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The Public School Insights Blog

There seems to be no escape from the phony debate over whether schools alone or out-of-school social programs alone can close achievement gaps. Recently, David Brooks fanned the flames with his over-hasty conclusion that the success of the Harlem Children’s Zone’s Promise Academies bolsters the schools alone case.

Brooks distorted the conclusions of a recent Harvard study examining the academies' academic results. Responding to a chorus of complaints about Brooks's tactics, blogger Andy Rotherham fine tuned the argument a bit: “It’s the schools that actually matter most even in the HCZ [Harlem Children's Zone] model," he declared. To be fair, Rotherham isn't pulling his conclusions entirely out of thin air. The study's authors suggest that the Promise Academies are an indispensable ingredient of their students' success--and that the HCZ's wraparound services alone don't guarantee strong academic results.

But Rotherham and other Brooks supporters don't ask the essential follow-up question: Can the schools do it alone, without the HCZ model? The study’s authors ...

Editor’s note: This week, we’re running a series of guest blogs in which accomplished teachers offer ideas for how to spend stimulus funds. Today, California teacher Heather Wolpert-Gawron offers her contribution. The opinions she expresses are of course her own and do not necessarily represent those of LFA or its member organizations.

A knock at my door signals its arrival. “Sign here,” mumbles the delivery guy. At last. My stimulus package has arrived, and I know just how to spend it. My mythical program will solve everything, increasing both morale and teaching quality, and in so doing, increase student achievement. What is this magic bullet of which I boast? The Tapping Teachers Interests Program.

MY PROPOSED STIMULUS INVESTMENT: TTIP (tee-tip) is a teacher-driven elective program that provides funding for each teacher to have one period a day to teach the subject of his or her choice. There is a tangible difference between teachers who teach just because they are credentialed to do so, and those who truly love what they ...

Editor’s note: We wondered what ideas accomplished teachers might have about good ways to invest stimulus funds. Answering our call, members of the Teacher Leaders Network to give us their straight-from-the-classroom perspectives. The ideas, of course, are their own and do not necessarily represent those of LFA or its member organizations. In the first of four teacher contributions, Ariel Sacks offers her thoughts:

This June will complete my fifth year of teaching at a high-need public middle school in New York City. At age 30, I’ve developed skills as a teacher and a leader, and I’m looking to advance my career. But the only way, it seems, to move up in the field of education is to leave my students and move out of the classroom.

This year, startling numbers of my colleagues across the city with three, four or five years of experience will leave teaching. They aren’t leaving because they feel ineffective or because ...

A New York Times analysis finds that schools led by principals trained through non-traditional routes “have not done as well as those led by experienced principals or new principals who came through traditional routes”:

The Times’s analysis shows that Leadership Academy graduates were less than half as likely to get A’s as other principals, and almost twice as likely to earn C’s or worse [on the city's grading system for public schools]. Among elementary and middle-school principals on the job less than three years, Academy graduates were about a third as likely to get A’s as those who did not attend the program.

This kind of analysis has the potential to redraw battle lines and unsettle ideologies held by educators and reformers across the political spectrum. ...

Editor's note: In the final of a series of four guest blogs on how teachers view parent involvement and engagement in public education, Renee Moore responds to Larry Ferlazzo's distinction: Parent Involvement or Parent Engagement?

Earlier today, we published Larry's response to Renee's posting, How Much Parent Involvement Do Educators Really Want? 

Larry’s thoughtful distinction between “involvement” and “engagement” of parents is more than just semantics. We agree that the attitude of educators toward parents significantly determines the quality of response we can expect. For a more detailed look at the dynamics of trust in parent/ school relations, read the book Trust in Schools (Bryk and Schneider, 2002).

Larry is also right (as numerous studies and our own teaching experiences show) that any level of school/community/parent cooperation produces some positive effect on student achievement. My concern is that ...

Editor's note: Over the few days, we have published guest postings by Renee Moore and Larry Ferlazzo on how teachers view parent engagement in public schools. Today, Larry responds to Renee's posting. 

Renee’s point about how teachers are intimately involved with parents on a day-to-day basis outside of school in her rural area is a good one. In many (if not most?) urban schools, teachers never see parents (or their students) in a non-school situation since most of us don’t live in the same communities where we teach.

I’d say that rural-urban difference emphasizes the particular need for urban schools to embrace home-visiting by teachers and/or other types of “engagement” efforts. The personal trust that parents have for Renee and her colleagues in their rural community, I think, is less likely to occur in ...

Editor's note: This is the second in a series of guest blogs on how teachers view parent engagement and involvement in public schools. Yesterday, Renee Moore offered her perspective on how much parent involvement educators really want.  Today, Larry Ferlazzo shares his thoughts on the difference between parent involvement and parent engagement. 

“When it comes to a breakfast of ham and eggs, the chicken is involved but the pig is committed.”

This old saying is roughly analogous to the issue facing schools today as they consider the kind of relationships they want to build with the parents of their students. I would characterize it as a difference between parent involvement (the chicken) and parent engagement (the pig). I first become aware of this contrast through a study of organizing work by the Industrial Areas Foundation in Texas schools. Boston College professor Dennis Shirley wrote about the IAF’s decades-long efforts in his 1997 book Community Organizing For Urban School Reform.

Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines involvement as “to enfold or envelop.” It defines engagement as “to interlock with; to mesh.” Those definitions get to the crux of the difference. When schools involve parents they are leading with ...

Editor's note: This is the first in a series of four guest blogs on how teachers view parent engagement and involvement in public schools.  Stay tuned for a contribution from teacher-blogger Larry Ferlazzo.

I grew up in a big city and graduated from a magnet high school that had 5,000 students. My teachers barely knew who I was, much less who my parents were. How different from the Mississippi school districts where I’ve taught for nearly two decades. The total population of one town was just under 2,000, and half of them were students in our schools.

Parent involvement takes on a very different meaning when I see the parents of my students every week ringing me up in the grocery store, rinsing me out at the beauty shop, tuning up my car at the local garage, or delivering my mail. I worship with them, bowl with them, sit in the waiting rooms with them. I know them, and they trust me.

Trust is the issue with most parents. Here in the Delta, over 40% of the adults are illiterate; others have ...

Robert Pondiscio at the Core Knowledge blog recently summed up the findings of a new study on the impact of family conflict on student achievement:

Children from troubled families perform “considerably worse” on standardized reading and mathematics tests and are much more likely to commit disciplinary infractions and be suspended than other students, according to a new study. Writing in Education Next, Scott Carrell of UC-Davis and the University of Pittsburgh’s Mark Hoekstra offer evidence that “a single disruptive student can indeed influence the academic progress made by an entire classroom of students.”

Robert adds his own thoughtful interpretation of the study's ...

In Miami, educators and community members have joined forces to mount an innovative parent education program for immigrant families: ENCHOR AKOR. I recently had the privilege of speaking with several people intimately connected to the program, which serves primarily Haitian parents of children attending North Miami Middle School.

Immigrant parents generally have access to few parenting education materials that address their specific cultural concerns. ENCHOR AKOR aims to fill that void by helping parents build more constructive relationships with their children and thereby more effectively support their success in school. ENCHOR stands for “Encouragement, Consequences, Honor and Respect”—the program’s four pillars. AKOR is the equivalent acronym in Haitian-Creole.

The program’s workshops and resources have won a strong following among middle school parents. In the process, they have breathed life into the school’s PTA, which has grown from zero to 55 members in only a year.

The national PTA recognized ENCHOR AKOR with an honorable mention in its prestigious Phoebe Apperson Hearst-National PTA Excellence in Education Partnership Award program.

In the interview, you will hear from four people:

  • Pastor Georges, who has shared the lessons of ENCHOR AKOR with his congregation;
  • Ms. Wilhel Jean-Louis, a mother and school psychologist;
  • Mrs. Smith, a Bahaman immigrant and mother who went through the program; and
  • Dr. Guilhene Benjamin from Miami-Dade Public Schools’ Parent Academy, who helped design the program.

Download the entire interview here, or listen to 6 minutes of interview highlights:

You are missing some Flash content that should appear here! Perhaps your browser cannot display it, or maybe it did not initialise correctly.

[A transcript of these highlights appears below]

You can also listen to the following excerpts: ...

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