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.

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