Potemkin Scenes And Schools

This week’s School of Thought column at TIME is about school visits. This time of year a lot of parents are thinking about school choices for next year.  Yet schools have different degrees of transparency and openness for prospective (and current) parents.  Some are open and welcoming – more or less come anytime and just give us a heads-up. Others have very restrictive policies.  That should make parents suspicious.

For some ideas about expectations parents should have in terms of openness and some ideas about visits I asked a variety of experts for their views.  They uniformly favored openness for parents and thought restrictive policies were not only wrong but actualy counterproctve for public schools.  Today’s column features 10 of those views, from teachers, school administrators, and national leaders like Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, Harvard Ed School Dean Kathleen McCartney, and former National Superintendent of the Year Carol Peck:

Across the country, many parents are anxiously making decisions about where to send their kids to school next year. Unfortunately, it’s still often easier to get information about a car, restaurant, or household appliance than about a school. Complicating matters, some schools, including some public schools, have highly restrictive policies about when parents can visit, what they can see, and even who they can talk to inside the school.

My job gives me the privilege of visiting a lot of schools every year and I’m always leery of any school that doesn’t offer full access. You’re just not going to learn much on a group tour where you don’t interact with the kids. But schools have an obligation to minimize disruption and keep students safe, so it’s understandable that they can’t just fling open their doors in the same way that a state capitol or public library can…

Read what the experts have to say and the entire column here.

Update: Here’s a great response from Marty Whitlow, a highly sought-after kindergarten teacher in Virginia (and wife of one-half of musical act Scuffletown):

Knowing that kindergarten was a major decision point for parents, we were always accommodating to those who wanted to visit our classrooms to observe our educational programs and teaching. We would structure visits so they could see first hand our teachers in action. They also had the opportunity to contact teachers to discuss their observations and address their questions. We also always had a Spring parent information meeting to discuss curriculum, schedules and educational approaches. In addition, future kindergarten students were invited in to tour classroom to spend several hours to help alleviate concerns for both the children and parents.

3 thoughts on “Potemkin Scenes And Schools

  1. Carol Lloyd

    I wonder what sort of responses you’d get if you only polled teachers. I love that there’s a growing expectation to have an open door policy in schools especially around school visits but it’s still very much a choice by schools (and sometime individual teachers) and not a norm. As a mother whose just been touring middle schools and as an editor who is supposed to provide parents with the tools to make informed decisions around their children’s educations, I was stunned when I toured a local middle school with a tour guide who seems only too happy to point to the closed doors of various teachers and explain “this is 6th grade math” — with all the other parents nodding as if this really helped us understand anything. I had to be the squeaky wheel — but the guide responded as if I’d asked for something truly outrageous. We peaked into a couple of classrooms for 30 seconds and were hustled on to see the empty gym.

  2. David KC

    My job gives me the privilege of visiting a lot of schools every year and I’m always leery of any school that doesn’t offer full access. You’re just not going to learn much on a group tour where you don’t interact with the kids. But schools have an obligation to minimize disruption and keep students safe, so it’s understandable that they can’t just fling open their doors in the same way that a state capitol or public library can…

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