• By Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed • IDRA Newsletter • April 2007
Imagine this dialogue: A teacher on a site-based decision-making committee speaking to a parent: “Who are you to be able to evaluate our curriculum? You have no college degree and you don’t even understand much English!” A Latino parent responds: “Yes, who am I to be able to judge the quality of the school’s curriculum?
Educational reform that benefits all children requires dynamic and informed parent engagement. The No Child Left Behind Act gives parents increased influence over the education of their children in public schools, and curriculum is central to that education. But are parents and other laypersons unable to inform the technical aspects of education?
Medicine is certainly technical, complex and seemingly inaccessible to the layperson. But medicine seems to have progressed with doctors and medical practitioners who support patients to be informed about their health, their medical options and more control over what happens to their bodies.
We posit that education also can be made more accessible to families and laypersons. Just like a patient does not have to become a doctor to have clear understanding of his or her body, what a diagnosis means and what possible paths are available to better health, likewise a parent and a student can have a clear understanding of what helps and hinders his or her learning, what different options are available to learn and what alternatives could prove more compatible to one’s learning and academic achievement.
Curriculum is what is to be learned, what is to be taught. Most schools have adopted texts and other materials. Computer-based materials and online resources are becoming the norm. Some predict that books will become secondary and the computer will be the central source of information for the student and the teacher. These materials are intended to support a certain set of standards.
Standards identify what students are expected to know and be able to do. Standards can also support high expectations for all students. For many reasons there has been a strong push for having uniform high standards in education. The important question is, how do standards help or hinder our children in getting an excellent education.
The standards are set by the state, and each teacher is given a document that defines what will be taught and, in many cases, when and how much must be covered in each period of time. Most states have adopted curriculum standards. Texas has been in the vanguard of that process.
Recommendations to Families
Parents can ask critical questions and must be given understandable, basic information in order to support children in high standards. Parents and families need to know what is going on in the classroom: how teachers are being trained, how their children are being engaged and how their children are understanding, reasoning, problem-solving and communicating. A curriculum that is incomprehensible is inappropriate.
Here is a case in point. A group of parents in a south Texas school district received a letter informing them that their children’s high school was not meeting adequate yearly progress (AYP) because of math scores. All three high schools were in the same condition so there was no other high school available to transfer to within that district. The parents’ initial question was whether the math teachers were certified to teach in their areas. They learned that most were. They also found that the experienced, properly certified staff were in consensus about one thing: they believed most of the students were not capable of learning math. They felt that most students could only pass math if the standards were lowered.
No! This country will self-destruct if math departments continue to think that higher math is beyond the masses. We will not prepare the population for the challenges of the future if we continue to assume that college is not for everyone, but very specifically not for most poor, minority and non-English speaking students.
Yes! Families and communities can hold their schools to high standards and success for all students.
Educators must have ongoing dialogues with families about standards and how children can be supported to learn. Bilingual forums in lay terms inform and enable families to learn about the specifics of standards, how they are measured, and how they are assessed and can empower them to ask the right questions.
IDRA’s model of parent involvement focuses on four major roles: parents as teachers, as resources to the school, as decision-makers, and as leaders and trainers of other parents. There are many things parents can do in these roles, such as the following.
Parents as Teachers
Support children by creating space to learn at home.
Reduce television viewing and other distractions.
Ask children to share work and talk about school.?
Ask children what is helping and hindering their learning.
Encourage children to support each other in learning.
Create family peer groups and neighborhood support systems for children to extend their learning and experience individual and collective support for success in school.
Parents as Resources to the School
At the elementary school level, parents are resources to the classroom teacher with oral language presentations, listener, coach and observer of children, etc.
Identify and support children in using neighborhood support systems, e.g., libraries, religious and community centers, after-school support systems, YMCA and YWCA, computer access, and field trips.
Parents as Decision-makers
Participate on curriculum committees and advisory groups.
Review standards, tests and assessment procedures.
Convene parent and community groups to increase awareness, school support for student achievement, and even getting elected to parent organizations and school boards.
Create and support committees to increase financial support to schools, increase teaching staff and reduce class size.?
Work with schools to identify the variety of ways in which students learn.
Find out about graduation rates and retention rates.
Parents as Leaders and Trainers of Other Parents
Create parent and family networks of mutual support for student achievement, training other parents to be advocates, resources and decision-makers, and surveying families and using data to create further organizations, support and leadership.
Poll and conduct focus groups of students, teachers and parents.
Map the assets of children and families (if standards show what students do not know, we need to find out what they do know).
The whole community wants children to achieve. The whole community needs them to achieve. It is inherent in human nature to want to learn. The power of family in this movement for high achievement for all students must be immediately recognized. High standards for all children are good if the appropriate support and resources are given to schools, to children and to families. All children and families must be valued, none is expendable to standards or tests.
In the article, “Every Family Engaged = Every Child Ahead: Building School Capacity through NCLB Parent Participation Requirements,” in the January issue of the IDRA Newsletter, the author states: “The current NCLB iteration has five major leverage points for parents, as Anne T. Henderson has effectively identified (2002). Below is a list of these leverage points along with possible strategies.” However, Henderson’s article lists six leverage points. The sixth, “State Review of Parent Involvement Compliance” was inadvertently omitted in the IDRA article. The follow-up article, “Accountability and Equity in Our Schools,” by the same author, in the February issue of the IDRA Newsletter, correctly includes it.
Some Cautions About a Counterproductive View of High Standards
There are some myths among educators and the general middle-class non-minority public: Poor and minority parents want and support lower standards for their children and also prefer social promotion. This myth explains the belligerent berating of poor and minority students and families about the need to retain students until they meet standards. Families do not want inferior education. They want effective instruction that results in academic success for their children.
The high standards movement mouthed the goal of equity through excellence – positing lower standards as racist and exclusionary. But, as Keenan and Wheelock state, the results of simply putting new standards in place and enforcing them universally without providing necessary resources leads to increased rates of retention, failure and dropouts among poor and minority students (1997).
Keenan and Wheelock also state: “The standards movement further reneges on its promise when states translate standards into curriculum frameworks that reinforce the status quo, elevate certain knowledge to a level of official approval and render poor, African American and Latino students invisible in the curriculum. English language arts standards that call for more reading of better books create an aura of rigor, but if the frameworks fail to address the need for multicultural content, many students will remain on the periphery, perceiving school as another world, another culture” (1997).
Another concern about the standards movement is that when massive failure happens, too many people look for causes within the families, their culture, language, economic status, or limited formal education. A deficit view of children and families assumes that the lack of academic achievement by students is the fault of the family. Besides being inaccurate, this view increases the tension families feel over their children’s educational achievement.
In these cases, the institution wants to change the family and the children to adapt to its “higher” standards. The fact is, most families want their children to do well and to have a bright future connected to their educational attainment. Most families are supportive of activities that will contribute to student success.
Each person has a particular learning style. And this variety of learning styles among students reveals another concern. School curricula, textbooks and some teachers’ approaches to teaching have a narrow focus on how children learn. Too often the assumption is that the home is English-speaking, middle-class and college-educated.
As the bar is raised on standards, teachers may be tempted to increase the rate of teaching and the amount of content taught. This acceleration increases dependence on rote-learning and memorization of greater amounts of information. It reduces class discussion time, open-ended questions, creativity, one-on-one work and alternative approaches to learning.
Wheelock states: “When schools assert that every student can learn, they take concrete steps to saturate school life with opportunities to access the extra help they need to succeed. The steps they take can vary from school to school, but effective approaches have several characteristics in common: They are offered early and often as a normal part of the school routine; and they are often multi-faceted, with supports for academic achievement made available in a variety of ways” (Wheelock, 2002).
Excerpted from: “Children-based Reform: Can Standards Meet It,” IDRA Newsletter, by A.M. Montemayor and M. Díaz-Sanchez (March 2002).
Center for Law and Education. Urgent Message for Parents (Washington, D.C.: Center for Law and Education, Community Action for Public Schools, 1999).
Keenan, J.W., and A. Wheelock. “The Standards Movement in Education: Will Poor and Minority Students Benefit?” Poverty and Race (May-June 1997).
Montemayor, A.M., and Díaz-Sanchez, M. “Children-Based Reform: Can Standards Meet It,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, March 2002).
Wheelock, A. “Everybody Has to Get It: Extra Help and Support to ‘Meet Standards’ and Prevent Grade Retention,” Internet article www.middleweb.com/whlckreten.html.
Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed, is an IDRA senior education associate and director of the Texas IDRA Parent Information and Resource Center. He also serves on the national board of PTA. Comments and questions may be directed to him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©2007, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the April 2007 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]