November
30th 2010
What does the War on Teachers have in common with the Iraq War?

Posted under: American history, childhood, jobs, local news, students, unhappy endings

Yesterday, the Denver Post ran a story that dared to suggest that someone other than teachers are responsible for students’ educations.  Apparently, one Denver high school is doing the obvious–engaging parents in their childrens’ educations.  (Good for them!)  But how did this Thought Crime get into a major media outlet, especially one that has so vigorously promoted school “reform” schemes premised on the precarization of teachers’ professional lives? 

Much of the talk around educational reform has focused on the role teachers play in students lives, all but ignoring another big player: parents.

One Denver high school is changing that narrative, creating a multi-school system that empowers parents with the goal of getting more students into college.

Antonio Esquibel, principal of Abraham Lincoln High School, is using money from a three-year federal school-improvement grant to build a collaboration with its feeder schools — CMS Community School, Godsman Elementary and Kepner Middle School.

How does this amazing new theory of education work? 

The collaboration is focused on aligning academics and empowering parents — providing them with training, taking them to visit colleges, encouraging them to volunteer and getting them to attend parent-teacher conferences.

Not long ago, it was typical for only 100 parents to attend parent-teacher conferences at the high school. This year, an estimated 1,500 parents showed up.

“You talk to any of our teachers, they can attest to the difference,” Esquibel said.

About 50 parents are volunteering in the high school, organizing books and helping out in classrooms.

Many are immigrants who had been successful in their home countries but have not been able to work here.

“I hear parents who now say, ‘Thank you. You helped me feel professional again,’ ” said Fernando Guidice, Lincoln’s parent coordinator, who was a principal at a school in Venezuela.

“When the parents are in the schools, the environment is different,” he said. “They may hear a student sassing a teacher in Spanish and will say . . . ‘Hey. Respect.’ ”

This is fantastic!  But where are the fresh new theories and smoking hot-off-the-presses research?  Is there any new research to support this kind of “school reform?”  Buried at the end of the article, we learn this:

Decades of research show that the more parents are involved in education, the higher the student achievement. That involvement can be at home working with students on their assignments or in the schools being a volunteer.

One respected study from the 1960s said that about one-half to two-thirds of the variance in student achievement can be accounted for by home variables rather than school variables.

Oh–so when can we get a bill through the General Assembly and Colorado Senate to revoke parental tenure and start firing parents?  Because, if these numbers (ONE- HALF to TWO-THIRDS of the variance in student achievement!!!) are correct, I don’t see how we can avoid it.  After all, only the enemies of reform would oppose such a law.  Only we reformers really care about the children.

11 Comments »

11 Responses to “What does the War on Teachers have in common with the Iraq War?”

  1. koshem Bos on 30 Nov 2010 at 3:18 pm #

    The “reform” advanced by the Very Serious People is based on the CEO model. Same model that brought us the immensely successful banks and other oversized companies. Nobody ever wanted to talk about the role of the parents since teachers work for the CEO while the parents are outsiders.

    It is not only parents involvement; it is first and foremost parents caring and following the kids’ studies, assignments, tests and attitudes. A busy parent with no involvement at school may still contribute a lot to the kids’ education.

    Kids, parents, teachers and the system around them are functioning with the larger culture. If the culture doesn’t value education highly, e.g. in the US, most kids, parents and teachers will not be motivated to achieve as much as in cultures where education is highly valued.

  2. Historiann on 30 Nov 2010 at 3:29 pm #

    I think that’s right, koshem Bos. Teachers were targeted because they’re feminized and unionized and therefore represent all kinds of badness from a corporate-speak management perspective.

    A lot of parents in this story–and in many other schools–see a lot of barriers between themselves and involvement in their children’s educations: language, lack of educational attainment on the parents’ parts, intimidation, etc. I think the programs detailed in this article sound fantastic. Anything schools can do to get the parents in the door, comfortable with teachers and staff, and eager to make the school into a space for community advancement and development is more than OK by me.

  3. Indyanna on 30 Nov 2010 at 7:43 pm #

    There are certain boilerplate phrases that tend to pop up in eduspeak which suggest that educrats have been spending a lot of time in the hot tubs following the ubiquitous break-out sessions. “Align” is one of them; rubrics, outcomes, there are plenty of others. All very mechanistic and early-NASA in their earnest amorphousness. Another thing you hear a lot of in the field is “there’s research that shows…,” usually followed by no offers of proof. We hear it all the time around this shop from the SSED-wing: There’s research that shows this, research that shows that, and at this point the knowing humanist is expected to say “…o.k., let’s set up a few break-out sessions and try to get this thing up and running in a pilot program…”

    In wiftier fields like History you have to actually say things like: “…as Woody Holton has argued, ‘most of the Revolution-era state constitutions preserved the colonial policy of denying citizens the right to run for office unless they owned a certain amount of property…,’(Holton, _Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution_ (New York, Hill and Wang, 2007, at 170 [quotation], et. seq., and the notes found there).” Maybe us humanists should think about this new and punchier form of citation: viz., there’s research that shows, so give it up, baby…

    Parental involvement is fine and not to be discounted, but it can happen in the home and other places too. Too many different lines (and categories) of authority figures tripping over each other and entangling in the hallways and music rooms might prove self-cancelling.

  4. JackDanielsBlack on 01 Dec 2010 at 6:51 am #

    Yes, the home environment is important, and students from families with an optimal home environment often do well academically regardless of the quality of the teacher (indeed, sometimes they are home-schooled). The real question is, when the home environment is poor, what can teachers do to inspire the student to achieve in spite of this? What is needed here is inspiration as much as knowledge. Don’t know whether this can be taught or not.

  5. Daniel S. Goldberg on 01 Dec 2010 at 8:54 am #

    Why isn’t the real question what social policies we can implement to ameliorate the devastating social and economic conditions that create living environments deleterious to education?

  6. Historiann on 01 Dec 2010 at 10:43 am #

    Daniel–I think that’s right. Fighing poverty and increasing the level of education for parents as well as students would almost certainly benefit the children growing up in those homes and help ensure that parents had the means and the time to devote to their children’s education.

  7. Western Dave on 01 Dec 2010 at 10:06 pm #

    All this may be true, but there is still a lot to hate about the way teachers unions and public school teaching are organized. And much of that blame falls on ed schools for being the minds behind what the unions advocate for. Consider for a moment that I have a PhD in History, I’ve been teaching in a prestigious private Upper School History department for 10 years. I’ve given presentations to public and private school teachers, written curriculum to be used by public school teachers, been asked to help write questions for the certification exams for public school teachers (had to turn that gig down, it didn’t pay enough) yet I can’t teach public school because I’m not certified.

    @Daniel, but that’s how we got in this mess. Schools became the centerpiece for delivering services to kids (and their families) because it was the one place you could find them. The unintended consequence of this is that it may have caused parent disengagement from the schools primary function of education process and more of a focus on school as service delivery mechanism. (Which is not to say that I think the school lunch/breakfast program was a bad idea, but it’s success unleashed a lot of other bad programs that diluted schools’ core missions.

  8. Daniel S. Goldberg on 01 Dec 2010 at 10:36 pm #

    WesternDave,

    When I say “social policy,” I in fact mean social policy, or, to be more precise, I mean “social policies.” These include policies relating to early childhood development, social support for families and caregivers (i.e., generous parental leave, child care, etc.), housing, transportation, environmental policies. I assuredly do not mean that all the responsibility for ameliorating deleterious social and economic conditions should be left to schools. That is an absurd idea, and is indeed a manifestation of the problem.

    If I was channeling my CPP this evening, I would unquestionably have a multitude of four-letter words (well, more like six-letter) to indicate how I feel about this perverse state of affairs. But my sense of social policy is assuredly not limited to expecting schools to resolve the widespread accumulation of disadvantage among the most marginalized groups.

  9. Indyanna on 02 Dec 2010 at 5:43 pm #

    According to today’s _Chronicle of Higher Education, Sectary Arne Duncan told a rapt group of swaying, amen-ing, and hand-clapping conservatives at the American Enterprise Institute that it is a “waste of money” paying more money to schoolteachers who have master’s degrees than to their “less-educated peers.” Bill Gates and “several economists” quickly jumped on the pile, and they all backed up their comments by noting that “there’s research that shows” paying more doesn’t lead to any improved I guess you would say outcomes. Paying university presidents millions of dollars is “mission critical,” however, because the marketplace demands it, and–according to a study at a major university–they also write cool vision statements.

    Ptolemy should have just told Galileo that “there’s research that shows” that the sun really, really does go around the earth. Why waste time on the graphs and appendices? Heck, it’s a waste of money to pay anybody anything to teach, when for merely repealing a few amendments, we could make them do it for free.

  10. Historiann on 03 Dec 2010 at 9:58 am #

    Isn’t it funny who’s deemed worthy of money as an incentive? It’s always the dudes who run universities and school systems and coach college football.

    I think this is linked to the deep historical resistance to paying women at all for their work. Trevor Burnard and I made that point in an essay we published a few years ago: although many New World societies recognized their desperate need for European women’s labor, they all refused to offer women migrants the same incentives that male labor was offered (headrights, grants of land, etc.) It’s as if colonial proprietors–or school districts and educrats–expect women to show up for work anyway, and they’re completely flummoxed if the women refuse to show. They act as if women don’t respond to financial incentives or are immune to economics.

  11. Indyanna on 03 Dec 2010 at 11:12 am #

    This one about snaps it for me. I’ve held back from the pile-on-Obama thing to a fairly large degree, for a variety of reasons. But that picture of his pinhead former-superintendent educrat standing in front of the AEI logo had sparks flying out of my eyes. I’d have fired him on the spot. I never thought I’d live long enough to say that one of the greatest political mistakes the country made in the late 20th century was not taking “Dutch” Reagan up on the proposal to abolish the Department of Education. But. This is the new vision thingie: rich technocrats will pronounce on what is “worth” what and the “hands” line up at the pay window to see what’s in the envelope. Got any problems? Call your shop steward, pal.

    I’d work for headrights, though.