New report links nine parental factors to achievement gap

 

 

by Christopher Paslay

 

In a newly released report titled Parsing the Achievement Gap II, the Educational Testing Service tracked national trends between students of different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds.  The report listed 16 factors that have been linked to student achievement. 

 

Of the 16 factors, nine were directly related to a child’s parents and home environment.  They were as follows:   

 

Parent participation: White students’ parents are more likely to attend a school event or to volunteer at school.

 

Frequent changing of schools: Minority students are more likely to change schools frequently.

 

Low birth weight: The percentage of Black infants born with low birth weight is higher than that for White and Hispanic infants.

 

Environmental damage: Minority and low-income children were more likely to be exposed to environmental hazards, such as lead and mercury.

 

Hunger and nutrition: Minority and low-income children were more likely to be food insecure.

 

Talking and reading to babies and young children: Minority and low-income children were less likely to be read to daily.

 

Excessive television watching: Minority and lower-SES children watch more television.

 

Parent-pupil ratio: Minority students were less likely to live with two parents.

 

Summer achievement gain/loss: Minority and low-SES students grow less academically over the summer.

 

Although the report also attributed the achievement gap to school equity issues, such as class size, the availability of technology and teacher experience, ETS did recommend placing an emphasis on improving the involvement of parents and the community.    

 

“Families . . . have a large responsibility to regulate use of the TV set, read to young children, see that they get to school, and support efforts to foster discipline and order in the schools,” ETS concluded in their report.  “Ignoring the impact of a student’s home circumstances will do nothing to help teachers and schools narrow achievement gaps.”

 

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Inquirer editorial bashes Philadelphia public school teachers

 

 

 

by Christopher Paslay

 

Leave it to newspapers and politicians to oversimplify the problem with public education in America.  The root causes of failing schools are much more complex than bad teachers and a lack of charters, as the Inquirer states in their recent editorial.   

 

For starters, cell phones are destroying attention spans and producing a generation of children addicted to electronic gadgets.  Even the most cutting edge lesson plans have trouble competing with the soft core pornography and computer generated images found in movies, videos games and on the internet. 

 

The divorce rate in America is also an issue.  Many single parents are too overwhelmed with their own social ills to teach their children how to communicate properly and solve problems nonviolently.  Respect for authority in many public schools is at an all time low.

 

In addition, many education policy makers, such as Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, have no experience teaching.  Often their ideas and strategies are off-base and impractical, and do not translate well in the classroom. 

 

Public education is a direct reflection of American society.  Blaming low student achievement primarily on bad teachers is like attributing heart disease to failing doctors.      

 

Education will only improve in this country when responsibility is equally distributed between teachers, parents, and society at large.   

 

The Notebook responds to Chalk and Talk article

 

 

 

by Christopher Paslay

 

On March 3rd, I posted an article here on Chalk and Talk headlined Do Phila. teachers really view minority children as criminals?  In the article I criticized the Philadelphia Public School Notebook for running an objectionable editorial (Changing the odds) that suggested Philadelphia public school teachers were racist and afraid of the communities they serve.

 

Two days later I received an email from Paul Socolar, editor of the Notebook, requesting that we open a dialogue in order to address some of the issues I had with his newspaper.  Paul also asked me to reread my March 3rd article, and to pay careful attention to its tone, which Paul felt had degenerated into name calling; he took particular offense to the fact that I called the Notebook “irresponsible”. 

 

I reread the post, and although I didn’t feel I had called anyone names, I did agree that it had an edge to it.  I explained that this was a reaction to the accusations contained in the Notebook’s Winter 2008 edition, Focus on Changing the Odds, where the newspaper more than once alluded to the fact that teachers were racist. 

 

Paul admitted that I wasn’t the only teacher who felt this way.  However, he suggested that I focus on the actual points of disagreement, rather than throwing around so many labels.  In order for both of us to tone down our rhetoric, he wanted to know what other editions of the Notebook may have offended me. 

 

As I went through the Notebook’s archives, I realized that these articles were not so much offensive to teachers as they were unfriendly.  Here were the gripes I had:            

 

Lack of Parental Involvement:  The Notebook fails to scrutinize parents and explore all the ways mothers and fathers are failing their children.  They suggest parental involvement is low because schools aren’t “welcoming”; teachers are “intimidating”; announcements aren’t made early and often enough; literature isn’t translated into other languages; etc.     

 

The achievement gap: The Notebook fails to explore the societal root of the problem, and refuses to acknowledge that many black children are plagued by serious social ills.  They place much of the blame on racist teachers.    

 

Safety issues:  The Notebook fails to admit Philadelphia neighborhoods are sometimes dangerous and that violent crime exists.  They chastise teachers for not wanting to teach in the poorest schools because they harbor unfounded prejudices and are “afraid of the communities they serve”.  

 

Inappropriate student behavior: The Notebook fails to acknowledge the violent and unruly actions of too many children (many of them minorities).  They often explain these behaviors away and blame them on the teacher’s unconscious racial prejudice or the counselor’s wrongful diagnosis. 

 

English language learners:  The Notebook fails to recommend ways immigrant families can shoulder some of the language burden.  Instead, they call under-resourced and overwhelmed schools and teachers “unwelcoming” and demand better services.

 

The Voice of Teachers:  The Notebook rarely incorporates into their articles publications that represent the voice of classroom teachers.  Instead, they consistently quote studies and statistics from civil rights organizations that tend to paint schools and teachers in an unflattering light.    

 

Philadelphia Student Union: The Notebook fails to emphasize the fact that the Philadelphia Student Union must strive to hold its peers accountable for contributing to the chaotic nature of schools.  Instead, they consistently harp on the fact that parents and students “feel disrespected by teachers”.           

 

Writers and Bloggers:  The Notebook does not have a single writer or blogger that is a current Philadelphia public school teacher.

 

After reading my concerns, Paul admitted that teachers do need a stronger voice in his newspaper, and he insisted that he is working on this situation.  He also explained that the Notebook’s mission is to make schools better, and that their focus isn’t necessarily on the other parts of the education equation—parents, communities, or the students themselves; Paul did admit however that the problems schools face cannot be solved in isolation.

 

In addition, Paul stated that he wouldn’t mind having a public discussion on the Notebook’s blog about most of the issues I listed above.  I may take him up on this offer.  For now, I’m posting these concerns here on Chalk and Talk, and I’m asking people on all sides of the argument for constructive feedback. 

 

One final note: I’d like to thank Paul Socolar for engaging in our email dialogue, and for taking my concerns to heart.  And I’d also like to reiterate my pledge to watch the tone of my posts, as long as the Notebook strives to be more teacher-friendly.     

 

To Mayor Nutter: What happened to stopping contracts with outside managers?

by Christopher Paslay

 

“As Mayor, I will call for a reduction in contracts with outside contractors unless there is a compelling educational purpose for renewing the contract.”

 

Mayor Michael Nutter, Putting Children First

 

In an educational reform plan dubbed Imagine 2014, Philadelphia schools’ chief Arlene Ackerman announced her intention to shut-down 35 of the city’s lowest-performing schools and reopen them as charters or schools run by outside management.

 

Although I agree that the District’s failing schools need additional help and resources, I don’t believe the answer rests with outside contractors.  Studies show that educational management organizations (EMOs) such as Edison Schools, Foundations Inc., Victory Schools, and Universal Companies are not producing results.  In 2007, Research for Action, a nonprofit organization working in educational research and reform, conducted a survey on the private managers.  The report stated: “We find little evidence in terms of academic outcomes that would support the additional resources for the private managers.”

The Bulletin wrote an article based on these findings as well.   In it they concluded, “EMOs receive an additional $18 million per year, approximately $768 more per pupil, to run their schools with no measurable difference in test results.”     

 

But Dr. Ackerman assures us this time around things will be different.  Only successful organizations with proven track records will be given opportunities to run Philadelphia’s failing schools.

 

One organization Dr. Ackerman touted was the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP).  KIPP schools are praised around the country for high student achievement, especially with minorities in high poverty areas. 

 

However, KIPP schools are not always what they seem.  A three year study by SRI International, a Menlo Park, CA-based research institute, found that many KIPP schools have an alarmingly high rate of student attrition, which in some cities was as high as 60%.  The same trend was true for teachers, who had a turnover rate of almost 50% in some districts. 

 

In other words, the time and energy required to work or attend a KIPP school is overwhelming for many adults and children alike; at KIPP, the school day begins at 7:30 and runs until 5:00, and classes are held every other Saturday.

 

So the question remains: How are we going to staff these schools?  Also, what do we do with the high number of students who transfer out of KIPP schools because the work load is too difficult?          

 

As Mayor Nutter announced in his education plan outside Samuel Powel School in the fall of 2007, “We know that contracting out to the education management organizations—the EMOs—are not producing results that are any better than many of our regular public schools. So instead of allowing consultants to profit, we should return some of the consultant money to the classroom.”

 

Amen.

 

So what are the solutions?  How do we save the District’s lowest-performing schools? 

 

By not shutting them down or giving up on them.  By investing in HOLISTIC education, and funding programs that help struggling parents and neighborhoods gain some stability.  By not only holding principals and teachers accountable, but also parents and the students themselves.  By actually ENFORCING the District’s policy on zero tolerance for violence—going into unruly schools and systematically weeding-out the bad apples—permanently removing the students who are ruining everyone’s educations. 

 

Outside management is not the answer for Philadelphia’s failing schools.  The research proves this, and the Mayor himself has acknowledged this reality.  My only question is, when will Michael Nutter step in and challenge Dr. Ackerman’s new reform plan?  When will he fulfill his campaign promise and stop contracts with outside managers?     

 

Imagine 2014

 

 

by Christopher Paslay

(Re: Imagine 2014)

 

 

 

 

 

Imagine there’s no insults
It’s easy if you try
No blaming just the teachers
No waving 30 schools goodbye
Imagine the SRC
Giving us what we need

 

Imagine no outside managers

It isn’t hard to do

No wasting millions of dollars

And no consultants too

Imagine all the parents

Pulling their own weight

 

You may say I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

I hope someday the SRC will join us

And every child will be someone   

 

Imagine no betrayal

I wonder if you can

No inside agenda

A brotherhood of man

Imagine all the politicians

Doing what they say

 

You may say that I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

I hope someday the SRC will join us

And every child will be someone

 

Eye on the Notebook: Parental involvement must start in the home

 

 

by Christopher Paslay

 

To help The Philadelphia Public School Notebook bring quality and equality to all public schools, I am posting a regular forum here on Chalk and Talk called Eye on The Notebook.  Its purpose is to provide The Notebook with constructive feedback from teachers who work day-to-day in real classrooms and experience the district’s problems firsthand.  Although The Notebook analyzes a wide variety of educational issues, too often their conclusions are limited in scope and perspective. 

 

Eye on The Notebook will attempt to bring a more grounded analysis of issues that face our city’s public schools.  I will dissect selected Notebook articles and add depth to their findings.  In tandem with The Notebook, this blog hopes to uncover the true root causes of problems concerning the Philadelphia School District and offer practical, realistic solutions.

 

***

 

In their recent editorial, “Building parent power,” the Notebook calls for parent leaders across the city “to come together and lay the foundation for a stronger network of organizations giving voice to their concerns.”

 

The Notebook praises organizations like ACORN and Eastern Pennsylvania Organizing Project for their advocacy work in education, and for “developing new leaders and activists, helping parents deepen their understanding of issues, and challenging District leaders to make improvements.”

 

In my experience as an educator, there are two kinds of parental involvement: personal and political.

 

Personal involvement is where parents become actively engaged in being good parents: teaching their children how to communicate and solve problems nonviolently; focusing on nutrition and setting a reasonable curfew; instilling in their sons and daughters work ethic and an appreciation for the value of education, etc.

 

Political involvement is where parents become activists and organize for political reform: they challenge district leaders to change policies, and network to make their voices and concerns heard.

 

The Notebook’s editorial “Building parent power” places its focus on the latter and ignores the former (as they do so often). They call for parents to become politically active in the Philadelphia school system, but fail to demand that moms and dads get personally involved in the educations of their sons and daughters at a home level.        

 

As the saying goes, It takes a village to raise a child.  Parents are an integral part of the District, not simply because we can use their power to protest for educational reform, but so we can use their influence with their own children to make our city’s youth better students and citizens.         

 

There are approximately 167,000 students in Philadelphia public schools.  If we multiply this number by two (one mother and one father), than there are about 334,000 parents in the city.  Unfortunately, with the exception of the 200 or so parents who regularly show up at 440 North Broad shaking their fists at SRC meetings, or those motivated few who attend school functions and are members of home and school associations, too many moms and dads in the city are nonexistent when it comes to their child’s schooling.

 

If we truly want to build “parent power,” must start by doing so in the home.  Every one of us must crawl before we can walk.  According to Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we must satisfy physiological and safety needs—as well as the need for love and belonging—before we can satisfy the need for esteem.  In other words, moms and dads must parent first—then they can get up on their political soapbox and advocate for reform.

 

Philadelphia’s recent Parent Leadership Academy is a case in point.  A pilot effort by the Philadelphia School District and the William Penn Foundation, PLA was formed to empower parents and promote them as leaders in their children’s education and schools. 

 

Although PLA made some progress and was a valuable learning experience, in the end, the program was dropped because it didn’t develop according to expectations. 

 

In a recent report published by Research For Action entitled “Parent Leadership Academy: A Parent-Led, District-Hosted Partnership for Parent Engagement,” researchers concluded that ultimately PLA “was not a sufficient lever for changing the District’s relationship with parents.”   

 

One reason PLA failed was because parents couldn’t move beyond the historic distrust of district officials, and continued to complain that the climate was not “parent friendly”.  There was also tension between PLA board members and those involved in the Philadelphia Home and School Council.

 

There have been questions raised as to why a similar program in Kentucky—called the Center for Parental Leadership (one of the programs on which PLA was based)—remains a reigning success, and why PLA ultimately ended in failure.  The answer rests with Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs: Parents in KY, unlike many in Philadelphia, have established workable relationships at a base level—with their own families and communities—and thus possess the tools and credibility necessary to take that next step toward educational activism.

 

So what are the solutions?  How do we get parents of Philadelphia public school children involved at the home level so they can ultimately achieve that next step and get active in the district?                

 

According to the findings by Research For Action, providing educational programs for parents can help them get more involved with their child’s schooling.  “Increases in educational attainment for younger and less educated mothers are related to gains in children’s achievement, particularly reading skills,” the report explained.  It also found that the more educated parents are, the more they are able to provide help with homework, and become academic role models for their children. 

 

In addition, neighborhood school-based sites are more effective in drawing parents than nonneighborhood school-based sites. Basically, participation by parents is highest at a site with a strong connection to the surrounding community.

 

Finally, moving beyond school walls is a promising strategy for reaching parents. Instead of schools inviting parents to come to them, there should be a more community-based focus, and the District should “reach parents where they are.’” 

 

Parental involvement is a two-tier process.  Parents must get involved at the home level in order to build the skills necessary to get active in the district.  To quote Barack Obama in the final presidential debate at Hofstra University, “Parents are going to have to show more responsibility. They’ve got to turn off the TV set, put away the video games, and, finally, start instilling that thirst for knowledge that our students need.” 

 

Phila. schools are overdue for more holistic approach

“Public schools are not free-floating, self-contained cities cut off from human civilization. They are rooted in communities and neighborhoods. They are supported not only by teachers and principals, but also by parents, businesspeople, counselors and clergy.

 

No one understands this better than Geoffrey Canada. In 1991, he started the Harlem Children’s Zone, a network of educational and social-service programs aimed at reducing poverty in Harlem. The program, which has been featured on Oprah and 60 Minutes, is groundbreaking because it takes a holistic approach to education.”

 

This is an excerpt from my commentary in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, “Phila. schools are overdue for more holistic approach”.  Please respond by clicking on the comment button below.

 

Thanks for reading.

 

–Christopher Paslay

10 Reasons Why Philadelphia Parents Don’t Attend Teacher Conferences

by Christopher Paslay

 

Parental involvement in Philadelphia public schools is notoriously low.  Over the past decade, less than 10% of my students’ mothers and fathers have shown up for school functions such as Back to School Night and Report Card Night. 

         

Colleagues of mine from other parts of the city report the same problem: The majority of mothers and fathers do not show up for school functions. 

 

According to information published in the Winter 2006-07 edition of The Philadelphia Public School Notebook: Focus on Parent Involvement, here are 10 reasons why parents of Philadelphia public school children don’t attend teacher conference:          

 

10.  Some parents can’t read letters sent by schools inviting them to attend conferences.

 

9.  Parents do not receive information far enough in advance to adjust their schedules.

 

8.  Parents do not have the time because they have multiple outside responsibilities.

 

7.  Cultural barriers make it difficult for some parents to be involved.     

 

6.  Schools are not clear in terms of how much and in what ways they want parents involved.

 

5.  Some parents are not involved at school but are involved through informal conversations or discussions in the home. 

 

4.  Schools are not “welcoming” enough to parents; parents feel uncomfortable or intimidated approaching the teacher.

 

3.  Some parents don’t understand English. 

 

2.  Principals do not set the right “tone” for parents to get involved in school.         

 

1.  Some parents do not know where their child’s school is located.   

 

Excuses or legitimate issues?  Maybe it’s a little bit of both.  Either way, the district and moms and dads must find some common ground so teachers can truly make parents their partners.

Schools Reflect Communities

“If parents and students don’t get actively involved, how will extending the school day improve academic achievement?  If education isn’t made a priority in children’s homes, what will requiring more professional development for teachers accomplish?”

 

To respond to today’s Inquirer commentary, “Schools reflect communities,” click the comment button below.

 

Thanks for visiting.