Thursday, November 29, 2012

Placing blame doesn't help in the fight for educational equity

It often amazes how easily people will place blame on each other in this fight for educational equity. How to close the achievement gap is one of the most most important debates we could be having- yet the polarization and finger-pointing sometimes seem to get in the way of collaboration and progress. Parents are often scapegoats for the problems we face in school. While there is no doubt that parents play a HUGE role in the education that children receive, they should be viewed as partners with educators and members of the community.

Today there was a live discussion on Berkeley Patch with Louis Freedberg, executive director of EdSource, about the impact that Prop 30 will have on California's 6 million public school students. While the interview was interesting (and you can watch it in full here), I was most compelled by the  lively discussion amongst the viewers at the bottom of the page.  I found myself disagreeing with several people on assumptions they seemed to be making about parents and I wanted to share some of the interactions here.

Excerpts from our discussion
(Names are given by the posters and are not necessarily their true identities; I have shortened some responses for brevity, but the full responses are available on the Patch discussion; Any emphasis has been added here):
Giorgio C.: Everyone knows that many of the causes of poor results start at home, so why are we holding schools accountable for these problems that parents and communities should be addressing? Individual parents do not care about the "achievement gap." What parents want to know is if they do their part as parents, will the school do its part to provide an education for their child? That is all the school is responsible for. The school is not a baby-sitter or surrogate parent. If necessary, there are social services for such.

Jenny from Berkeley Schools Report: Georgio, I disagree with what you said here: "Everyone knows that many of the causes of poor results start at home, so why are we holding schools accountable for these problems that parents and communities should be addressing? Individual parents do not care about the "achievement gap.""
There is no question that there is a correlation between socioeconomic status, racial and ethnic background and the achievement gap. However, your comment suggests that this is the parents' fault and that they don't care about their child's education. If that's not what you meant, please correct me. I strongly believe that all parents have the best intentions for their kids and want them to succeed. Sometimes, they don't always have the resources and support they need to ensure that happens- and that's where schools can play a pivotal role. If someone's children are at the low-end of the achievement gap, then OF COURSE they care about that achievement gap- because their children are suffering as a result! And, for parents whose children are on the high end of the achievement gap (as I was and my daughter and nieces and nephews are), I think many of us care deeply that this inequality must change- and there is much work that can and needs to be done at the school level.

Kei:  Jenny...As for the assumption that all parents care: hmm... The one year that I taught at a school in East Oakland, for Open House I had just four parents even bother to show up (in a 28-student classroom). It could be they had jobs; it could be they were otherwise occupied; but to me it did seem indicative. That entire year, I had just one parent insist that keep her informed about her daughter's progress.
As I said, I was not a good teacher-- I was simultaneously a first-year and last-year teacher-- and it's possible they felt it was not worth the trouble. But it did make me wonder.
I do believe that if parents truly care and SHOW that education is a value, rather than an 'add-on' to a lifestyle, then their kids will absorb this as a value, and will then be serious themselves about their education.

Jenny at Berkeley Schools Report: Kei, I appreciate that you recognize your limited perspective from having only taught for 1 year. I think we have to be very careful about the assumptions we make - and we'll get much further if we operate with asset-based thinking. Let's consider WHY parents might not be more involved in school- you mention work, which is huge (many people work several jobs, including night shifts and can't make it to open houses), language barriers (not all schools translate memos home to multiple languages), prior experiences with school that could leave parents not feeling welcome or respected...the list goes on and on. I think we're doing a major disservice to our students and communities if we assume that just because parents aren't present that means they don't care. We'll make much greater headway if we're able to reach out, forge relationships and work together on what we ALL care about- which is ensuring that all students receive an excellent education.

I welcome any comments below or emailed to me at 

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