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A Few Words About Bullying

6 Oct

no_bullying_category

It has been over a year since my last post, and I thought I would take a shot at a return to writing by tackling the subject of bullying since October is National Bullying Prevention Month.  At least a quarter of all the students in the school where I work are there because of bullying, including one in my own household.  I remember seeing him as he was writing on the whiteboard when one of his teachers asked the students why they had chosen this school and he wrote “NO BULLIES!”  I was a bit surprised.  While it was a persistent problem at his previous school, I had thought that they had taken care of the situation.  But apparently it was still foremost in his mind.  My oldest is not a perfect student, and there were times when his own behavior could be construed as bullying.  Although he would never actually resort to real violence, he would resort to a threatening tone often enough.

Bullying has been around since the first time kids ever got together and decided to ostracize one of their peers.  Kids seem to naturally gravitate toward that Lord-Of-The-Flies behavior and sometimes adults do too.  And anyone who has ever posted a YouTube video or even written a blog has experienced the cyber version of this, thanks to the anonymity afforded by the medium.  However, the internet’s community-building has also  created safer places for kids who might be different so they can bridge the gaps created by physical geography to connect and share unique interests with each other.  There’s never been a better time in history to be a nerd.  The internet was created by nerds for other nerds, and the rest of the population eventually jumped on the bandwagon and made it hip and cool and an environment almost as treacherous as the real playground.

I was bullied pretty relentlessly while I was in school.  I was not “tough”, I wasn’t a jock and I wasn’t cool, although heaven knows I really tried my best at all of those things.  Being socially awkward and not a member of the cool crowd carried (and probably still carries) a pretty heavy price tag in small-town America.  It gets even heavier when you move from one to another, and you have no established family ties in the area and everyone else seems to be related to each other.  And if you didn’t have the money for the coolest clothes, cars and consumer goods, you were were pretty much out of luck.  The town I spent most of my time growing up in, is actually now one of the most diverse communities in the state of Iowa; a state not known for its diversity.  And I imagine the natives that didn’t eventually flee from the area HATE it!  I believe God has a unique sense of humor and this is proof of it.  A place that was pretty intolerant in the 70’s and 80’s now has it’s economy pinned to its diversity.

However, regardless of how I was treated I still have to ask myself a more important question “Was I ever a bully?”

I certainly was not the guy shaking down others for their lunch money or terrorizing smaller kids on the school bus.  But I’m pretty sure I might have done some things that were unkind to people who were lower on the social ladder than I was, as low as that was.  The desire and pressure to fit in, be cool and be popular would eventually get the better of me.  Or rather, it allowed control by the worst of me.  If I thought that it would have advanced my own social position, yeah, I would have thrown a rock or two at Piggy.  I probably said the wrong things to people that hurt them at some point.  So the line between the bully and the victim is not so clearly drawn, and I think we all have some darker part of us capable of inflicting misery on others.  There’s always some degree of intolerance, no matter how tolerant we think we might be.  Sometimes we lash out at intolerance with more intolerance!

It’s rather ironic that October is devoted toward Bullying Prevention.  As we approach November elections we’re going to witness intense bullying in the form of electoral discourse across all forms of media as each party clubs the other with negative advertising designed to cause lots of repeated discomfort for the other side.  I’m just referencing the treatment given to the topic by the American Psychological Association:

Bullying is a form of aggressive behavior in which someone intentionally and repeatedly causes another person injury or discomfort. Bullying can take the form of physical contact, words or more subtle actions.

The bullied individual typically has trouble defending him or herself and does nothing to “cause” the bullying.

Individuals with autism are especially vulnerable to bullying.  The prevalence of bullying is so high against and among individuals on the autistic spectrum that I would almost make an argument that it is as much of a Aspergers marker as repetitive behaviors.  The articles I linked to give a good treatment of the problem within this community and hypothesize as to the reasons for it.   It’s part of the body of evidence that allows me to stake a modest part of ASD  real estate for myself.

I think the most crucial skill we can teach our kids, especially those who are prone to being bullied, is to recognize when they are being baited and to bypass the temptation to become engaged in a battle that can’t be won.  Most arguments regarding religion and politics fall within that category but almost any area of interest or passion can be used to draw a person into a situation where they feel the need to defend themselves from attack.  Most cyber bullies will use those things to troll and trap a victim into a relentless cycle of abuse and it’s important to know when it’s time to just walk out and not respond at all like Zelda did.

The internet and social media have turned into a double-edged sword for people who have difficulties relating socially.  The buffer of the keyboard often gives people the space for free expression and voice where they might otherwise not have one, but it also provides the sort of cover that can be harnessed by miscreants who like to ambush people and set them off for kicks.  I’m grateful to be part of a school that offers a relatively safe place for students to learn without the threats of physical assault, incessant teasing and the anxieties of not fitting in becoming a distraction to learning.  There are still distractions and cyber bullying can still happen, but in our virtual setting and environment we are able to keep tight controls within our virtual classrooms.  For the most part, the students are friendly and very supportive of each other as they often find that they share a common history of maltreatment from their traditional settings.  This explains why there was such a flurry of agreement and supportive comments in the chatbox fpr a message on the white board.  NO BULLIES!

The Truth About Charter Schools: Funding and Local Control

27 Oct

In the interest of disclosure, I do work for the largest charter school in the state of Georgia. My views do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer and should not be construed to reflect any other opinion other than my own. But I’m trying to present mostly facts here to educate those who might seek more knowledge before they make any decisions.

There is an election coming up, in case you might not have heard or have missed it. In the state of Georgia, neither of the presidential candidates have spent much time or money here, and neither state senator is up for re-election so it has been comparatively quiet here. Except for one issue: The State Charter School Amendment.

You can read the entirety of the legislation here. It’s barely over 2 pages long. In a week or so, the people of Georgia will cast their vote on this question:

“Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local

approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?” YES NO

That’s it. That’s all there is.

The Georgia school districts and the state Superintendent of Education have campaigned relentlessly against this amendment. I was going to link to the Boards of Education who have come out against the amendment, but instead I’ll link you to the school boards that I know of who have supported it:

[….sounds of crickets...]

Well, that was nice. If anyone knows of any public county or city school system that has voiced approval for the amendment, please let me know!

I will link to one BOE’s resolution here.

I actually agree with over half of of the preambular clauses of this resolution. I agree that education is important and that public education is critical to the future of our community, nation and state. I linked in an earlier article to Condolezza Rice talking about education as a national security issue and the civil rights issue of our times. I also know the reality of education funding, and the squeeze it has put on districts. Districts in the state are repeatedly being asked to do more with less.

And so, the districts across the state opine that state funded charter schools will divert money away from the local school districts thereby impoverishing them even more. But is this true?

Most of the funding for traditional public schools come from the local property taxes. There have been many efforts to reform how money is raised to pay for education but no one has succeeded in changing it and so property owners foot most of the bill for their local district expenses in education. The meltdown of the real estate market during the current recession put most districts in Georgia in a state of crisis as property values plummeted and tax revenues followed. But everyone who owns property still pays taxes on the assessed value whether they have children that go to the school or not. The only way I can escape paying my property taxes is to sell my property.

In the state of Georgia, the average district spends about $9,000 per student. And roughly $4,000 of those dollars come from the state. The other $5,000 comes from taxpayers of that district. If a student moves from one district to another, the state money follows that student while the local money stays. But when a school district is so bad that families begin moving out in en mass, then property values suffer and the district’s revenues suffer as well. Wherever the student moves, the state still recognizes its obligation to educate him or her.

So what affect does the charter school amendment have on this funding dynamic? If it is a charter school established and supported by the local school board, things don’t change much at all. The board still does the oversight of funds, same as usual according to the school’s charter.

However if it is a state charter school, then it is written in the bill that the state would fund it and not the local district.

So if Thomas is attending a regular school and withdraws to attend the school I work for, then the school district does indeed lose about 4,000 state dollars that go to my state funded charter school. However the remaining 5,000 local dollars are distributed among the remaining students to be used as the local board sees fit. In addition, since my school does not require students to leave their home towns or counties, the family continues to reside there and pay their taxes as normal. Thomas does not have to move to find a school that better works for him, and the district actually gains $5,000 as it no longer has to educate a student that was probably unhappy there anyway.

So the district’s argument that they lose money because of public charter schools is simply not true. Local school superintendents would have you believe that public charter schools are gigantic leeches on the backs of already beleaguered traditional schools. But this is untrue, and the only thing the Charter School Amendment does in regards to funding is to guarantee that local districts get to keep their local money. This amendment actually protects them and the majority of their funds!

The other club that districts are using against this amendment is that of taking away local control from local school boards. This is probably closer to the truth behind the popular opposition to this initiative. And when I first heard about this amendment, I was thinking much the same way. It was the state, taking money away from me, and establishing schools that my local school board did not want over their objections. It certainly smells like Atlanta butting in where it isn’t wanted, doesn’t it?

But the fact of the matter is much different. Charter schools are not initiated by the state. They are initiated by concerned parents of children who want to be served in a different way than the traditional schools are able or willing to do. So the first step is to petition the local board to establish a charter school. In the current climate, you can see that there is not going to be much sympathy toward such parents in these districts. So then they petition on the state level to the state Board of Education. Again, our beloved State Superintendent of Education has stated his mind in regards to charter schools. So where can families go now? Some of them are pulling up the stakes and leaving. Some of them are homeschooling. And some try private schooling. But remember the preambular statements in the above resolution? Public education is important, and parents ARE willing to make enormous sacrifices for their children to obtain a decent chance.

Local school boards are NOT the lowest level of local control. The most local control of all is in our own houses at our own kitchen tables. Families all over the state exercise their most fundamental right to local control and self governance when they decide how their children should be educated. What this amendment does is help to give parents an option; an avenue of control that is apart and distinct from that of the local board of education.

The 180 schools systems in Georgia are not ALL bad, but several of them seem to have distinguished themselves as being sub par. Many of the school boards seem to have proven out Mark Twain when he said “God made the idiot for practice and then He made school boards.” Just what is a parent supposed to do in such circumstance? Surely they can vote, but in the meantime their children still need to get educated.

Charter schools would not exist at all if no one wanted them. These same school officials speaking out against this amendment are the very ones who have helped create the demand for them, and yet want to cut off that option from parents.

The fact is that this amendment recognizes the right of charter schools to exist and the right of the state to fund them while protecting the local funds from being used to fund them. If parents don’t like a charter school, they do not have to send their kids there. Parents can and will vote with their feet. And this is precisely what local districts are afraid of. They are of afraid of the state taking control away from them, they are afraid of parents taking control way from them by opting out of their own systems. If the status quo is allowed to continue, districts will continue to deny opportunities for parents and students, and keep them bound to the same system.

In my previous article I pointed out why many of the students that I teach are ill-served by the present system. Public charter schools provide them the opportunity to continue their education while remaining in their home communities.

Voters who are concerned about this topic should vote their conscious, and make a decision based on the facts, not on the series of fictions and fears currently being publicized. Do not be swayed by Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt: FUD. Be informed and be proactive. People need facts, not FUD. Read the bill as it is written, and make your decision based on whether it is something you agree with or not, not because of what I say or because of what your district superintendent says. Sure, I definitely have an interest in keeping my job, but I also have an interest in the students that I teach and their families. Shutting down state charter schools may make life easier for 180 superintendents who no longer have to compete with us, but it will not help the students that I teach who DO have to compete with the rest of the world.

Note:I saw this AFTER I had already written my piece. If you would like to see a debate on the issue, you can watch it here. My favorite quote is by Supt. Wilbanks “Parental choice is an issue that is overplayed.”

The Truth About Charter Schools: The Students

14 Sep

I knew not everyone would agree with my take in my last article on Charter schools and the charter school amendment.  I will admit that the issue is a bit complex, muddied by some emotional rhetoric on both sides.  And I freely admit that I can be as shameless of a purveyor of rhetoric as anyone.  Writing without hyperbole is just kinda boring.

Lost in all of the debate, accusations and political gamesmanship is the main focus and subject: students.  They are the ones who will ultimately gain or suffer by what we do or don’t do in November.

The anti-choice folks state very passionately that the students in traditional schools will ultimately suffer due to the funding that will be taken away from their schools, causing more overcrowding and more deplorable conditions.  And I can sympathize as I have witnessed first-hand what has happened to the education system in my beloved district.  Paras were the first to be let go, and then the furloughs and then loss of benefits and finally the overcrowding of almost every class in every school.  Teacher morale was at an all-time low when I left that setting.  Conditions have not improved by any degree or measure in the 2 years since then.  So in some sense, it appears that by taking money away, I advocate making things even worse!

I do not advocate taking money away as much as I advocate taking children away.  And many parents are doing just that, at great cost and sacrifice.  The giant brick and mortar factory schools are crumbling.

So who are the students in my school?  I am now teaching in the largest charter school in the state, and one of the largest in the nation.  We don’t have buses, we don’t have lunchrooms and we don’t have sports teams.  What we do have are students.  Over 12,000 of them in Georgia, with a long waiting list of more who want to get in.

Over 50% of our kids qualified for free and reduced lunches when they went to a brick and mortar school.  Over 1000 receive special education services at every level.They come from towns that I have never heard of, all over the state, from every ethnic background.  Some are urban and some are rural.  But one thing they all have in common is hope.  A hope for a better future, a new start and some way of attaining their goals.  Intimately linked to these students are their parents who aspire for better and greater things for their children.  Most have chosen to stay home to be their children’s learning coach and to invest personally in their child’s education.  They make the sacrifice of career in order to offer something better for their children, giving up much economically, which is especially poignant in today’s economy.  A few of them were already homeschooling while for many this is their first foray into taking charge of their children’s education, becoming true partners with the educational system, interfacing with the teachers, the curriculum and the classes.  Every single day, there are parents who attend classes with their children, sitting right beside them, helping and guiding them.

K12 has a Facebook page which often asks parents this question: Why did you choose K12?

There are scores of replies that can generally be categorized as follows:

“My child was bullied”, “My child was too distracted,” “My child was repeatedly bullied and there was nothing the school could do”, “The classes were too overcrowded for my child to learn” “My child was bullied and did not want to go to school anymore” “My child was not making progress” “My child was bullied and harassed daily and the school would not do anything” “My child needed a more stable learning environment and I did not have enough knowledge to home school” “My child was attacked and stabbed” “I was fed up with what was going on in my home school” “There were too many fights at my child’s neighborhood schools” “My child needed to learn at her own pace” “My child was afraid to go to school because of the bullying and fights””My child became afraid to go to go to school after she was attacked” “My child has a medical condition and she was missing too many assignments” “The only social skills my child was exposed to was fighting, bullying, cursing and swearing””We could not afford a private school and our neighborhood school in south Fulton was too violent and my child was not learning anything” “My child had a disability and his needs were not being met” “My child has aspergers and was teased relentlessly” “My child needs 1:1 support to be successful” “My child became so depressed and withdrawn, they did want to leave the house after starting middle school.  I later found out she was being teased and bullied daily”

You get the picture?  Your school may not have any of these problems and you may have the best and most dedicated teachers in the world.  But these children are refugees from the world of traditional schooling.  Their entire school experience, for many of them, was dictated by their zip code.  If you live in a nice, suburban wealthy neighborhood, you might not have many problems in your school of overcrowding, gangs, bullying, distractions or other things that make daily life for many students a living hell.  All of the families might be well-adjusted and involved in the local PTA.  Every classroom might be staffed by a highly qualified, enthusiastic teacher who incorporates technology and engagement into every lesson.

But for too many of the children I and my fellow teachers serve, this was not their experience.  Their experiences were so bad, that many single parents sacrificed many opportunities in order to provide the safe, nurturing and distraction-free environment that only a parent can provide in their own home so that their children can attend school without the fear and anxiety that comes with being a victim of harassment, bullying and abuse.  They were looking for a new start where they could again become confident learners without being persecuted for being “different.”

I hope to eventually blog my own transformational experience since joining this incredible team.  But suffice it to say that I adore my students as well as their parents who have sacrificed so much to offer their children what they perceive to be their best chance at success.  I owe it to them to do the best that I can for them, and I am a tenacious advocate for their cause.  They inspire me to be a better teacher.

I know that those who oppose the charter school amendment, in their own way, are advocating for children too.  They fear that the traditional schools demise will be hastened by the advent and rise of charter schools like these.  But the genie is out of the bottle.  While you might be able to slow the process, the changes are coming.  I’m not sure what you expect to happen within the next 10 years with traditional schools, but I can tell you what we saw in the last 10 years does not bode well.  Schools, schooling and learning are going to be transformed.  They MUST be transformed.  Putting these kids back into traditional schools after what they suffered through and after having tasted the sweetness of success, would be devastating.  Why would you do this?  Why would you send a child who has found success and confidence in this new environment back into the old environment where fear and failure ruled their lives?

Many detractors point out that charter schools do not do any better than the traditional schools when it comes to test scores, the current rubric of measured success in American education today.  And this is true in my school, where the gains are often modest at best.  But read the comment excerpts above.  The case could be made that many of these students suffer from PTSD, and many of them came to us 1, 2 and even 3 years behind.  These are not kids who were achieving well in their old schools, and often sought escape, refuge and asylum after a long string of failure.  I know of no parent who makes the decision to withdraw their child from their neighborhood school lightly as the decision carries with it some serious economic, social and lifestyle consequences.  Change is never easy, and this sort of change for young people is pretty drastic.  But given the comments above, I have to ask you: What would YOU do?  Should your zip code be the sole arbiter of your child’s educational success?  Should the quality of your child’s education and life be dictated solely by the economy of your neighborhood?

Jane and I are in the midst of the very same discussion as so many parents today.  We look at the declining state of our neighborhood schools and we are fearful of what will happen in the future.  My oldest son’s middle school does try very hard and they have done their best to address the instances of bullying that have occurred.  They really have put a lot of effort into trying to provide a safe environment that enables him to succeed as best they can.  But the high school up the street is a nightmare engaged in a seeming race to the bottom.  We are looking at our options, and they are few.  But there ARE options, thank goodness.

And this is one thing that I think detractors of charter schools overlook.  Simply having viable options in place that are close by can actually help your neighborhood school.  When those options are not in place, the more dramatic sacrifice is to pull up the stakes and move.  When your option is dictated solely by your zip code and there are no other options many, many families choose to change zip codes.  At least a neighborhood charter school keeps involved families in play to be won back if the schools can turn things around.  But once families leave their neighborhoods, you begin to see businesses close their doors and board up their windows.

Is K12 or any other charter school perfect?  Absolutely not, and I do intend to blog an open letter to the good folks in Herndon, VA at some point.  But in the meantime, it provides a place for at least 12,000 of Georgia’s children who, for whatever reason, did not fit in at their traditional brick and mortar schools.  Our beloved State School Superintendent has voiced his willingness to send those 12,000 students and their families back to the schools they fled from, and bar the door to keep them there.  Georgia’s families will be once again tied to their schools based on their zip codes and their income.

In a world where knowledge and information are ubiquitous, it is time to put an end to the educational apartheid that exists in the state of Georgia and around the country.  The quality of a child’s education should not be dictated by their township anymore than it was in South Africa in 1980.  It was wrong then and there, and it is wrong here and now.  Today I can shop in a neighboring town’s store (or online) for better goods, go to a neighboring town for better health care or attend a church anywhere that I care to drive.  But my child can not attend a school outside of the district or zoning lines.

We owe it to our children to offer opportunity and choice.  We need to decide the type of world we are going to live in.  The amendment, like it or not, IS a referendum on choice and opportunity for Georgia’s families.  Are we going to follow the same path that we have been on for the last 10-12 years?  Or are we going to risk something different?

The traditional public schools have a problem that has become a ubiquitous epidemic.  It is persistent and rampant.  It is also a problem that completely disappears once students enter our school.

John Barge, the teacher’s unions, the school boards and so many others who hate our charter school are not addressing or talking about it.  Their failure to effectively deal with it has created a demand that would simply not otherwise exist.   Now these same people are are trying to take my kids; the ones I teach; the ones who have escaped to a safe and secure place where they can actually learn and return them to the same conditions they fled from.  Where is the outrage?  Where is the shame?

 

Educational Disruption

25 Jun

Almost a year ago, I wrote a little post about the Future of Education.  Ever since reading Clayton Christensen’s book Disrupting Class and even prior to that, I have been watching and waiting for public education in this country to come around and catch up to what I had been thinking about and doing.  The salient components were creating, collaborating and distributing ideas, lessons, materials and then having students do the same.

Back in 2010, these ideas were not welcome in public schools and to a large degree, sharing things publicly is largely discouraged, which includes teacher blogs.  Teachers are highly discouraged from being active in public media, forums and discussions on an individual level.  And heaven forbid there is anything posted that might be construed as dissent or dissatisfaction.   Schools fear transparency for a pretty good reason.  If parents really knew what was happening in classrooms, they might react with shock and horror.  We need more transparency in our schools, not less.  And attempts made by systems to censor through fear and intimidation need to quashed.

Despite or perhaps because of the negativity in education nowadays, th disruption predicted by Christensen is coming closer and closer to reality.  As budgets become more strained and as dissatisfaction increases, new opportunities are beginning to appear and technology is becoming a very key component to that.  When I start thinking about what I see in schools and look at what can be offered in a virtual environment, the traditional factory modeled schools become a tougher and tougher sell.

First of all, I think about the benefits to the students.  First off, physical bullying is nonexistent in this setting.  Bathroom graffiti; nonexistent. Pink slime in the lunches: nonexistent.  Need a pass to use the bathroom?  How about being interrupted by a fire drill?  Then there are the issues around riding the bus.  Some might argue that students will miss out on valuable social skills from the interaction with classmates.  I have seen and experienced these ‘social skills’ which include learning how to curse at adults and each other.  Or how to sag your pants and show your butt.  Or how important having the latest designer clothes and gadgets is to social status.    I could do without a lot of the social lessons that are being passed around in todays schools.

There are benefits to teachers as well.  not having to take a lunch count, not having to supervise halls and lunchrooms and playgrounds frees up time to actually work and interact with students.  If a student gets unruly or disrespectful in an online session, it is all there and recorded and they can removed with a push of a button, denying the offending student an audience.  A teacher in this environment does not have to worry about being assaulted or having their car vandalized in the parking lot.  While some online sessions can have many more students, many more can be accommodated through watching recordings of the live sessions.  Why should a teacher have to present the same thing 6 times a day when one recording can work as well?

The single biggest downside to the virtual learning environment is that it involves a significant investment by the parent.  Not necessarily in money as most homes already have the technology and connections necessary, but in time.  The parents have to take over the custodial role for their children, instead of the school.  And this is significant especially if both parents are working in full-time jobs.

The disruption is already taking place all over the country and it remains to be seen if or how positive the impact will be on the education of our students.  But times for traditional schools are getting tougher all the time with school budgets tightening around the country causing increased class sizes and decreased number of days in schools.  With the shortening of the school year, parents are already having to find other ways for their children to be looked after while they work.  And herding more students into smaller spaces brings the task of control to such prominence as to totally overshadow the supposed main goal, which is education.  It forces the culture to have more in common with prisons than with places of learning.

Homework: A Harsh Ruler

6 Sep

This is what dominates our house on a nightly basis.  And by dominate, I mean in the most oppressive sense possible.  In the same way Pharaoh dominated the Israelites by forcing them to make bricks without straw, so it is that we seem to be forced to toil under the oppression of a load of homework.  I don’t think teachers and administrators fully understand the weight and stress of homework on a family that makes an attempt at doing the right thing and being involved in the sense that schools like.

Any sort of church or other activities during the week are absolutely out of the question.  My oldest in middle school does not get home until almost 5 in the evening.  Any sort of written assignment will take him hours to complete simply because he labors long and hard at those types of assignments.   Of course he also chooses to dawdle and procrastinate as much as possible, making homework time even longer and making it more painful.  If the school is Pharaoh, we his parents are the overseers charged with wielding the whip to keep him producing.   There is much raging and gnashing of teeth, especially since we are all tired, hungry and irritable at the end of the day.  But experience tells us that letting them eat before homework will delay the completion even longer into the night.

There are several factors which make homework more painful than it needs to be.  Some of these are because of the student (my kids) and some of these are because of the school and others are a combination of the two.  As parents, we try to take care of those things that we can in our own kids by not letting them procrastinate and making sure they do the assignments right.  But sometimes that is not an easy task.

Sometimes we don’t even know there is an assignment due. I know it is hard to imagine, but sometimes when we ask our kids if they have homework or if it finished, they lie.  That’s right.  They tell us they have no homework or they tell us it is finished.   However, the past several years, some teachers have active and updated Moodle sites (called ELearn in our county)  where they list the assignments and may even have copies of some of the material they pass out in class as well as other resources to help parents keep up.  It makes being an involved parent MUCH easier.  I know this is one more thing a teacher has to do, but nowadays, most grades and subjects are following each other, they might be giving the same assignments.  In fact we did use that knowledge once when my youngest didn’t write down his assignment.  While his 4th grade teacher did not have an active site, there was one across town who did, and we happened to know she did from prior experience with our oldest child.  So it was simple for us.  But if a teacher does not have an active site, they really should consider linking to one that is active.

Sometimes they forget their book or other needed material.  Kids can be forgetful, careless and disorganized.  Again, having an active web page that is updates can help.  And nowadays most textbooks have an online version available.  This has also made things easier for us.

Sometimes they did not learn the concept at school and have to be taught at home.  This can be a pet peeve of mine, although I understand there are a lot of reasons why a student does not get it at school, including distractions or their own inattentiveness.  Nevertheless, homework is supposed to be something the student should be able to do independently as a way to get more practice toward mastery.  However, many times the student has not even reached the acquisition stage of a skill or concept.  At this point, we as parent have to step in and take over their education because the school, for whatever reason, has failed to teach them.  I know this sounds like a harsh indictment, it is a simple fact that if my child has work to do and they have no clue how to do it, they have failed to learn it at school.  No matter the reason, the child still has to be taught and this makes the process of homework completion more drawn out.  And more oppressive.

Sometimes there is too much homework.  My middle schooler has 4 core subjects plus two electives, one of which is band.  If you want to be good at band you have to practice and they recommend 30 minutes per day.  So if each core subject follows the same guideline, we can have a total of over 2 hours of homework.  Fortunately it has not been that bad, but the estimated time is not the actual time.  30 minutes easily becomes 2 hours if any one of the above factors is true.  Teachers need to assign based on estimates and then dial it back by at least a third.  I would say cut it in half because a large portion of the students will take twice as long as you think they should.

Sometimes we, as parents, have no clue what they are supposed to be doing or we have to teach/reteach ourselves before teaching our kids.  For me this is less true of science but I can see many parents struggling with any or all of the subjects they have not used in years and years.  Just watch a few game show fails and you see how little many adults retained from their own schooling.

People just like these, everywhere, are making babies who grow up to be school children who will need help on their homework.  And seriously, even those of us with college degrees will struggle with 4th grade math the way it is being taught in schools decades after we were taught the same sort of math.  They are teaching it totally different from anything that I ever studied in an effort to increase math scores.  So if we have to teach ourselves before we teach out children, this will further slow and burden the homework process, as well as add to the considerable fatigue and stress of it.

Don’t forget all of those nifty projects that may not be mentioned until the night before they are due.  I have issues with projects that demand considerable time and resources from the parents.  I think about the single mother working 2 jobs to support her family and then she has to go by the store to pick up extra supplies for some sort of project assigned by the school.  Wealthy kids with wealthy parents have the nicer looking projects because their parents can spend the money and time to make it look really polished.  But even outside of this, the projects usually demand time above and beyond regular homework assignments and can take an entire weekend to complete.  So now in addition to the stresses of the week, it bleeds over into weekends and over breaks.  Our school board does mandate that no homework be assigned over breaks, which gives some relief.

The entire concept of homework needs to be reevaluated as to how it is assigned in both quality and quantity.  There are books and  a site devoted to lessening the homework crunch, largely caused by pressures caused by AYP and NCLB.  There is also research suggesting that homework is of little benefit anyway.

Parent Involvement

27 Aug

There’s a huge push in Georgia and around the country relating to parent involvement, and right this minute there is one going on in the metro Atlanta area sponsored by WSB-TV and Bethere.org. And there is a lot of research that indicates that parent involvement is one of the key elements of a good education as well as well adjusted kids in general, that you can find at the BeThere website.

In my county, there are a couple of theme schools (elementary and middle) as well as a high school academy that have parental involvement as the central focus. Parents sign an agreement that they will volunteer for a number of hours as well as adhere to a list of rules and guidelines. In exchange, the school promises to deliver a better education and better outcomes based largely on the increased parent involvement.

I agree that parental involvement is a crucial element in education. In fact, I believe parent involvement is more important than the teacher, the principal or the school district in determining academic outcomes. If you could get rid of the entire educational apparatus and replace it with involved parents for every child, there wouldn’t be an educational crisis in this country.

I have a couple of family members who have been home schooling their children, and these kids are absolutely awesome and brilliant. Of course the parents are awesome and brilliant, too, but these kids are as socially adjusted, confident and creative as anyone you would ever meet anywhere else. A well-educated and motivated parent can do things that a school system simply can not do. And with the leaps in technology, the gap between what public schools can offer versus what someone educated at home can get is approaching zero. Throw in some community theater, music, sports and clubs and you’ve got everything pretty much covered. Homeschooling is the ultimate in parent involvement as it involves dedication and commitment far beyond what any of the local theme schools demand, which is why it isn’t for everyone.

We’ve kicked the home school idea around our house. Jane has been to some home school expos and has a number of friends who are homeschooling their kids. And my youngest would do really well with it, but he’ll do well no matter where he goes to school. But my oldest is a big question mark. Right now he’s getting OT and sppech/language services through the school system via his IEP. There’s a good resource on home schooling and special needs found at the Home Schooling Legal Defense Association. I may hit on that more later.

But I do want to speak concerning those of us who are not home schooling and are being asked to be involved. It’s difficult for responsible parents to NOT be involved, so this movement does strike me as a bit bothersome and condescending. We all do know parents who aren’t very involved, but it’s hard to imagine any ad campaign having much of an effect on people who are unable or unwilling to be involved. We do need to face a very real, if unpleasant to educators, fact: the public school system has as a primary function a custodial role; a safe, secure place to keep kids so that parents can go to work or just get a break. We are paid to babysit as much as educate.

There, I said it.

Public schools exist, in large part, because parents don’t want kids running amok all day. A few months off in the summer are about all most parents can stand. They love seeing the bus pull up in the fall! And while many kids won’t admit it, they like having a place to go. they get fed and looked after and if all goes well they might get an education. But in any case, they are in a relatively safe, clean, environmentally-controlled place. Parents can go about their business during the day without having to worry about their kids. And if they do worry, they have a myriad of people to blame and complain to including the school board, the superintendent, the principal and right down to the teacher. There are ample opportunities for parents to raise a fuss and be heard. Plenty of involvement there!

Which brings up another aspect of this parental involvement business. Fact is, schools want parents involved as long as it’s the system calling the shots. As long as parents volunteer to raise money, schools like parents. When parents start wanting a voice in how the money is spent, then there may some problems. In special education, the school system is negatively reinforced for having parents who are not involved. If a parent isn’t present, an IEP can be done in a much shorter amount of time. If a parent is involved and brings an advocate or attorney, then we’re looking at hours. Some parents are in the office a lot, advocating for their child or complaining about something or other. Some are calling their board representative all the time. They are already involved quite a bit! But this is not the sort of involvement the districts involved in the “Be There” campaign are looking for, I suspect.

They are looking for parents to be involved with helping their child comply and succeed with the requirements put forth by the state. They want parents who will help their child (as well as maybe others) with homework, teaching math and literacy and fundraising. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, but I am saying that any campaign seeking involvement from parents might want to consider all the ways parents are involved, including those who get involved by suing the school system! I think parent involvement is good when there is good communication and trust between a school and the parents. In such a system, though, a campaign like “Be There” wouldn’t be necessary.

I have a mix in my class. Just by the nature of severe and multiple disabilities, it demands heavy parental involvement. There’s just no getting around it when a student demands total care and supervision 24/7. I totally get that, which is why I try not to make a lot of demands on the parents. They are all doing the best they can. Most have been pretty supportive over the years, and I think I have a decent relationship with all of them. After several years, a body tends to develop a sort of trust relationship as my classroom becomes a second home of a sort. A very CROWDED home, at the moment, but we do the best we can with what we have.

What do you think? Are there some parents who are too involved? Are schools really that interested in a reciprocal partnership with parents?

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