May 24, 2006

I'm Not Dead Yet

After taking his ball and running home last week, J.D., of Math and Text, makes a triumphant return to the school yard to play with the big kids again. (We kid because we love.)

Anyway, for those of you who haven't been playing along at home, the topic has been Parental Involvement/Support and Effective Instruction. Oddly enough, we seem to be both for parental support and for effective instruction. Yet, there's a disagreement.

The disagreement appears to center around what happens when parents are not supportive.

I say that this lack of support does not absolve schools from teaching these kids. Moreover, my position is that parental support would not be necessary if schools were using effective teaching practices. To the extent that schools continue to use ineffective instructional practices, they are solely responsible for the failure to educate kids who (the research indicates) would have succeeded if effective practices were employed, regardless of external factors, such as lack of parental support. There are a few kids at the margin who may need additional parental support to succeed even with the use of state-of-the-art instructional practices. I've conceded some joint responsibility there (at least until we develop better instructional techniques), but these kids represent a tiny fraction of current student failures.

J.D. says that research shows that parental support has positive effects on learning. Parents, students, and schools are jointly responsible for the student's education. J.D., also believes that schools also need to improve their instruction too. J.D. seems to think that if we improved parental support, schools wouldn't need to make major changes to improve student preformance. (At least I think this is J.D.'s position; he'll let us know if I've mischaracterized it.)

With that groundwork set let's go to the latest round of the debate:

[T]he short answer is they can't--EXCEPT to encourage their children's schooling, get on them when grades are low, instill in them the value of an education (think immigrants), reinforce a work ethic as it involves school, etc.

This is ALL parent involvement, and I'm sure that most teachers would say (wrong or right) that such involvement is NOT there from many families.

I'm sure it's not there for a significant portion of low-SES families. One hallmark of low-SES people is that they tend to make bad decisions like this. But we knew this going into the game. The question remains though, what should we do when these kids show up at the school house door?

I think your position is that we expend resources trying to get this elusive parental involvement in the hope that we get the small but positive effect size we see in the research (giving the benefit of the doubt that research is valid).

Problem is, we need large effect sizes to get most of these kids up to grade level. Parental involvement will help at the margin for some kids, but we need much than that to solve our problems.

I think we both agree that the "that" is much better classroom instruction. And, what I've been saying is that the effect size is sufficiently large when you make the instruction more effective, that the parental involvement component is not a significant factor anymore. Again, great if you can get it, but it isn't necessary and the lack of it would only affect a very small percentage of kids at the margin.

All the examples of parental involvement you've listed (encourage their children's schooling, get on them when grades are low, instill in them the value of an education ..., reinforce a work ethic as it involves school, etc.) are motivational. First, all of these things should already be part of a competent classroom management system directed toward disciplining and motivating students, reducing the need for motivation at home and second, all this motivation is for naught anyway when the kids are getting the constant negative feedback when they are not learning caused by a curriculum that is sufficiently lousy that.

Although you are inclined to not believe me, I have not found a single study that tested the effects of increased parent involvement to yield a negative influence--NOT ONE.

I would expect to see such results: good parental involvement resembles teaching which tends to have a positive effect.

But this is Ed research we're talking about. Most of it isn't valid because the design of the studies are flawed. Did you weed out the bad research first? I'm also certain that the research does not say that "parental involvement" in the global sense, but rather that the specific kind of parental support, given under specific conditions, may have a positive effect. This is what the research tells us, but this is not what you've been arguing.

There are some that show no significant effect, but the rest show positive results.

This doesn't mean that increased parent involvement is the strategy now pursued by every district in the U.S., and to the extent that it is, they're wrong. It is not a cure-all.

There's nothing wrong, per se, with schools trying to get more parental support. It just shouldn't be used as an excuse not to pursue other more effective things and the failure of some parents not to play along shouldn't be an excuse.

But neither is a system-wide change. At least right now. At least right now. I am the first to jump on the bandwagon of any argument that suggests total systemic change from the education industry, but I'm also aware enough to know that's not happening now.

Changing the curriculum is not a system-wide change. Schools do it all the time with little complaint. Are you saying that we shouldn't try other changes until if we see if increased parental involvement works? I'm sure even your research doesn't show the effect sizes needed to sufficiently improve student achievement.

And, to be frank, I have some misgivings about turning teachers into robots reading from an Englemann script, no matter how effective it is in the short term.

What do you call teachers when they read from their own lesson plans aka scripts? Are they robots too? There wouldn't be a need for scripts if Ed schools did a better job teaching teachers how to effectively instruct students. There also is some evidence that it is equally effective in the long term.

We're not Singapore or Japan, and test scores, no matter what the Feds say, are not the end-all and be-all of education.

Of course not, but when test scores are showing a problem, like they currently do, you fix it. You can have high test scores and all the other stuff too.

The system of education in this country was, in small part, designed to reduce the influence of such "King Georgeism."

The original system perhaps, but then we installed a public education system which all but guaranteed it.

What we have right now is a system that doesn't work to the best of its ability. So parents can either do something about it or sit on the sidelines like a bunch of screaming nags and bitch about how everything is wrong.

As long as educators are denying there is a problem, claiming that they're doing their best already (we just need more help from the parents), using bad instructional programs, denying that they're not bad, refusing to change, and generally making all sorts of ridiculous claims; there is a value to pointing out the problems and proposing alternate solutions. I suppose you'll be torching the newspapers and other media outlets later today that basically serve the same function.

And how is this any worse than the apologist education blogs which make excuses for the shortcoming of the education system, you know, like when some parents don't provide adequate support?

I'll be the first to say that I think we can do both.
There, I let J.D. have the last word.

15 comments:

Catherine Johnson said...

Check it out: parent involvement online report card

Catherine Johnson said...

[T]he short answer is they can't--EXCEPT to encourage their children's schooling, get on them when grades are low, instill in them the value of an education (think immigrants), reinforce a work ethic as it involves school, etc.


no

"parent involvement" means reteaching

Catherine Johnson said...

All the examples of parental involvement you've listed (encourage their children's schooling, get on them when grades are low, instill in them the value of an education ..., reinforce a work ethic as it involves school, etc.) are motivational. First, all of these things should already be part of a competent classroom management system directed toward disciplining and motivating students, reducing the need for motivation at home and second, all this motivation is for naught anyway when the kids are getting the constant negative feedback when they are not learning caused by a curriculum that is sufficiently lousy that.

ditto

Schools flatter themselves when they put out word that the parents' job is to function as pep-talk giver and Homework Overseer.

The parents' job is to reteach the material.

Some schools are now openly saying so; yesterday I came across an article about schools sending parents off to community colleges to take math courses so they can teach their kids math.

This is called "help with homework."

jg said...

What about parental support at a lower level? Like making sure your child has the supplies he needs, shows up to school on time etc? Somewhere in there at least the parents must take some responsibility? No matter what program of instruction is used it won't be effective if the student isn't there or doesn't have the supplies need.

KDeRosa said...

JG, yes, parents should provide these things, but it's such a petty expense, if the schools know this is a problem, why aren't they providing supplies. There are simple wyas to handle this. In fact, some school districts mandate that schools provide these supplies.

Anonymous said...

Parent involvement also means filling in the gaps the newly implemented curriculum is creating. And that's if you catch them.

And you can only do that if you can compare the difference between what the newfangled curriculum's goals are against the actual nuts- and-bolts techniques used to teach them.

If you don't have the ability or the education to anticipate the problems of a bad curriculum you'll find yourself with a middle schooler who can't spell or do basic arithmetic. By then, it is pretty late in the day to be doing anything about it.

SusanS

Catherine Johnson said...

There's a great post over at "My Short Pencil" (hard to find) detailing how the author has used the ITBS over a number of years to monitor his daughter's achievement. (I'll find the link.)

I don't know whether he gave it to her himself, or whether the school did.

Our school, naturally, has taken the opportunity of NCLB to dump all standardized testing except for the state test, which is incomprehensible.

A doctor friend of mine told me she couldn't make head nor tails of it, and she spent some years doing medical research.

A high school guidance counselor told me that the one test they'd had that predicted future academic success well (i.e. from grade school to high school) was the TONYSS, which was the private test schools used in the years other than grades 4 & 8.

Now that's gone, too.

Catherine Johnson said...

Parents have to get their kids to school, and that's about all the school should count on.

The school should have supplies on hand.

The issue is to educate the kids, period. The focus should be entirely on the kids.

This is why we have truant officers, of course. If a parent isn't getting the kid to school, the state steps in.

The school isn't legally allowed just to say, "Oh, well, the parent didn't do his job; the kid's not here; I guess that's that."

Tracy W said...

But neither is a system-wide change. At least right now. At least right now. I am the first to jump on the bandwagon of any argument that suggests total systemic change from the education industry, but I'm also aware enough to know that's not happening now.

Knowing what I do about human nature, I'd say that a system-wide change in the education industry is rather more likely than turning all currently dismotivated parents into deeply involved ones.

There are no obvious levers I can think of that schools can use to motivate any parents who aren't already motivated. It is extremely difficult to change another person or to get them to do something they don't want to do - I think every married person knows this. I know my mother spent over twenty years to get my father to the point where he will submit to her buying him new clothes (he never objected to her buying new clothes for herself or for us, just for himself) - and he still doesn't have much of a sense of taste or motivation to dress smartly, he's just given up objecting when mum tells him to go and change. And my mother is far more entangled in my father's life and has far more opportunities to apply pressure than any educator does. I can't see any school system or government managing to put that sort of pressure on a diverse set of parents, with a teacher/parent ratio of much less than one.

Catherine Johnson said...

There are no obvious levers I can think of that schools can use to motivate any parents who aren't already motivated.

Actually, that may not be true when it comes to school.

Ed heard an interview with Jay Mathews & someone from Harvard who said that parent involvement goes up or down depending on the school.

They both said parent involvement was important, BUT parent involvement was a function of the school's quality, not the other way around.

You can see that easily in my own school, which does everything it can to keep parents at bay.

How much parent involvement is there in our middle school?

Zero, apart from angry emails and phone calls to the teachers & principal.

Apparently it's the same phenomenon in inner city schools, too. If the school is good, the parents come.

If the school is bad, parents stay away in droves.

An institution isn't directly analogous to a marriage, because in an institution you have all kinds of institutional restraints & constraints shaping & distorting behavior.

You can see that clearly in our middle school, too. It's a bad school with a harsh, negative culture - but there are all kinds of good people trying to function inside it. The problem isn't the people; it's the culture.

This is why I can get an email from Christopher's very kind English teacher telling me she is "not at liberty" to supply Christopher with examples of A-level writing. Her natural instinct was to do so, and before Christmas she said she would do so.

Probably sometime between then and February she figured out she's "not at liberty." That's the school talking, not her.

I'm coming to see the schools' attitude towards low-income parents as being directly analogous to their attitude towards low-income students.

The school does everything in its power to drive parents away, then blames parents for low involvement.

Catherine Johnson said...

I read a fascinating study yesterday in which a school district set up a peer tutoring program in math. Peer tutoring, apparently, works extremely well - something I'm beginning to believe.

The other part of the change was that whenever a child was having trouble with a math concept, the peer tutor was told, but not the parent.

Whenever a child did well in math, or mastered a new topic, the parent was told immediately.

These were urban disadvantaged kids.

Basically, the school decided to deal with the negatives themselves, and give parents positive feedback about their kids.

Reading that, I thought, this approach would make a HUGE difference to us.

We basically only hear bad stuff from our school.

The result was predictable.

I'm still trying to follow a common-sense rule that I should give positive feedback, but I realy have to think about it, and discipline myself to do so.

Tracy W said...

Catherine, you have a good point that changes in institutions can cause changes in the behaviour of those people who interact with the institutions.

However, I think we generally agree that more parental involvement isn't the easy alternative to system-wide change. I had my doubts about whether getting more parental involvement is possible at all, you present a good argument that it will only happen if there's a system-wide change in schools in the first place.

Catherine Johnson said...

However, I think we generally agree that more parental involvement isn't the easy alternative to system-wide change.

Absolutely.

I do think it's possible to pull parents through measures short of system-wide reform....apparently this was done in Rochester while Ed was living there.

I don't know how much difference it made to the kids' achievement.....

The Parent Involvement meme is EVERYWHERE on the web; it's amazing.

I hadn't realized that this is a major plan on the part of schools and even states for school reform.

The state of MI actually has whole big documents on the importance of Parental Involvement posted all over creation.

I've actually started to wonder just how far you could take this.

At this point I'm convinced that wealthy suburban schools are completely dependent on parents.....and I'm starting to think everyone knows this at some half-conscious level.....

So.....say you persuaded single black moms to take over the school's job - what would happen??

I'll get around to posting the various documents I've found. Amazing stuff.

I guess my position is that I don't know whether "parental involvement" might "fix" the schools, but if parental involvement did fix the schools, the parents shouldn't be paying salaries & pensions.

SteveH said...

"The Parent Involvement meme is EVERYWHERE on the web; it's amazing."

Not just the web. I got a call at my business today from someone at a "oldies" radio station. My first reaction was that they wanted money to sponsor some public service or non-profit message. (These calls are usually about drug or alcohol prevention.) They wanted sponsors, but the message would be to parents about helping their kids in math, or teaching them the importance of math. I didn't have the wits about me to ask who got this started. The caller wanted to know if I (my engineering firm) didn't think it was a good idea to help prepare the workforce of "tommorrow". I told him that I thought it was very important, but radio messages to parents were not the best use of the money.

Mr. Person said...

"Parent involvement" means reteaching.

Wrong. Typically wrong.

This is what you think "your enemy" is saying about parent involvement.

And hey, you may be right about that. Prove it.

Otherwise, encouraging children's schooling, putting pressure on them when grades are low, making them recognize the value of an education, and reinforcing a good work ethic as it relates to school are ALL parent involvement.

I did not say that this should not also be a teacher's responsibility, so get a grip.

You know you're working this as a wedge issue. Fess up. And get real.

Yours is not the only skin in the game.