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Parents Advocating for Change _ and getting it

Front page of the Washington Post today features a well-done story on today's parents getting more organized, more educated and often more effective at advocating for change in their schools and their districts. All around -- largely thanks to the web -- topics that used to be the sole domain of the professionals (and the professionals loved that) are seeing the light of day. Think about what WebMD has done for patients. That's a good thing.

Quick comment on one of the theories in the article. A quote like this:
Officials caution that the new technology has turned up the volume for select parent voices. It can be especially apparent in parts of Fairfax or Montgomery where well-educated parents are not afraid to throw their weight around and register complaints with a phone call to the superintendent or the media. Blast e-mails and Web sites give these parents even more of an edge, compared with others who lack time or resources, some observers say.

Schools need to be more concerned about the digital divide than ever before, Hunter said. "We don't want to create two levels of power, those with access to information and those without it," she said.

...tries to imply that the folks advocating for changes are somehow doing something wrong. It's something you hear a lot in education debates, and I find it problematic.

Yes, we want all of our schools to be great. And no, we don't want to leave anyone behind. But if two schools are currently at level A and -- through one effort or another -- one of those schools moves up to level B, there's only a net gain there. That's a good thing. Would we rather both schools stay at A unless/until all school can move to B? No way! I'd also submit that effort that moved one A school to level B does eventually re-set the bar for all schools. If the parents at the first school advocate for change at their school and that change works, wouldn't a good administrator eventually make the change at the second school, as well (even if the second school's parents don't advocate as loudly or as well)? I certainly hope so.

Parents getting involved and advocating aren't a [part of the problem. They're part of the solution. Drives me a bit crazy when folks imply otherwise.

Agree or disgaree? I'd love to hear about. Important discussion.
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School Message for Barack _ Start with Parents

Got this note/column from my friend Leanna Landsmann. She and Bill Jackson (of GreatSchools.net) wrote this spot-on column for EdWeek this week (Jan 21 issue). Rather than spouting off, how about I just share it.

(Wait, I'll spout off a bit -- I think this same message, that parents need to be leveraged waaaay more, should be heard by all kinds of education muckety-mucks. Also do love the way the Obamas to date have been very publicly school-involved. Feel free to share.)

The column:

Improve Education From Day One: Leverage Parents


 


 


Barack Obama, who becomes the nation's 44th president this week, is getting plenty of advice on which goals to tackle first in this ugly economy. Most ideas call for urgent action and carry a big price tag.


 


When it comes to education, however, there is one high-impact, low-cost lever we hope he and his choice for U.S. secretary of education, Chicago's accomplished schools chief, Arne Duncan, can pull immediately to boost student achievement: parent power.


 


President Obama has a good start. During the campaign, parents and teachers cheered when he said the magic words: "Turn off the TV, read to your children, check their homework, and send them to school ready to learn."


 


Many parents heard what they'd been thinking, and teachers were thrilled that someone so persuasive was singing their song.


 


Parents are the first teachers of the nation's nearly 55 million school-age children. Research clearly shows that many of these students' foundational skills and attitudes toward learning have already been shaped by the time they get to kindergarten.


Children are deeply influenced throughout their schooling by parents' expectations, behavior, and support. Many studies show that parents have at least as much impact on their children's academic success as teachers do.


 


President Obama can use the full weight of the presidency to unleash the transforming power of this latent resource. For too long, schools have assigned parents the role of fundraiser and bake-sale booster. Let's launch a national campaign that draws them more deeply into their children's education.


 


Here are four ways this can be done, and how Mr. Obama and his team can help:


 


First, work with states to develop national K-12 education standards that define what it takes for young adults to be successful. Communicate those standards in plain language to parents and citizens everywhere. Many of the current state standards and uneven assessments are unfair to students and often misleadingly reassuring to parents. National standards—focused on what matters most—will be a powerful rallying cry that everyone can get behind, including parents.


 


Second, leverage new technologies to show parents how their children are progressing. Show them what it looks like for their children to be academically "on track," and how they can support their children's learning. We all have heard horror stories about parents who are suddenly shocked to learn that the reason their 8th grader is having trouble in science can be traced to her reading at a 4th grade level, which means she has to scramble to catch up. New Web- and cellphone-based technologies have the power to keep parents updated on progress daily and draw them into deeper involvement and support—and at a very low cost.


 


Third, use the presidential bully pulpit to make it cool to do well in school. Kids show great excitement about Mr. Obama's presidency. The day after his election, one high school junior snapped up a newspaper to keep for her future children. "I love Obama!" she exclaimed. Why? "He's just like me!" Because she was white and blonde, it seemed worth asking, "And how is that?" The girl explained: "He's smart. Like me. Now I won't get teased for good grades. He's skinny, like me, and he's from a messed-up family but he made it to the White House. So can I." Now there's a child who will not be left behind.


 


Fourth, be "parent in chief." Parents took note when the young president-to-be called his daughters from the road and asked about their homework. Attending a parent-teacher conference the day after he was elected also sent a splendid message: We may have been up all night, but this is important. That he didn't delegate this to Mrs. Obama set a great example.


 


The so-called chattering class logged a lot of broadcast airtime about where the Obamas would be sending their daughters to school. But their choice of the private Sidwell Friends School may not be as important to the girls' academic success as the involvement the president and first lady continue to have in their daughters' education: the questions they ask, the reading they encourage, the support they give, and the high expectations they set for academic performance.


 


We look forward to the morning President Obama walks into a morning press conference and says: "Sorry I'm late. Today was my turn to drill the girls on their spelling words."


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Does PreSchool Hurt or Harm Kids?

As usual, Sue Shellenbarger over at the Wall Street Journal's Work & Family space, does a nice job balancing both sides of a heated issue with this column on preschool research. Her conclusion: Do kids need preschool? No. But can it help? Sure.

Googling the column, it was funny to find quite heated opposite perspectives from the very same paper. This op-ed piece from last summer, for example, asks us to Protect Our Kids from PreSchool. Strong stuff in the column as well as the interesting comments area. My three oldest (and another next year) have all attended a preschool that we loved. Were weexpecting academic miracles? No. Do we think our boys were ready to expand their worlds a bit, hear some new voices, try some new things (and still get a nap in back at home)? Yes to all. Helped a lot that we happened to love the two teachers.

Of course here at schoolfamily.com, we have tips for getting your child ready for kindergarten, whether you're using a preschool or not.
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Keeping Kids Safe Online in 2009

Reading about this common-sense new cyber-bullying law from California, reminded to highlight several new efforts and resources that are worth a look:

1. Really like these Internet Safety Tips from our friends at Norton.

2. It's also a great topic for a school education event for parents. You might want to see if your school wants to host an Internet Safety Night. Good stuff.

3. We think it's such an important topic that we set up a whole section of Internet safety articles, tips, and guides.

Parent Involvement definitely needs to extend to the web these days. Good luck!
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Ugh -- Can't use word "school". Give me a break.

So the town muckety-mucks in this English town have banned the word "school" when referring to their new "learning center". School, it seems, has negative connotations. We'll call this the early 2010 leader for nuttiest education story of the year.

My favorite character in this story is the lady from the "Campaign for Plain English". She and her crew are trying to eliminate gobbledygook from public life. Good luck! If you hang around the education world long enough, you actually start speaking gobbledygook as a second language. It's scary. It's also one of the things that inhibits parent involvement (but that's another post...).
I'll stop now...
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My Child Won't Do Homework. Help.

Feel like I've been reading Barbara Meltz's advice in the Boston Globe forever. Always balanced and rational. Here, she tackles a common lament: what to do when your child (in this case a 13-year-old) just won't take care of his homework responsibilities.
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One Laptop_ One Child for the Holidays

If you're still looking for a cause, here's a nice one with a real School-family feel:

Zimi's Story



Here's the One Laptop website if you'd like to learn more.
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National Handwriting Day and Writing Worksheets

Like this handwriting/inauguration idea from the folks at Handwriting Without Tears. Could be a great activity for a long holiday school vacation.

We have a ton of downloadables here on our site, too, including a bunch on writing skills. Hope they're helpful.
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Join the PTO? Love it or hate it?

All of us school parents have faced this dilemma, I imagine. Should I get involved with, how much should I get involved with or should I run away from the PTO or PTA at the kids' school?

Of course, here at schoolfamily.com, we think getting involved is the way to go (and doesn't have to be life-alteringly crazy), but I'm certainly open to other perspectives. Like these two competing takes from babble.com. First writer now hates the PTA after having served. Second writer has come to respect and enjoy the PTA after initial skepticism.
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Parent Involvement and Video Games and School

Short story from the Washington Post on video games and kids, but the fundamental truth lies in two simple sentences:
It called for parents to know what and how much their kids are playing. Too much gaming or too much video-game violence can lead to problems in school, the study found.

Yup -- parent involvement matters here, too.
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Good Parent Involvement _ Bad Parent Involvement

GrantedI don't know all the details, but let's just say that I suspect this Atlanta mom might be a tad bit too involved in Junior's school work.Proudly jumping into the dumpster to retrievea science project? Hand-delivering said science project to the teacher's door?I'd like this parent to take our "Are You a Helicopter Parent?" quiz.
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Thanksgiving Wishes, Jokes and a couple of activities for the kids...

Why'd the Pilgrim's pants fall down? Because his belt buckle was on his hat! Nice, right?

That killed 'em at my house, though admittedly my audience of grade schoolers and below laugh at anything involving pants falling down.

Related topic: if you have a similar house to mine, then you might love some of our Thanksgiving printables (we call 'em "print-and-use tools") for keeping the kids busy and engaged this weekend. Word finds, crossword puzzles, coloring sheets -- plenty of activities for kids of all ages.Our entire print-and-use library is here.

Finally, simply, sincerely: Happy Thanksgiving! May you and your family be blessed this holiday and beyond.
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The Parent _ Homework Divide

Very interesting message and follow-up discussion over on the Washington Post site. The topic: what's the right amount of homework? And what's the parent's role in that homework? Lots of strong feelings in this debate.

As a dad, I found this quote eye-opening:
"In two-parent households, there is a perception gap between parents regarding a father's involvement in homework assistance. Sixty-seven percent of fathers claim to help with their children's homework; however, mothers say fathers help approximately 36 percent of the time. Sixty-nine percent of mothers say they help with homework, and fathers tend to agree, with 56 percent of fathers noting their wives' assistance."

You can also check out our entire, extensivelibrary of family + homework content here.

What's the state of homework at your school and in your house?
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Breakfast before School Works -- More Proof

Sometimes parent involvement doesn't have to be that complicated. Example: finding a way to make sure your child has breakfast before school is a fundamental step that all parents can take.

We've been saying it for years with articles like this one on school morning habits. But, if you're one of those who needs more proof, the National Institute of Health just released a study that makes the breakfast case crystal clear.

As you might expect the NIH doc is a bit dense, but here's the most relevant finding:

Children who start the day with breakfast consume more vitamins, minerals, and kilocalories than those who do not eat breakfast and have a better overall diet as measured by the Healthy Eating Index (HEI). In addition, children commit fewer errors on psychological tests on days when they eat breakfast compared with days when they skip breakfast.

-The School Breakfast Program (SBP) was started to "help contribute to the adequate nutrient intake of children and to ensure that they did not begin their school day hungry." The SBP began in 1966 as a pilot project through the Child Nutrition Act and became permanent in 1975 through amendments to the Act. Currently, the SBP is available in more than 72 000 schools nationwide. In 1975, approximately 1.8 million children participated in the SBP; by 2000, that number increased to approximately 7.5 million. Data from some studies suggest that children who participate in the SBP have increased total dietary intake; improved test scores, math grades, and attendance rates; and decreased tardiness rates. According to data analyzed from the 1994-96 Continuing Survey of Food Intakes by Individuals, children in low-income households who ate school breakfast had significantly higher HEI scores than children who ate breakfast at home or elsewhere and children who did not eat breakfast.


Cereal and milk counts. Frozen waffles and some juice counts. We're not talking about four-course eggs benedict here. We can do this.
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President-elect Obama attends parent-teacher conferences, too

This a week or two old, but the Obamas made time recently to attend the parent-teacher conferences for their daughters. Love the fact that they went, obviously. Why wouldn't they, right? Not like they're busy or anything.

Laughing thinking about the actual conference:

"Well, mom and dad, your daughter has been fairly tired in class. Last week, she apparently was on national TV at midnight or something. Maybe we could work on those bedtimes a bit. And while her state geography has improved dramatically, she tells me she can't do any more oral reports without a teleprompter and that I should check with her press people for the proper spin on the next report card. I'm not sure where she is getting these ideas. Your attention to these matters will be appreciated."

Here's to a president with school-aged kids (and all the time challenges that go along with same). Should be interesting to watch how a 21st century president and First Lady handle the school apsects of their new life.
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Can parents be at school too much?

That's the intriguing question posed by Lisa Belkin over at the NYTimes moterlode page.

From where I sit, the answer is clearly "yes", but I think it's probably the wrong question. Better to ask if parents can be too involved in helping their kids have school success, and then I think the answer is: "Not if that involvement is done right".

Rare is the school that has to turn away parent volunteers and where teachers wished parents would be less connected. And parent involvement done right includes just the kind of balance and systematic loosening of the reins that Lisa is looking for. Moreover, involvement is a lot more than attending meetings and school events (though I love those for their involvement benefits and their community-building elements); involvement also includes appropriate partnering on homework and school progress and making sure your child has the support he or she needs to flourish in his or her own way.

Our feature on the value of getting involvement right is a key part of this site's DNA. We also have a good quiz to determine if you are a classic "Helicopter Parent".
(Note: the comments on the NYTImes site make for an interesting read, too, including a healthy, heated discussion about cultural and ethnic differences around involvement.)
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Our Schools Work

I'm sure you've heard that our schools are failing us, that international students kick our kids' fannies on tests,and that we'll all be working for the Chinese and Indians in just a few years, right? Those assertions have always troubled me, as they just don't seem to fit with the fact that our country is still leading innovation and taking care of much of the world financially.

Finally, though, there's some sanity in the discussion. While I do know that there is plenty we can do better in our schools, Jay Matthews -- the best education columnist on the beat -- adds a much-needed dose of facts and reality to the discussion. His conclusion? The sky is not falling on our schools. I agree.

Key points from the piece:

  • If you're going to compare test scores, helpful if kids taking the tests are same age or taking test after same prep.

  • If you're going to compare career paths, helpful to check if "engineer" means same thing in both countries.

  • If one country (the US) aims for the most part to keep all of its students in traditional high schools and another siphons off (early) many of its lesser academic stars straight to career-training (and doesn't test those students), then do you have an apples-to-apples comparison on testing?


In the end it comes down to how you and your school are doing with your child? Is he or she challenged? Are you connecting and getting involved and keeping things on a good track? Or you encouraging life-long learning? That's what this site is all about, and it's important that we don't let doom-and-gloomers tell us that we can't do it well. Thanks Jay!
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Saying N-O is O-K

Little blurb here about the value of actually saying "no" once in a while to our kids. It's apparently part of a wider program in Minnesota called: "Say Yes to No." Interesting.

I felt like the spirit of the linked anecdote captured our goals with the site pretty well. We're about helping parents be good school parents -- how to do that, why to do that, community among other parents taking on the same challenge. We're not about being super-parents or raising the most amazing -- get them their college scholarship before they're 12 -- kids ever. Just about trying to do things right, while maintaining some sanity and balance. And having some fun. I do believe that saying "No" at the right times and with consistency is part of that mix.

Off my soapbox now. Funny -- I'm off to one of the toughest nights of the year to say NO -- Halloween. Boo!
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Bake Sale Ban _ California _ Bunk

Hope that headline is clear enough, but - man-oh-man! -- I really can't stand it when regulators go crazy and good intentions go way, way too far. That's what's happening in California, where new, increasingly egregiousfood regulations are being phased in. The end result? Basically the end of bake sales. And the end ofa whole host of additional perfectly fine traditions and habits at schools.

One of these schools has no more dessert at lunch. That nice office secretary who'd always have a peppermint for you when school was feeling particularly difficult in some way? That peppermint is gone, too. (Thank God for the peppermint police!)The kids can't have a hot dog sale that they used to have to fund a trip. Well, I suppose they could, if the hot dog was vegan.

(Note: before my vegan friends get up in arms. I have no problem with your vegan hot dogs. I've had a couple. But regular ol' hot dogs are not causing obesity.)

What about parents making choices for their kids? A slice of pizza for lunch isn't child abuse. A bake sale isn't criminal. And -- heck -- my buying a box of hi-fat cookies from the Sally Foster catalog is none of your darn business. It's as if we're equating Christmas cookies with guns and ammo.

I'll stop. But I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. Same thing happening at your school? As parents, how can we step in and bring sanity back?
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Parent-Teacher Conference Schedule Slots

I always find "The Juggle" blog from the Wall Street Journal (yup -- the WSJ) to be thought-provoking and timely, especially this post about which parents should get the good parent-teacher conference slots? The writer's good questions have created quite a discussion around whether after-work time slots should reserved for working moms and dads (and conversely, should stay-at-home parents be required to take daytime slots?).

Why do I see this becoming the next great school auction item? Can you imagine the bidding wars for that coveted 6 PM slot? Heck, I'm sensing a solution for the school funding crisis, too. Bids for the nice 4th grade teacher? Bids for the late bus stop (so whole family can wake up later)? Bids for the late lunch (so "lunch" isn't at 9:40 AM)? Hmmmm -- going to have to work on this one. :-)

Meantime, would love to hear your thoughts on conference schedules. How does it work at your school? Does it work effectively at your school? Any good stories of conference angst and agita?

And, of course, we have our own parent-teacher resources on the schoolfamily site, too.
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Do you allow your children to watch TV or play on the computer before doing their homework?

Yes - 31.6%
Sometimes - 25.4%
No - 37.4%

Total votes: 4919
The voting for this poll has ended on: June 25, 2016