Sunday, July 31, 2011

‘Just right’ parents and No Child Left Behind

By Harold Kwalwasser

Every time I think about the phrase “parental involvement” in elementary and secondary education, I am reminded of that wonderful porridge in the fable of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

Like Goldilocks’ demand for her porridge, educators often want their parents “just right.” They don’t want them too activist. At that point, they start to think of parents as meddlesome control freaks, or shills for some undeserving child who will face a bad grade or some other punishment without a parental rescue.

But at the same time, educators don’t want parents uninvolved, particularly when it comes to convincing their kids about the benefits of education. Without that parental support, educators fret that they are incapable of stirring listless kids to take a real interest in their own learning.

In fact, one superintendent I interviewed for a book I just completed on education reform told me that he “did not have a parental outreach strategy” because he expected it would not likely yield good results, and he did not want to give his principals and teachers an excuse for why their children were not learning.

Unfortunately, there are simply not that many parents who are “just right.” And that is a problem for No Child Left Behind.

Ten years after NCLB’s passage, we know two things to be true. First, there is little evidence the obligations for parental consultation have improved the quality of education in Title I schools.

More importantly, there is no evidence that the process has stoked any kind of populist movement for school reform. That is not surprising since the money spent on parents has been insufficient to make the involvement genuinely robust enough to be effective. So, what the provisions have done is allow schools to build a façade of parental involvement without really disrupting their preference to deal with only those parents who are indeed “just right.”

The law has done no better with uninvolved parents. There are still legions of children who lack adequate support at home. No one thinks NCLB has done much to reduce the numbers. And nothing in Title I or elsewhere has pushed schools to find a Plan B: If whatever parental involvement efforts wind up failing, what are the schools going to do to ensure the social and emotional development of their students? It is as if those students are to be punished because, once again, their parents are not “just right.”

No new Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, known in its current form as No Child Left Behind) is going to change educators’ attitudes any more than it is going to make some uninvolved parent suddenly take a great interest in his or her child. Some things one cannot mandate.

But there are some things that a new ESEA can do. First, it can entice school administrators and teachers to increase real parental involvement – even if that is not what they really, deep in their hearts, want to do. How?

An example: The Obama administration wants districts to follow one of four distinct strategies to overhaul failing schools. Rather than mandating the four, the law might afford districts the right to select their own strategy – provided it was adopted in a public referendum where at least a significant percentage of voters participated. Otherwise, Washington’s rules prevail. If a superintendent’s choice is to deal with her parents and voters or with Washington, she might well choose to deal with those she can shake hands with any day.

By giving districts the option to address this problem and potentially lots of other issues first through a process requiring broad parent participation, a new ESEA gives parents a new way to be involved, even if it gives greater control to those who are not “just right” in the eyes of administrators. Moreover, it bridges a difficult divide in Washington over the degree to which Washington should be able to dictate what happens on the ground. There is local control if the districts take advantage of the opportunity to act, and federal direction if they do not.

And when it comes to parents not supporting their kids, the law might give districts a greater incentive to develop a Plan B. The experience of some private, parochial, charter, and even some traditional public schools is that they do better when they acknowledge an institutional obligation to promote the social and emotional well-being of their children.

Indeed, the irony of asking school staff to take on such obligations is often that it actually significantly increases parental involvement. In Lawrence, Ma., for example, the district adopted a staff mentoring program in 2000. Not only did that give students a district adult to support them, it increased the likelihood their parents would become more involved. At the start of the effort, just 18 parents turned out for parents’ night. In 2009, it was 1800.

A new ESEA can authorize that money devoted to drug or crime prevention and special education may also be used for children’s social and emotional development, including, for example, district mentoring. No one doubts that a more motivated and confident child is less likely to get into trouble or seem impervious to learning. It is prevention rather than repair, and it is assuredly money well spent.

These ideas may not make the new ESEA “just right,” but we are getting closer.


Violence in Britain's badly behaved schools sees 900 suspensions PER DAY

Bad behaviour is blighting Britain's schools with almost 900 children suspended every day for attacking or verbally abusing their teachers and classmates, new figures show. Every school day 13 pupils are permanently expelled for attacks and abuse and 878 are suspended in England's primary and secondary schools.

The figures, from the Department for Education, include physical assaults, racist abuse and threatening behaviour. In total, they show school children were suspended on 166,900 occasions for assault or abuse. And pupils were expelled on 2,460 occasions.

And the level of violence in primary schools was also high with children aged four and under suspended 1,210 times and expelled 20 times.

Across all of England's primary, secondary and special schools, boys were around four times more likely to be expelled than girls, with boys accounting for 78 per cent of expulsions.

The suspension rate was also almost three times higher for boys than for girls, with boys accounting for 75 per cent of all temporary exclusions.

Overall, the statistics, for 2009/10, show a slight drop from the previous year.

The most common reason for exclusion was persistent disruptive behaviour, which accounted for almost one in four, 23.8 per cent of suspensions and nearly a third, 29 per cent, of expulsions.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said: 'With thousands of pupils being excluded for persistent disruption and violent or abusive behaviour we remain concerned that weak discipline remains a significant problem in too many of our schools and classrooms.

'Tackling poor behaviour and raising academic standards are key priorities for the coalition Government. 'We will back head teachers in excluding persistently disruptive pupils, which is why we are removing barriers which limit their authority.'


Are we on the brink of REAL reform in Britain's schools?

A year ago, when the Coalition was only a few months old, it looked as though Education Secretary Michael Gove might fail in his brave mission to dramatically improve the British schools system.

Back then, stubborn civil servants openly resisted attempts at much-needed reform. Gove also suffered huge embarrassment when he tried to reform Labour’s chaotic and wasteful school building refurbishment programme, after muddling up some of the names of the schools involved.

As criticism rained down, it was to the eternal shame of his government colleagues that few offered Gove public support as he courageously took on the Leftist educational establishment.

The powerful teachers’ unions, sensing ministerial weakness, were ready for the kill. Gove’s Labour shadow, the ever-combative Ed Balls, was merciless in his mockery.

The opprobrium directed at Gove, whose geeky image was brutally ridiculed, was so intense that even some of his supporters in the Tory Party feared he might not survive.

But that was a year ago. Since then, Gove has done much more than merely cling to office. With his ambitious programme of reforms to improve standards and liberate schools from the dead hand of council control, he has become the great potential success in a government that does not have much to boast about.

Under his stewardship — mostly unheralded, with the main political focus recently concentrating on the sick state of the economy and phone-hacking — a promising revolution is happening in secondary education.

The academy programme — inherited from Labour — that gives schools more freedom to run their own affairs has been vastly expanded. When the Coalition government came to power last year, there were only 203 academies out of more than 3,000 secondary schools in England and Wales. Now there are 801, with hundreds more expected to become academies this autumn.

Academies are run by independent charitable trusts, which get sponsorship from local businesses and charities. Their governing bodies have more scope to hire teachers of their choice and can decide on pay and conditions.

In this way, they can run their schools without being dictated to by bureaucrats in local authorities. They can also apply to take over failing nearby schools.

By the end of this parliament (in 2015), it is estimated that as many as 80 per cent of all the country’s secondary schools will have become academies. Breaking the power of local authorities that have for years run our schools so incompetently will be a massive achievement.

For too long these wasteful monopolies have been allowed to let Britain plummet down the international league tables.

Of course, reducing the corrosive power of councils over education has been the aim of successive governments.

Gove also wants to overhaul the national curriculum to bring a return to academic rigour in subjects such as maths.

A tough new head is soon to be appointed to Ofsted, the schools inspectorate, and the Government’s no-nonsense adviser on behaviour, Charlie Taylor (who believes in the importance of uniform and strict standards), is drawing up plans to help struggling schools.

But one of the simplest reforms has the potential to have the biggest effect: the introduction of the English baccalaureate, which measures how many pupils get a C-grade or better in five core traditional subjects: English, maths, a foreign language, history or geography and a science.

The so-called ‘E-Bacc’ has been bitterly resisted by elements of the teaching profession, who preferred to steer pupils towards softer subjects.

Together these are the most important set of education reforms introduced by any government for decades. It is long overdue. For all the numerous betrayals perpetrated on the public by politicians in the post-war era, few can equal the appalling mess made of education.

Ironically, the casualties of a pernicious culture, which discriminates against grammar schools and the rigour of absolute standards, were those children from deprived backgrounds whom those on the Left wanted to help. The devastating result has been a decline in social mobility.

But if this process is to be properly reversed and meritocracy restored, the Government will have to go further than Gove’s reforms.

Talent must be encouraged regardless of background and ministers must allow a return to some form of selection — enabling academies to choose pupils on the grounds of academic ability.

But such a revolution is unlikely given the opposition of the Leftist Lib Dems who prop up the Coalition.

David Cameron has a poor track record on the issue, having, in opposition, crudely accused those calling for the creation of more grammar schools as ‘delusional’.

The biggest irony is that most of the Tory and Lib Dem ministers who are blocking a return to selection (Cameron, Osborne and Clegg) went to selective top public schools. But at least under Michael Gove, a proper start in the right direction has been made.


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