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While the national debate rages over the benefits of early childhood education, an innovative, district-wide early childhood education initiative is bearing fruit in Bremerton, Washington. Since the initiative's founding, the percentage of Bremerton children entering Kindergarten knowing their letters has shot from 4% to over 50%. The percentage of Kindergarteners needing specialized education services has plummeted from 12% to 2%. And the share of first graders reading on grade level has risen from 52% to 73%.

Last week, I spoke with a woman at the center of the program: Linda Sullivan-Dudzic, the district's Director of Special programs. She described some keys to the program's success. The district:

  • Aligns existing school and community resources
  • Raises the quality of existing preschools rather than creating new ones
  • Focuses on literacy and numeracy
  • Heeds the research, and
  • Holds all providers to high standards of quality

Read extensive highlights from our interview with Sullivan-Dudzic:

PUBLIC SCHOOL INSIGHTS: What are the major goals of Early Childhood Care and Education Group, and what do you believe you've accomplished in striving towards those goals?

SULLIVAN-DUDZIC: We have two goals. [The first is] to increase the number of children entering kindergarten with early literacy skills--and now we've added early math foundation skills. And the second goal is to decrease the number of children, students, with learning disabilities or learning differences associated with reading.

PUBLIC SCHOOL INSIGHTS: And do you feel like you've made headway in reaching your goals?

SULLIVAN-DUDZIC: Yes. In literacy definitely. We're just starting in math. We have decreasing numbers of kids qualifying as learning disabled, and we have increasing numbers of kids entering kindergarten with early reading foundation skills.

PUBLIC SCHOOL INSIGHTS: So you have all kinds of community partners?

SULLIVAN-DUDZIC: Sure. I started 29 years ago with Head Start, as a ...

vonzastrowc's picture

Engaging ideas

A fascinating piece in Sunday’s Washington Post touches on a formidable, often neglected, barrier to promising education reforms: Community opposition. Especially as we try to fast-track reforms fed by stimulus dollars, we should not forget that community engagement is an essential (though frequently missing) ingredient in school reform efforts.

The essay’s author praises the year-round calendar adopted by her son’s elementary school. The longer school year allows time for “intersessions,” or “short breaks throughout the year.” During these breaks students take “fun, creative classes” where students learn “karate, ballet, photography, cooking and a host of other things.” She’s clearly a fan.

Forget for a moment whether you believe this is a good use of an extended calendar. (Some might see it as an antidote to “kill-and-drill” teaching methods during the rest of the year. Others might see it as a lost academic opportunity, especially for low-income children).

A larger lesson I drew from the piece is that any sort of plan to extend the school year can run afoul of both parents, who worry about the effect of longer years on their children’s well being, and summer amusement businesses, which rise or fall on teen-age labor. Reformers can easily leave very important stakeholders on the sidelines of important education debates.

One of the strongest proponents ...

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 ...

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: ...

Yesterday morning, I emerged long enough from our newborn's diapers and wipes to catch up on some reading. My jaw dropped when I came across this paragraph from David Brooks's Friday op-ed:

[The impressive results of charter schools in the Harlem Children's Zone] are powerful evidence in a long-running debate. Some experts, mostly surrounding the education establishment, argue that schools alone can’t produce big changes. The problems are in society, and you have to work on broader issues like economic inequality. Reformers, on the other hand, have argued that school-based approaches can produce big results. The Harlem Children’s Zone results suggest the reformers are right.


Did Brooks really just argue that the Harlem Children's Zone's success supports the schools alone approach championed by "reformers"? That's like arguing that the Surgeon General's reports discredit the link between smoking and cancer. ...

Mary Anne Schmitt-Carey believes we can make the college graduation prospects of inner city children every bit as strong as those of their suburban peers. As president of Say Yes to Education, she has the data to back up her claims. Schmitt-Carey recently spoke with us about her model and its astonishing impact in several U.S. cities.

Say Yes topples barriers to college by offering disadvantaged youth comprehensive supports ranging from health care to college scholarships. The results of this work are stunning. In communities where it is active, Say Yes has dramatically narrowed the high school and college graduation gaps between inner-city students and their suburban peers.

Schmitt-Carey emphasizes the need to rally many community partners around common goals. In Syracuse, for example, Say Yes has built a strong a coalition including the school district, mayor, city council, school board, teachers unions, higher education community, business organizations and community-service organizations. Rather than pointing fingers of blame, Schmitt-Carey says, these partners share responsibility for children's long-term success.

Hear highlights from our interview (6 minutes). [A transcript of these highlights appears below]

Or listen to the following excerpts from ...

Jasmine Britton is one of a small but growing group of talented teen documentary filmmakers whose work is winning accolades from educators and critics alike. I recently had the chance to chat with her about her documentary work and its impact on her education and life. Jasmine, who attends high school in Brooklyn, is quite outspoken in her opinion that more schools should offer students opportunities similar to those she has enjoyed.

Together with her peers at Reel Works Teen Filmmaking, Jasmine is working on a new documentary about U.S. national parks that will serve as a companion piece to Ken Burns's forthcoming documentary on the same subject. Reel Works is a Brooklyn-based non-profit organization that helps over 150 teens each year conceive, plan, film, edit and promote original documentaries. Last year, Over Here--a Reel Works documentary about the World War II homefront--aired on New York public television station Channel Thirteen.

In our interview, Jasmine describes her first documentary, a tribute to her mother entitled A Message to Marlene. She also credits her experience at Reel Works with motivating her to think much more earnestly about college. Finally, she urges educators to make the Reel Works experience much more accessible in schools.

Listen to highlights from our interview (5 minutes):

Read a transcript of these highlights below, and stay tuned next week for an interview with Reel Works filmmaker Isaac Shrem.

Interview Highlights:
PUBLIC SCHOOL INSIGHTS: Tell me about your film.

JASMINE: My film was called "A Message to Marlene," and it was basically a tribute [to] my mother. At the time, ...

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