The DeHavilland Blog

Monday, October 16, 2006

Getting parents on board

When we talk about education reform, we usually do so in the context of education as a closed system: if we can just improve the curriculum (or the teachers, or the technology, or the facilities, or the use of time, or the facilities...), we can create better-educated kids.

But education is not a closed system: there are external factors that strongly influence our outcomes, and those need to be factored into any formula for effective change. One issue is parental support for improved outcomes.

In the recent Hart/Winston survey for ETS, parents are calling for real reform. A few items that parents say they would support:

  • increase expectations for parental involvement with their children’s education (93% favor)
  • challenge and inspire students at high risk of dropping out by increasing resources, lowering class sizes, and raising expectations (88% favor)
  • develop more academically rigorous standards for high schools with greater emphasis on college preparatory classes (87% favor)
  • increase the number of students pursuing careers in math and science by attracting more math and science teachers through a variety of financial and in-kind incentives, such as loan forgiveness and housing vouchers (85% favor)
  • require students to pass statewide graduation tests ensuring they have mastered the core subject areas (81% favor)

However, when you talk to people involved in reform, there are real questions - justifiable questions, in my opinion - as to how strong that support is. Parents can call for higher expectations - but what happens when schools actually follow through, and Johnny starts getting Cs and Ds instead of As and Bs? Are those parents going to push Johnny harder? Or are they going to push back against the school? I've heard anecdotal reports of the latter, but haven't seen or heard anything that supports the former.

One solution is outreach to parents - break out of the inside-education discussions and start engaging and educating parents and other stakeholders. Help them understand what's required in today's economy, and enlist their support in building - and supporting - a system that delivers it.

This is something they're attempting in Arkansas - encouraging parents to support their attempts to increase rigor. Synopsis below courtesy of NASSMC:

News Brief #3752
Category: Public Understanding & Engagement
TITLE: “Arkansas Media Campaign: Students Need Tougher Classes”

The Arkansas Department of Education has launched a media campaign designed to convince parents that students ought to be taking tougher courses.

The state’s Smart Core curriculum requires students to take four years of mathematics and English, and three years of science and social studies. But 10 percent of parents have opted to put their children in a less rigorous program, and state officials say that figure is too high.

“We have large groups of kids who, because of where they live or how much money their family has, are not enrolled in the same rigorous classes or facing the same high expectations from their teachers,” said Governor Mike Huckabee.

The campaign’s radio spots will send the message to parents that today’s work world is “not the world they graduated in,” said Julie Johnson Thompson, a department spokeswoman. The television spots target middle and high school students.

SOURCE: Education Week, 11 October 2006 (p. 21)

The NASSMC Briefing Service (NBS) is supported in part by the National Science Teachers Association, International Technology Education Association, Triangle Coalition for Science and Technology Education, and National Science Resources Center. Briefs reflect only the opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the source articles. Click to SUBSCRIBE, COMMENT, or FIND archived NBS briefs. Click for information about NASSMC. Permission is granted to re-distribute NBS briefs in unmodified form, including header and footer.

There are other examples of this kind of outreach, but they amount to a trickle of information when what's needed is a deluge. If we're going to reform education, it's going to have to involve external forces (parents and businesspeople among others) - it's time to build those bridges.


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