Thursday, July 31, 2008

Big Meeting in Baltimore

I just finished a second day of intense meetings sponsored by the Department of Education. It is a yearly meeting for directors of Parent Information Resource Centers (this is the 8th or 9th I've attended).
Winds of Change: A New Era for Parental, Family, and Community Involvement.
How's that for a title!
It has been amazing because for the third year in a row the invitees have included major representatives of organizations that work in the field of parent involvement in education: PTA, Parents for Public Schools, Appleseed, the Boy Scouts Parent Projects and many others that are new to me. We have had presentations by some of the top researchers on parent involvement and many new networks have been formed. Strong presenters making strong recommendations for the inclusion of parent involvement systemically.

Of the many things presented, what has given me the most satisfaction is the strong support for parent leadership. With such statements as "It's the parents that will save the public schools from being shut down". "Parent Leadership must be supported, evaluated and the dots must be connected between parent leadership in education and student achievement." It might be a little self-serving, but I remember conducting training-of-trainers for parents whose children were in bilingual programs in the Edgewood ISD in 1980 and having to argue with some school personnel who couldn't see what training parents to be leaders in support of bilingual education had to do with parent involvement. We decided early on at IDRA that parenting, helping parents be better parents, was already being offered by many organizations, institutions, companies and consultants. It's in fact a multi-million dollar business. It's also many times driven by pushing the guilt button in parents, across class, race and every other line. "Have you been the perfect parent?" Oh, well, do I have the workshop for you. All families need support in rearing children, and there are many good services and products out there. Nevertheless, our interest and focus at IDRA is parent leadership in education; supporting parents to be advocates for their children and creating excellent neighborhood public schools.

We still have a long way to go, and some of the researchers and academics aren't listening carefully to those who are doing the work in the field. It burns my b... when I get talked down to as if I don't know about evaluation and research. It is hard to connect the dots between parent leadership in education all the way to the achievement of the children on a campus, but it is not undoable or impossible. It is frustrating to have to wait until the funding and the resources are put into a proper evaluation that is carried out over a significant period of time.

It is also frustrating because so much of the research that does exist, and that has followed all the protocols and rigorous designs is deeply flawed because at the core it has been based on a deficit notion of the family: there is something broken, incomplete or flawed that must be fixed, completed and improved. e.g., the family doesn't communicate enough with the child, so we teach the family how to communicate with the child and then the child is ready for school. The illiterate mother is taught to read and, boom, the child learns how to read. The literature is full of those kind of studies, and new ones are being carried out, rigorously, to keep proving how weak, incomplete those families (poor, minority, non-English speaking, of color, recent immigrant, single parent) are. And the remedies generally will result in docile, civilized, non-agressive and grateful families who will appropriately make up for all their deficiencies and send school-prepared children to join the ranks of English-speaking, middle class children.

Wow! Though it has been a good conference it seems that even the academics and professionals on my side seem to push my buttons. I guess I hate to be seen as a nice practitioner, not very academically sharp, who is leading with his heart and emotions and not his intellect. Something like that. There is deep rigor in my evaluation and analysis of my experiences as a change agent in education over the last 40 years, and I haven't figured out how to get what I have learned into the literature, into the books and into the critical conversations that our 'parent involvement' academics are having. And I might be fooling myself about what I think I know.

Well, it's my blog and I can cry if I want to.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Outreach to Latino Families

This past weekend I attended the Summer Leadership Training conference provided by the Texas PTA in Austin, TX. Thousands participated and it was difficult to choose which sessions to attend: so many were of great interest. One that I did attend was on Parent Involvement, a presentation by a representative of the Texas Education Agency and the state board Parent Involvement lead for Texas PTA. The excellent presentation was well attended. I was introduced to the group as a PIRC director and provider of services to schools.

One incident stays with me. I had made a comment to the group at large about sensitivity to families that held two or more jobs, single parent homes and families that spoke a language other than English. At the end of the session quite a few participants came up to me to ask for contact information and also to ask questions. A Latina local PTA officer asked me about Spanish speaking mothers who she would see on campus joining their children for lunch or taking their children to school and picking them up in the afternoon, but she would not see them at PTA meetings. Yet they didn't seem to be easily accessible for her to invite to participate.

I counseled that she establish a relationship with them, initially just greeting and asking how their family was their children were doing in school. I advised that she hold back on recruiting them to be school volunteers or to become PTA members.
I said: Instead of approaching them with a 'sales pitch' become an acquaintance, concerned about the education of their children, and eventually a trusted friend. I peppered my conversation with Spanish and gave snippets of how I establish that kind of relationship with the families I come in contact with. She didn't speak much Spanish with me but clearly understood everything I said. Even if her Spanish was not as strong as her own parents', she obviously had enough facility with the language to communicate with the parents she wanted to connect with on her campus.
"Buenos días señora ¿como esta? ¿Como están los niños? (Good morning, maam, how are you? How are the children?).
I continued: As you establish these 'qualitative' relationships, then you can identify the 'live wires', the ones that are centers of communication within their own social circles. As each of these "emerging leaders" becomes an active participant, volunteer and PTA member, (and in time, if you persist, they will) she will bring others with her and also take information to many who might not ever attend a PTA meeting but are acutely interested in the education of their children and want the information the school can offer through these 'intermediaries'.

The Latina PTA leader seemed to have an "aha" moment. She agreed that the PTA traditional approaches that worked with most middle-class English-speaking families were not working with the ladies in question. She agreed that digging into her own family traditions, culture and informal ways of communicating gave her a new (but actually very old) way of conducting outreach with recent immigrant and Spanish speaking families. I don't know how she will fare, but she left smiling and promised to stay in email contact with me.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Recent Articles

Explanation of the Principles


IDRA Family Leadership in Education – Principles
Principle 1: Families can be their children’s strongest advocates.
Principle 2: Families of different race, ethnicity, language and class are equally valuable.
Principle 3: Families care about their children’s education and are to be treated with respect, dignity and value.
Principle 4: Within families, many individuals play a role in the children’s education.
Principle 5: Family leadership is most powerful at improving education for all children when collective efforts create solutions for the common good.
Principle 6: Families, schools, and communities, when drawn together, become a strong, sustainable voice to protect the rights of all children.

Welcome to Parent Leadership in Education

I'm publishing this again because there are a whole bunch on new people I've connected with and they might not want to look at the blog archives.

I'm going to start this blog in the hopes that I can have an online dialogue with others interested in supporting the educational leadership of all families, especially those that are blue-collar, poor, minority, or speak a language other than English.
My focus is public schools, equitable resources for public schools;
Excellent teachers and curriculum for all students;
Title 1 schools (where economically disadvantaged students predominate) that need support for all students to succeed academically;
Schools where students are prepared for access and success in higher education;
and parent leadership to collaborate with schools so that schools work for all children.

Public schools are the first and last venue to keep democracy alive, vibrant and to make the dreams real for all those families who expect education to provide a future for their children that is better than what they (the parents) have had.

My organization, the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA) has advocated for excellent public schools for all children for over 35 years. I am the lead (point person) for parent involvement within my organization. I have been working with schools and organizations on these issues, and have written articles, recorded podcasts and continue to train, speak and advocate for parent leadership in education. I am currently on the National PTA board and also on the national board of Parents for Public Schools (PPS).

I'll be posting specific ideas, concerns and questions.