Tuesday, February 24, 2009

"Schools: a community enterprise" Says PPS Doug Wells

(Doug Wells is a fellow national board member for Parents for Public Schools. He just wrote this great OpEd piece for the Oregonian)
by Doug Wells, guest opinion
Friday February 20, 2009, 9:55 AM
It is with great sadness that I read "Facing the failures of public education" by Leslie Spencer. Spencer's rhetoric makes it appear that our public schools are on the brink of failure, that we are failing our children, and that the only reasonable solution is to offer vouchers. She supports her arguments with survey data that she claims is unbiased and balanced.

But upon closer inspection, it becomes painfully apparent that the research was entirely funded by like-minded, pro-voucher institutions, the most prominent of which is the Friedman Foundation for Educational Excellence (founded by conservative economist Milton Friedman, the self-proclaimed founder of the voucher movement).

In sharp contrast to the numbers cited by Spencer, the research firm of Davis, Hibbitts, & Midghall recently conducted a survey of Portlanders about the state of our public schools. Their findings show that we strongly support our public schools and the direction they are taking.

As is true in most cities, a high majority of the survey participants were taxpayers without children in schools -- mirroring our population -- yet they showed a commitment to our kids and schools and do in fact see funding as one of the major obstacles facing our public education system.

I'm sure an opinion survey can be found to support almost every point ofview, so I won't continue to dwell on the statistics. But here is the bottom line: In our country, high-quality public education is not a privilege, but an expectation, and our community has an obligation to provide high-quality education for every child. Vouchers are a quick fix for some, but they are inherently inadequate because we need long-term solutions for all children.

Community & Parents for Public Schools of Portland, a chapter of Parents for Public Schools, is not naive about the state of our schools. We are in the deteriorating buildings and overcrowded classrooms every single day.
The incredible schools, of which there are many, fuel our optimism; the bad schools fuel our tenacity and persistence.

We believe that as parents, citizens and owners of our public schools, we must take responsibility for addressing the toughest and most persistent problems facing our kids, schools and communities. We believe that public education should be a community enterprise. A community must not abandon its public schools and children in their time of greatest need.

Following the same logic, poorly performing schools must not be tolerated, period. We believe that we must unite to find solutions that work for all of our kids. This sets us apart from voucher supporters, who know that the "school choice" they clamor for cannot guarantee a good education for every child. In order to give all our children equal access to high-quality education, we must concentrate on fixing the schools that we already have. We must push for greater accountability, because if excellent schools can be provided for some students, they can be provided for all students.

When families, schools and communities work together, children succeed, and our communities grow and prosper. Together, we can make a difference.

I will also close with President Barack Obama's words from the presidential debates. "Where we disagree is on the idea that we can somehow give out vouchers as a way of securing the problems in our education system. If Senator McCain were to say that vouchers are the way to go, I disagree with him on this because the data doesn't show that it actually solves the problem."

Let's hope that Obama's words continue to shape our debate on education policy, both nationally and locally.

Doug Wells of Southeast Portland is president of Community & Parents for Public Schools.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Family Friendly Principal

IDRA recently outlined its principles for family leadership in education that have been basis of our work with families, schools and community. As the lead for parent involvement these principals are very much also mine. A school principal that models and carries out these principles creates a family-friendly school we would want to document, spot-light and promulgate as a laudable and replicable example. These principles are broad statements with multiple ways of carrying them out. The actions and behaviors are measured organically and holistically by the results with children, families, staff and teachers. There is no singular template or a singular management style for achieving a family friendly school. I can nevertheless point to the campus leader who has been critical to fostering that wonderful result.

The principles applied to principals

1. Families can be their children’s strongest advocates.
Our first premise draws on the potential that all families have in speaking for, defending and supporting their children. The concept of parents as advocates has been difficult to capture in the research and literature, especially connecting it to student achievement. It is key to our vision. The principal holding this premise does not have an unreal, romanticized view of the reality of our families. She/he does not ignore that there are dysfunctional families in all classes, races and communities. Nevertheless, her/his view of families is that each must be approached with respect and high expectations.

2. Families of different races, ethnicity, language and class are equally valuable. Each group has assets, traditions and a language that is worthy of respect. The principal’s experience has shown that when this principle is present and evident in the outreach and work done with families, there is a marked increase in the amount and quality of families’ engagement with their children’s schools and education.

3. Families care about their children’s education and are to be treated with respect, dignity and value. The principal is aware that every major survey conducted in the Latino community has placed education as the number one issue of concern or very close to the top. Surveys, interviews and conversations with parents of all races, classes and national origin have reinforced this almost universal concern that families have for their children’s education and the desire to be treated with respect. She/he acts on this knowledge.

4. Within families, many individuals play a role in children’s education. The principal acknowledges, accepts and respects whoever the key caretakers of children beyond the genetic parents. The combination of all who live within a home are important influences on children and the principal attests that they can be a collective force for creating excellent schools.

5. Family leadership is most powerful at improving education for all children when collective efforts create solutions for the common good. The family friendly principal looks beyond the individualistic, charismatic leader model, agreeing that the lone leader focus it is too narrow and does not sustain communities, families and excellent schools over time. As wonderful as the neighborhood mom in sneakers haranguing the school board about a serious concern is, the principal knows that our neighborhood schools need a network of families, co-supporting and co-creating action that improves schools. She/he realizes that our neighborhoods need a network of families who continue to support their neighborhood schools as each generation of children flows through them. The family friendly principal welcomes collective efforts that are nourished by the rich & deep democratic roots and sustained with peer compassion among families. She/he acknowledges that child rearing is a difficult and isolating responsibility, so she/he facilitates cooperation and revolving spokespersons so that when there is individual burnout, others from the network keep up the good effort.

6. Families, schools and communities, when drawn together, become a strong, sustainable voice to protect the rights of all children.
The family friendly principal accepts that schools must be transformed; that for positive change to be lasting in the school requires internal and external leadership; that when the internal suasion of the principal coupled with the external support and strength of the parents, there is solid foundation for the innovation to be sustained. The principal truly believes and practices the expectation that with her/his leadership from within the school in welcoming collaboration and enthusiastic connection with families and with the broader community from without, all together can achieve the cherished dream – excellent schools for all children.