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The book Nurture Shock is making big waves in parenting and education circles. Authors Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman are not afraid to tip parents' and teachers' sacred cows. They use science to question the received wisdom about issues such as self-esteem, self-control and IQ. Merryman recently told us about her book and its implications for schools.

Public School Insights: Let me begin a little outside your book. One of the things that first prompted my e-mail to you was your comments on the success versus failure of public schools and how the narrative that is being told about public schools right now might actually hurt the prospects for success. Could you explain that a bit?

Merryman: There is this constant drumbeat that American schools are failing our kids—that our schools are a disaster and kids aren’t finishing school. That kids aren’t prepared when they get to college, if they get to college. That they must do remedial level work. That they can’t read or write or anything like that.

It’s not that I think that schools can’t improve. Certainly they can. For kids at the bottom socioeconomically, and kids who we would label perhaps at-risk, schools definitely are a problem. And I ...

Ricardo LeBlanc-Esparza rose to national fame for turning around a classic hard-luck school. A key ingredient of his success? Parent engagement. Yesterday, he told us about his work to bring the parent engagement gospel to schools around the country.

The Current State of Parent Engagement in Public Schools

Public School Insights: As people who've read our website before know, you've gained national prominence by helping turn around Granger High School in Washington State. What lessons did you learn from that experience that you really carry around with you now?

Esparza: There are so many lessons. It's hard to say. Public education is so big when you talk about instruction, curriculum, discipline and motivation. The piece that I really want to talk about is the whole family involvement/engagement piece.

I have traveled across the country, from Pennsylvania to Florida to Iowa to Arizona to Texas. Our public schools truly are lacking true public or parent involvement, engagement—whatever you want to call it when parents are active participants in the whole educational process.

Public School Insights: Exactly problems are you seeing in the schools that lack this engagement?

Esparza: I guess I need to frame that question…Because when I look at public schools, I see they typically meet the needs of the middle class and above population.

My wife is a principal of a K-8 magnet school for gifted and talented students. She told me a story that ...

The PTA is about far more than suburban bake sales and school carnivals. The national organization has been moving aggressively in recent years to bring more urban families into the fold. It has been getting more fathers involved. And it has embraced a robust policy agenda to ensure all children equal opportunities to succeed.

National PTA’s first-ever male president recently spoke with us about these efforts. He also told us about his journey from volunteer hot dog duty at his son’s elementary school to the helm of one of the largest volunteer organizations in the country.

Download the full interview here, or use the audioplayer (~14:22 min).

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You can also read the interview transcript:

A Place for Fathers

Public School Insights: It’s been widely noted that you are the first male president in the National PTA’s history of 113 years. What do you think is the significance of that?

Saylors: For an association that started as the National Congress of Mothers, I’m very proud of the fact that we are moving in the direction that we are. I follow in the footsteps of a number of ...

There is a school turnaround strategy for every taste. At least, that's the impression I get from the National Journal's most recent panel of experts. Asked to name the best strategies for turning around schools, different experts list different ideas. Pair struggling schools with the best teacher training institutions, writes Steve Peha. Create a year-round calendar, writes Phil Quon. Shutter struggling schools and start from scratch, writes Tom Vander Ark.

Each of these ideas has merit in some cases--I myself love the first idea, like the second, and am not fully sold on the third. But none is a necessary ingredient for all or even most schools.

So what do we know about turnarounds? Two big themes stand out in much of the school turnaround literature:

  1. There is no detailed prescription for what works in all cases.
  2. There is, however, abundant evidence that a school will not turn itself around unless it gives teachers the support they need to succeed.

These themes are also clear in the many turnaround stories we profile on this website. Policy makers should take note.

The Reconstitution Myth
It's high time to slay the reconstitution dragon. Despite what you may hear these days, you do not have to kill a school to save it.

Here's what Emily and Bryan Hassel write in Education Next, which is hardly a pro-union rag: “Successful turnaround leaders typically do not replace all or most of the staff at the start, but they often replace some key leaders who help ...

Granger High School in Washington State has garnered national attention for its remarkable journey from bad to great. Most Granger students come from low-income families working on farms in the surrounding Yakima Valley. Many are children of migrant workers. In 2001, Granger was plagued by gang violence, low morale and an astronomical dropout rate. Now more than 95% of Granger students graduate, and almost 90% go on to college or technical school. (See our story about Granger here.)

Granger principal Paul Chartrand recently spoke with me about the critical work of sustaining the trend. The overriding message I took away from our conversation: Forge strong personal connections with students and their families.

Sustaining the Turnaround Trend

Public School Insights: Granger High School has been described by quite a few people as a real turnaround story. Do you think that is a fair description?

Chartrand: I do think it’s a fair description. My predecessor, Richard Esparza, really started the turnaround. I took over last year, and we are trying to continue the trend. We have been successful in a couple of areas, and we are still working on it in ...

vonzastrowc's picture

Starting at Home

Teacher/blogger/Twitterer/
author extraordinaire Larry Ferlazzo recently published a gem of a little article on teacher home visits. He writes about the impact of his own efforts to visit students’ families and calls for much more extensive home visit programs. One story he recounts jumps out at me:

Immigrant parents whom I visited developed the idea of having our school provide computers and home Internet access so that entire families could have more opportunities to study English. I was not only able to learn what these parents thought would help their children and themselves; down the line, I was also able to help other parents who had the same interest connect with each other and help us develop a plan of action.

As a result, the Luther Burbank High School Family Literacy Project has produced dramatic English-assessment gains for students and was the Grand Prize winner of the International Reading Association Presidential Award For Reading and Technology.

I like this story, because it turns a common assumption on its head. Teachers are not coming to parents as missionaries converting the unenlightened. Instead, they are forging strong partnerships with parents, discovering shared aspirations ...

A couple of weeks ago, I threw a hissy fit over the influence of marketing and the media on young people’s academic habits. Afterwards, I received a couple of emails laying the blame for poor academic habits at parents’ feet. If parents weren’t missing in action, the argument went, young people would be less disruptive and more invested in school. I’m not sure it’s as simple as that.

A new British study of parenting is suggestive. It found that parents are more likely to spend time with their children and monitor their children’s activities that they were twenty years ago. The researchers speculate that that youth behavior problems in the UK reflect--you guessed it--“the influence of youth culture.”

Yes, this is a study of British families. Yet I wonder if we would find similar trends in the United States. American author Michael Chabon recently went so far as to lament the encroachment of adults on the time-honored freedoms of childhood:

The Wilderness of Childhood is gone; the days of adventure are past. The land ruled by children, to which a kid might exile himself for at least some portion of every day from the neighboring kingdom of adulthood, has in large part been taken over, co-opted, colonized, and finally absorbed by the neighbors.

Surely Chabon has a point. Thirty years ago, I made a daily ten-block trek--alone and on foot--to my elementary school. Try to do that now, even in the nation’s most well-heeled suburbs, and your parents will probably get a visit from child protective services. Many children seem to have little time away from adults. This ...

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Things are happening in Mobile.

The Alabama district mounted an innovative public engagement campaign early this decade, and student performance has been rising ever since.

 

Though the district has a larger share of low-income students than does Alabama as a whole, it boasts higher scores on state assessments. We recently profiled two very successful Mobile County public elementary schools—George Hall and Mary B. Austin—on our Success Stories Page.

Last week, we caught up with Mary B. Austin principal Jacquelyn Zeigler, who has worked with dedicated staff and parents to narrow achievement gaps dramatically. She described the ingredients of her success:

Public School Insights: We've heard a lot about Mary B. Austin School, but I thought I'd give you an opportunity to say in your own words what kind of a school it is. Describe the sort of students you serve.

Jacquelyn Zeigler: There are no -- or very few -- new families coming in. So to keep my doors open, 80 percent of the children are on transfer. We get them from all over Mobile County. And because of that, we are right at 50/50 boy/girl, 50/50 black/white, and about 34 percent free and reduced [lunch program]. We have a wonderful cross-section of society.

Right across the street is Springfield College, and then just down the street is the University of South Alabama, so I'm very fortunate because I am able to get their student teachers and their interns; a lot of the volunteers to come and work with my ...

vonzastrowc's picture

Innovation!

Writing commentaries on the best use of stimulus funds has become a thriving cottage industry. Don’t fund the status quo! the general argument runs. Fund innovation instead!

I’m beginning to wonder if we should start using the word “improvement” instead of innovation. This strategy might help us counter the tendency of some innovation zealots to value novelty over quality.

Former IBM CEO Louis Gerstner offered an egregious example of that tendency late last year, when he advocated the abolition of all but the largest school districts. To him, innovation seems to mean doing something drastic and doing it now. ...

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 ...

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