Thursday, January 29, 2009

Parent Consultation? @Dialogue @ Curriculum

In a recent focus group interview, parents responded to several questions. Some parents in the all Latino group answered in Spanish. Prominent & recurring topics were concern about academic achievement and the support students need to succeed. Most were ill-informed about the curricular requirements beyond vague notions that their children are required to take basic core curriculum courses. But all, to a person, showed great interest and concern.

Curriculum Consultation
Because these were parents from an economically disadvantaged Title I high school the school receiving those federal funds is required to consult with parents. But, to consult, that is to have informed dialogue, school personnel must explain and provide comprehensible information.
In a previous article, "Raising the Bar on Parent Engagement," I noted that dynamic and informed parent engagement is required for educational reform to benefit all children. "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?" (2007)
One analogy can be found in health care, which is certainly technical, complex and seemingly inaccessible to the layperson. But in spite of layperson technical ignorance, contemporary enlightened doctors want patients to be informed about their health, their medical options and have more control over what happens in their health care.
Education also can be made more accessible to families and laypersons. Just as a patient does not have to become a doctor to have clear understanding of his/her body, or the meaning of a medical diagnosis and the possible paths 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 the child’s learning and academic achievement.
In this way, families and communities can hold their schools to high standards and success for all students. As educators, we must have ongoing conversations 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. We, my colleagues and I, know this first hand because we do this often and experience wonderful dialogues with families that represent the gamut of social class, education and experience. See: Authentic Consultation,
Latino Parent Engagement in High School Math , Engagement Sounds Sparks and Movements
Quality Schools Action Framework
IDRA’s Quality Schools Action Framework, our institutional change model, includes the following as key elements:

  • fair funding,

  • governance efficacy,

  • parent and community engagement,

  • student engagement,

  • teaching quality, and

  • curriculum quality and access (Robledo Montecel, 2005).

Parent and community engagement is: creating partnerships based on respect and a shared goal of academic success and integrating parents and community members into the decisionmaking processes of the school.
Curriculum quality and access is: the educational programs of study, materials and other learning resources such as technology and their accessibility to all students. It also relates to assessment and accountability – the school practices related to fair and unbiased assessment of students and degree that schools take responsibility for the academic success of all students.
These two factors should not be dealt with in isolation. In point of law, school personnel have an obligation to consult with parents and community members about students’ access to a high quality curriculum.

So: Title I Must Continue Informed Dialogue
Whatever changes and modifications are made to the new federal education law as the new congress convenes, it will be important that the consultation with informed parents continue as a requirement. We recommend that all schools support authentic dialogue and true listening of the families whose children are served by public schools. Families can be and ultimately are the strongest and most consistent advocates for the educational success of their children.

(This post is a slightly edited & tweaked version of an article just published in the IDRA January 2009 Newsletter Parent Consultation and Curriculum – Meaningful Dialogue)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

7 Resolutions To Make for our Student's Sake

This post is mostly taken from the e-newsletter my colleague Laurie Posner produces for IDRA , our organization.
● ● ● Seven Resolutions We Must Make and Keep for Kids ● ● ●
Resolution #1: Count All Students; Make Sure All Students Count As 2008 drew to a close, the U.S. Department of Education set final regulations for a uniform way to calculate graduation rates across states. We’re making progress on the issue. But a 2008 survey by the Data Quality Campaign finds that just six states now have all 10 essential elements of a robust longitudinal data system.
Take Action: Be the voice for transparent counts and accountability in your community. Visit the Data Quality Campaign to find out how your state is faring, then press for all needed systems to be in place to count and account for every student. If you are a school leader, convert data to action by convening a school-community forum to set out a joint vision for students, look together at outcome data and form a plan for improving results. IDRA can help. For a model of how cross-sector, cross-race leaders have gathered for such forums as part of IDRA’s Pathways to Graduation project in southern and southwestern states, see: A Community Speaks – A Report on Little Rock’s Coalition-Building for Education: Blueprint Dialogues for Action or IDRA’s Blueprints for Action teamsite.
Resolution #2: Replace Silver Bullets with Sea Changes Education Week’s Diplomas Count 2008 found that while graduation rates have “inched up” nationwide, still only 71 percent of ninth graders graduate with a diploma four years later. IDRA’s most recent study of attrition shows that eight Texas regions have higher school attrition rates than they did two decades ago. When one in three students doesn’t graduate with a high school diploma, it’s time to stop tinkering around the edges of the problem.
Take Action: Holding on to all students and preparing them for success calls for comprehensive action. We must make immediate changes to keep from losing students who are right now at risk of dropping out. But we must also transform teaching and learning so that all students thrive. For a model of coordinated action, visit IDRA’s Quality Schools Action Framework or tune in to “Action for School Change” a Classnotes podcast episode that features IDRA president and CEO, Dr. María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel, describing the four elements needed for school success. In promoting systemic change, school-community-family partnerships are key. Organized Communities, Stronger Schools, research findings from the Annenberg Institute, found that “successful [community] organizing strategies contributed to increased student attendance, improved standardized-test-score performance, and higher graduation rates and college-going aspirations in several sites.”
Resolution #3: Value All Children, without Compromise Research on IDRA’s Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program, implemented in the United States and Brazil, shows that the single most important factor in keeping students in school is to ensure that there is at least one caring adult who values them, follows their progress and helps keep them on track. The results are evident: since the program’s inception in 1984, over 98 percent of participating students stay in school. To date, the program has kept in school more than 25,000 young people who were previously considered at risk of dropping out.
Take Action: Refuse to define students in terms of deficits; instead, recognize and build on their strengths. To learn more about how to put a valuing model and service learning at the core of dropout prevention, visit the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program web site , listen in to: “Learnings from the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program,” “Dropout Prevention for Students with Special Needs,” “Creating Leadership Opportunities for Students,” or visit “Valuing Youth with Disabilities Educational Outcomes and the Art of Culture.”
Resolution #4: Start Early, But Don’t Stop There Investment in quality pre-K programs pays off, according to study after study including state data released by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI). In Enriching Children, Enriching the Nation: Public Investment in High-Quality Prekindergarten, Robert G. Lynch reports that annual benefits of investing in pre-K education outstrip costs by more than 12 to 1. Lynch finds that the benefits don’t fade over time: quality pre-K programs result in greater student success in school, higher graduation rates and job earnings.
Take Action: Support students from the start. To make the case in your community, click here for EPI factsheets on the costs and benefits of pre-K programs in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia and here for data from Annie E. Casey’s Kids Count Data Center. Beyond promoting access to early childhood education, press for high quality programs for children of all backgrounds. To learn more on how to transform early learning centers into “centers of excellence” visit:
Resolution #5: Secure 21st Century Teaching Quality – for All Students In spite of the emphasis on quality teaching built in to the No Child Left Behind Act, children in high-poverty schools in America are more likely to be taught English, science and mathematics by an out-of-field teacher than those in a low-poverty school. Teaching quality and student-teacher relationships are critical to success, but as education researcher Dr. Linda Darling Hammond asserted in an interview with PBS, schools are still “constructed as though teaching doesn’t matter.”
Take Action: Take a lead role in promoting equity and 21st Century teaching quality in your district and state for all students. Help shape the conversation about teaching and learning for today’s students and how this must be tied to professional development by visiting the Partnership for 21st Century Skills’ “Route 21” web site. To zero in on strengthening teaching quality, see: “Seven Principles for Effective Professional Development for Diverse Schools” by Dr. Abelardo Villarreal, director of Field Services at IDRA.
Resolution #6: Overcome Inequities It is not news that we continue to face structural inequities in our public school system. As one example, citing “palpable injustice” in July 2008, Judge William Wayne Justice ruled that the state of Texas failed to effectively educate secondary level English language learners and to monitor school district compliance with the Equal Educational Opportunity Act. Texas is not alone. Education Week’s Quality Counts 2009: Portrait of a Population points out that across the country, academic achievement gaps between English language learners and their peers are significant and persistent.
Take Action: Be an advocate in the capital, courtroom and classroom for quality schooling for every student. The basic rights of English language learners to a quality, equitable education are guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, in federal and state legislation, and court rulings (EEO of 1974, Lau vs. Nichols of 1974, U.S. vs. Texas of 1970). For a review of court rulings that establish children’s rights, visit: and “A Framework for Effective Instruction of Secondary English Language Learners ” by Dr. María Robledo Montecel. To help schools and communities look together at questions of educational equity and create a plan of action, the IDRA South Central Collaborative for Equity (SCCE) has outlined Six Goals of Educational Equity (#1: Comparably high academic achievement and other student outcomes; #2: Equitable access and inclusion; #3: Equitable treatment; #4: Equitable opportunity to learn; #5: Equitable resources; #6: Accountability). You can use these as a yardstick to measure your progress or as a lightening rod to galvanize change.
Resolution #7: Open Pathways to College We know that schools are most successful when they see high school graduation as a minimum milestone and look to prepare their students for the future beyond secondary school. At Ysleta ISD in El Paso, for example, kindergarteners don gowns and sashes naming their selected future university – an approach at the outset that is tied to the district’s long-term goals for student achievement. But the future does not look so bright when students are not adequately prepared to succeed in college or find that college costs put this option out of reach. Measuring Up 2008 national and state report cards on higher education awarded almost every state in the country an “F” in college affordability.
Take Action: Develop partnerships with local community colleges and universities, make sure all students get the kind of college and financial aid counseling found in elite schools and advocate for adequate funding for higher education. Tune in to "College Access for Low Income and Minority Students" for a conversation with Aurelio Montemayor, M.Ed., director of the IDRA Texas Parent Information and Resource Center, on how K-12 schools can actively support college access for their students. Promote Sound Preparation: Make sure, for example, students "get math." In Students Whose Parents Did Not Go to College: Postsecondary Access, Persistence and Attainment , Susan Choy reported that more than three out of four high school graduates (76 percent) who took advanced mathematics courses in high school enrolled in a four-year college or university. Robert Moses, founder and president of the Algebra Project said: “I believe that the absence of math literacy in urban and rural communities throughout this country is an issue as urgent as the lack of registered voters in Mississippi was in 1961… and I believe that solving the problem requires exactly the kind of community organizing that changed the South in the 1960s.”

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Children's Spirit vs. Platitudes & Myths

Right now it is vital for us to remember the Spirit of the Child. Embrace the special qualities of wonder, curiosity, creativity, imagination, dreaming, love, joy and happiness. begin to let go of the myth that was instilled in you to work hard and begin to play as you once did. If you do not remember how, find a child and ask them to teach you.

The quote is from a blog/zine I just read. The complete post that precedes this section is a harsh but, to my view, true indictment of the myths and platitudes we scatter so easily to our children, our young and expect all the long-suffering wage-earners to accept: work hard and you will be rewarded. Imagine if I chose to list the tired phrases often used by leaders (especially of the party that just lost the presidency & congress). The reader would not be rewarded from the hard work of reading the cliches. I thought the post Hard Work Leads to Poverty had been written by some crusty old community organizer from the 60s. See below and judge whether my prejudice was correct:

Female 46 years old Live Oak, FL I am a kid who refuses to grow up. I inspire people to have fun and stop the endless cycle of working yourself to death. I am a mother of two daughters and my best playmates. I am a speaker, playshop leader and a creative muse.

I don't publicly rant (much) about the general abuse and disregard of our blue-collar workers, our working-stiffs who do the dirty, difficult, under-paid and maligned grunge work. But I can't help but being hooked by the tone: rage, frustration, righteous indignation and ultimately hopelessness and despair. I want to keep myself honest about how complex and difficult the life is for the families of the children I'm most concerned about.
In defense of social civility & my excesses, I still have trouble distinguishing which battles to pick, when to hold my tongue and especially discerning between telling a truth clearly, politely but assertively in contrast with an-out-of-control tantrum with tonsils extending beyond the lips.
It's especially difficult when I ignore the ridiculousness of social organizations we form, supposedly to deal with the needs of children in our schools: I blurt out humor-from-hell dipped in absurdist/60s hippy confrontation of hipocrisy in some middle-class norm-ruts. I've been reported to officers of a national organization (on whose board I sit) for actions unbecoming to a board member. Ok, I won't tell a presenter with a sleepy audience if there is no response to attempts to facilitate conversation and keep a workshop alive, to 'take his clothes off'. Yes, it's an inappropriate cheap-shot. A national media reporter if present would have quoted me and the organization would have a public and general membership image problem.

Forget that we do have unconscionable classrooms and public schools, children not being supported to learn and love learning, families vilified, students stigmatized and our urban public schools in danger of being shut down by the private sector slathering at the mouth to get those public education dollars. It's hard to sit politely listening to themes far from the urgent problems. The organization was lucky I didn't really go berserk, take my civilized mask off and release not just inappropriate humor, but scream about the Titanic furniture we are rearranging about five minutes before it's date with big ice-block.

I learned in the 60s & 70s that just getting my social-injustice-anger jollies off is counterproductive, distracts from the message and hides the problem. I agreed to be an upstanding board member...but jiminy-crickets, the children in our public schools, our children, not 'those children', our students, our treasure and our future are in danger. We need to put a fire under public opinion, public will, public support for our public schools.

Many, many entrepreneurial and creative educators have quick answers for what is wrong. But the underlying message is "Public Schools are Hopeless" That righteous indignation is not mine nor on my side. I want the schools to be excellent and equitable, but I don't want to close the doors, any more than I want to erase the neighborhoods where families live.

Return to the brilliant and passionate writer of Hard Work Leads to Poverty, & see she ends up exactly where I do: on the side of hope, possibilities and re-connecting to the vision of the schools (and world) we want to create. It's in the quote opening this note & the opening Wordle created from positive words.

Keep the faith in the children and their families. If we don't, who will? If not now, when?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Obama Wish List -- Other Responses (LinkedIn)

I continue to get responses to my wish list. My own organization's wish list would be longer simply because we are looking at a much more comprehensive framework. If I went from a 10,000 ft. to a 50,000 ft. point-of-view, the list would be much longer. I'm not asking others to append it to theirs, it's just my own, purposely focused wishlist. Nevertheless I've been getting some fairly persistent notes from other advocates who have a project, process or pressing need and I'll bring those into my blog posts if the information isn't a comment on this site.
From Daniel Bassill on Linked InI wish he would use maps, like Generals do, to focus resources into the neighborhoods where poverty creates poor schools. These resources would expand the social capital surrounding kids, families in schools, and engage businesses, churches, hospitals, universities and others who share the same geography or who would benefit most from a better educated workforce and lower costs of poverty. See samples of such maps at

From V. Ryan Sarti ( on Linked InIf you read Thomas Friedman's "The World Is Flat" you begin to realize how important education and critical thinking really are. Just because there are no explosions on the news doesn't mean we don't have an educational crisis on our hands.
Daniel's comment about inspiring others is a real gem. Thank you for some great insights.
Strong families, even single parent families provide the foundation for strong students. Educational challenges in all neighborhoods are often family based.
Teachers like Corinne may do a great job in the classroom, but the classroom only lasts a few hours a day. The rest of the time, peers and parents are the key influencers. The President has to find a way to address that. Sometimes supporting parents and student to take responsibility can come from Community. But the Community has to be strong, focused on helping, and supporting education and results.
Cathy Miller made some solid points. Her comment about keeping the federal government out of education is a two edged sword. I am a fan of small government. State and local efforts are the key to success. But, when they fail, where can they turn? Unfortunately, it is the federal government.
Wish list: It isn't always about money. Our nation's worst school district (Washington DC) spends $17,000/year/student. That is the same amount as the New Trier District, which is one of the better districts in Illinois and in the country.
Wish: stop equating money and results. There is no correlation.
Where are the teachers unions in all this? Why don't we see more initiatives from them about education and results?
Wish: More innovation and results from teachers unions. Some educational leadership would be good.
Part of the reason we provide education is to help people be able to support themselves when they transition into the real world. I have seen the quality of applicants diminish over time.
Wish: greater collaboration between business and education to help students be better prepared when the graduate.
Wish: Rebuild the sense of community in America to support education and reduce crime. That also helps to raise property values, which is often the source of funding for education.

I won't comment on the notes, but will re-iterate that my recommendations/requests/wishlist are based on some very important principles that 1) we have arrived at over a long period of time; 2) are congruent with our way of looking at our communities, our attitude towards the children and families we are most concerned about, and 3) reflect a highly refined and very thin skin for even a dash, a whiff, or a soupcon of deficit judgment and of race/class/cultural bigotry. If you put the mix of metaphors in the blender, it's our 'valuing' stance.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

IDRA's (& My) Quality Schools Action Framework

IDRA’s Quality Schools Action Framework shows how we can strengthen public education for all students. The framework – or theory of change – is grounded in school reform research and practice. Developed by IDRA executive director Dr. María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel, it asserts that:
Coalition-building and community capacity-building are critical, though often neglected, change strategies in improving graduation rates.
One hundred percent graduation and preparation for success should be our goals for all children and the measure of our success.
While critical for students who are at immediate risk of dropping out, discrete dropout prevention programs cannot change the systems that give rise to risk in the first place.


Fair Funding – Availability of funds in a school district to support a quality educational program for all students.
Governance Efficacy – The capacity of administrative and supervisory personnel to deliver quality educational services to all students, along with the policymaking and pro-active support of a school board to hold on to every student.
Parent and Community Engagement – Creating partnerships based on respect and a shared goal of academic success and integrating parents and community members into the decisionmaking processes of the school.
Student Engagement – School environment and activities that value students and incorporate them into the learning process and other social activities within the school with academic achievement as a result.
Teaching Quality – The preparation of teachers and the placement of teachers in their fields of study. Teaching is informed by continual professional development. Also the practices that teachers use in the classroom to deliver comprehensible instruction that prepares all students to meet academic goals and ensures that no child is left behind or drops out of school.
Curriculum Quality and Access – The educational programs of study, materials and other learning resources such as technology and their accessibility to all students. Also relates to assessment and accountability – the school practices related to fair and unbiased assessment of students and degree that schools take responsibility for the academic success of all students.

Even though this blog is my personal statement, and I have a disclaimer about it in the side column, it's pretty hard to separate me from an organization that I've worked for since 1975 & for whom I'm a senior staff member. I've included the framework complete and unchanged from our organizational website because it is the foundation for my wishlist for the new and improved Elementary & Secondary Education Act, whatever it is labeled in the new iteration.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Plethora of Choice - Who's on First?

On Jan. 2 I posted Wish-list to Obama for Public Education -- Parents-Students-Teachers & Technology in Public Education I’ve gotten some responses in Linked In and some emails, and all are appreciated. I know that by posting my ‘Wish List’ I’m inviting others to respond with their druthers. Disagreement about the negative effects of No Child Left Behind in no way unifies the critiquing communities in consensus. We who consider ourselves on the progressive side of educational transformation have not reached consensus easily before and the exchanges will be energetic and acrimonious, again. Each group of stakeholders has offered their criticisms of the current law as can be seen in the list of proclamations, joint statements and recommendations.
Rather than give my personal statement of criticism of NCLB, I am suggesting some on-the-ground roles and projects. I decided to publish my requests because: A) I want to highlight particular programs, projects & roles that my experience has shown to have direct impact on school transformation and student achievement. B) If NCLB is modified rather than a completely developed from scratch, these ideas can easily included in existing sections of the law. and C) I wanted to illustrate to my readers the direction taken in our community work, our parent leadership in education experiences, and the inter-generational experiences that illustrate student leadership and community use of technology to hold schools accountable.My wish list is within the very specific arena of family leadership in public education; If the focus was teacher & teaching quality, it would be a different wish list. My wish list is also based on a set of Family Leadership in Education Principles championed by my organization and guide my work as director of the Texas IDRA Parent Information Resource Center.
If you read this and chose to respond, please take a moment tell me what you think of my recommendations, especially as you send me your list of priorities.
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