Thursday, January 19, 2012

How education bureaucrats think of parents

I want to thank Karen W. again for her post summarizing the governor’s education proposals. When I talk up the idea of meaningful local control over education, a lot of people are wary. Many people who are dissatisfied with their local schools think that the state should step in and fix them – until they see what the state wants to do. I hope people who have mixed feelings about local control will read through Karen’s post, or for that matter, will try dipping randomly into any literature generated by our state’s educational bureaucracy.

Karen linked, for example, to the state’s “Parent Information Resource,” so I clicked and took a look around. It wasn’t long before I was reaching for the Dramamine. The site is overflowing with the worst kind of bureaucratic edubabble (click here for a discussion of how to “assist district and building leadership in forming, developing, and facilitating an action team to make decisions and implement family engagement as one strategy to increase student achievement in the district or building”). Blogging about it extensively would be like shooting fish in a barrel, but I had to comment on this link, identifying “messages educators and community members can deliver to families regarding specific actions they can do that can impact their children’s school performance.” The theory is that if enough people deliver these messages “loudly and often” – “verbally and in writing” – then “student achievement may increase.”

Here are some of those “messages”:
Dear Families, this is what you can do at home to help your child do well in school! Teaching your child the names of colors will help him/her do better in school. Talk about colors when you are driving in the car, playing, or looking at pictures—anytime, any place! Our world is full of colors. When you are first teaching your child colors, name the color for him/her, “That car is red.” “The plate is red.” After you have done that several times, and for many days, ask your child to tell you what color the car is. Thanks!

Dear Families, this is what you can do at home to help your child do well in school! Children can learn new words at any time, in any place. Talk with children a lot. For example, when buying milk, “There are many kinds of milk. There is white milk (point to it), chocolate (point), and strawberry (point).”

Describe what you are doing. When cooking say, “I am going to stir flour into the melted butter. Then we will add sugar and chocolate chips.” Children who know and understand lots of words will be great readers!” Thanks!

Dear Families, this is what you can do at home to help your child do well in school! Tell your children often that school and learning is important. “Do your best in school! It is important to learn all that you can so you can get a good job when you grow up.” Thanks!

Dear Families, this is what you can do at home to help your child do well in school! Help your child get to school on time! You don’t want him/her to miss a minute of school!

Dear Families, this is what you can do at home to help your child do well in school! Many teachers have a system they follow for assigning homework. Some use assignment notebooks, folders, or sign-off sheets. Find out what the teachers want. Support the system by making sure you and your child do your part. Thanks!
And so on. The patronizing tone and infantilizing content epitomize the state’s attitude toward parents, and for that matter toward school boards, teachers, and kids. These are the people who should step in and tell us how to run our schools?

That one link could inspire a dozen rants, but I’ll just focus on just one aspect of it here: In the minds of our state educational overlords, what do struggling or disengaged parents need? Messages! Instruction. If those parents would just do as we say, the problem would be solved! It’s hard not to be reminded of the way our schools think about behavior and discipline. Forget about any effort to understand why people are acting as they do, to ask them what their needs are, or to address the root causes of their trouble. Just tell them what to do, “loudly and often.” (PBIS is the embodiment of that approach.) It’s an attitude that quickly segues into “If we make the instructions really clear and they still don’t follow them, then they get what they deserve.” All the worse when it’s aimed at seven- and eight-year-olds.


FedUpMom said...

Chris, you've got a "click here" with no link.

Chris said...

FedUpMom -- Thanks -- fixed!

KD said...

Interesting post. So it seems no one at any level, local or otherwise seems to no what to do.

I'm amazed that school officials really don't understand how to communicate better with parents.

When my oldest child was in first grade I think, I had a meeting with a so called reading specialist...she was incredibly condescending. I could see how meeting with someone like that might make many parents not want to ever interact with the school again. She spoke to me really slowly, as if I had a hearing problem or as if I wasn't proficient in English.

Chris said...

KD -- It’s as if education mated with public health and gave birth to a monster with the worst qualities of both. To “reach” as many people as possible, everything has to be dumbed down to its lowest level, and nobody cares whether people can think for themselves, as long as they conform to the desired behavior.

And you probably thought the three kinds of milk were whole, two-percent, and skim . . .

Mandy said...

You can *think* the three kinds of milk are whole, two percent, and skim, but I'm sure if you just read the communiques coming home you would then *understand* that the true three types are milk are indeed white, chocolate, and strawberry.

Chris said...

Ha -- maybe if you pointed while you said that, I'd finally understand . . .

Donna said...

The Blob just wants parents to raise money, not questions.

Paul W Bennett said...

Parents everywhere need help in approaching the Tower of Edu-Babble and cutting through the Eduspeak. It comes down to determining who really puts students first.

A Students First movement has now spread to Canada and taken on a decidedly different form. On March 28, 2011, concerned parents and citizens from across Nova Scotia gathered at a Public Forum in Halifax and released a bold declaration of principles, entitled “Students First Nova Scotia.” Drafted by a group of 16 Nova Scotians, the Declaration proclaims that “students should come first” in education, not “adults in the system.” It calls upon concerned citizens to rally behind a reform agenda exhorting education authorities to “elevate teaching, empower parents, raise standards, and spend wisely.”

Few of the Nova Scotia movement’s founders are motivated by Michelle Rhee’s American crusade. It has arisen out of a different set of conditions and owes more to the Edmonton model of “school-based management” and the Alberta model of “school choice” within public education than to the wild and wacky world of American education reform. With other OECD nations looking to Alberta for their reform ideas, the Nova Scotians are simply following suit.

Might I suggest that you check out Students First Nova Scotia at ?

You are not alone. Working WITH parents is far different than working ON parents.


Dr. Paul W. Bennett

Chris said...

Donna -- Thanks for commenting! If the education bureaucracy were genuinely interested in engaging with parents and kids, and genuinely believed that inquiry is at the heart of learning, it would welcome questions, and it wouldn't see its role as just telling people what to do.

Paul -- Thanks, I'll check it out. Here's the clickable link.