may choose a school with a curriculum that is more supportive of old style drill and kill and phonics curriculum because that's best for some kids. While other kids are more suited for a montesory style education and parents can choose that for their kids. Public education is one size fits all today, and students come in many styles and sizes. It's best for the parents with perhaps some help from the schools to choose the approach that's most suited for their child.

You wouldn't treat cancer with antibiotics. If you did it would be medical malpractice. Well to teach kids all the same is practicing educational malpractice. In the process, we waste a lot of money on intervention strategies that rarely do any better than if the child never received them in the first place.

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