Low-Hanging Fruit: Three Things To Do Before We Say We’re Doing All We Can…

Hang around the education debates long enough and you’ll hear many times that schools are basically doing all they can to meet the needs of students, especially high-poverty students, so we should ease up on the pressure to do more.  I don’t think that’s the case and you see a lot of variance in how well schools do with similar students.

In that spirit, here are three examples of ideas, some more more substantial than others – happening in some places but far from commonplace – that we could do to reach more students and families.  It’s hardly an exhaustive list but it makes the point.

24-hour school: Many of our cities, and not just Las Vegas and New York, are 24-hour towns these days. Yet other than night school we still don’t engage students or parents that are on a 24-hour schedule.  It would be absurd to make every school a 24-hour option but providing that option in places where many older students are, especially those who have left school, are working alternative schedules would help reach kids who are disconnected today.  They are doing this in Vegas. And in this case what happens in Vegas, shouldn’t stay there.

Back-to-school day: I recently heard a school superintendent, a generally progressive guy concerned about equity, congratulating all the parents taking part in a “Back-to-School Night” style event in his community for being the kind of involved parents the school system needs to be successful.  Problem was, the event was at 8pm and a not-small proportion of parents in that community were beginning their work days around that time, not wrapping them up.   Back to School nights are an evergreen feature of our schools, and necessary for many parents who work a traditional 9-5 schedule. But for many parents, and not just those working nights, a chance to visit during the day would make school engagement more accessible. If we were really serious about meeting more parents where they are, “Back to School Days” (in addition to ‘back to school nights’) would be a lot more common than they are.  And even easier thing to jettison would be policies that limit parent-teacher conferences to just a few minutes in some places.

Responding to parents: One thing that’s pretty common at high-performing schools is some expectation, guidance, or even requirements about how quickly  teachers and other staff should respond to parental inquiries (and student emails). At other schools, even plenty of good ones, emails languish for days without even an acknowledgement. And like long lines at the DMV it’s one of those little things that really aggravates people and subtly turns them off.  At In-N-Out Burger they make a point of reminding everyone on the team that they are there thanks to the customers – and that’s a burger joint!  A little more of that ethos with regard to students, parents, and taxpayers is key to the long-term success of publicly funded education. Right now, any school or school district that doesn’t have clear expectations on fast-turnaround for emails and calls is leaving an easy and important one on the table.

Other ideas?

8 Replies to “Low-Hanging Fruit: Three Things To Do Before We Say We’re Doing All We Can…”

  1. Amen on the parent communication piece. The default — with a median of what, 30 minutes per year of direct conversation b/w teacher and parent? — is crazy.

    If Catholic schools simply made this the centerpiece of their elementary schools — every parent gets a monthly 30 minute phone conversation, and unlimited check-in calls — they could get a 50% enrollment bump. “Catholic Schools: The best at communicating with parents” is a winner.

    I suggested this to the folks at our local Archdiocese, and some folks busy reinventing Catholic School education so it could, you know, survive.

    It would be hard to overstate how bad they thought this idea was.

  2. Totally agree on the parent responsiveness piece. I would go a step further and say that all schools should adopt a program that support teachers in sharing understandable student data and strategies for at-home learning with parents.

  3. I enjoyed reading this article. I don’t think that any blame should be placed on teachers for lack of communication, lack of accommodation for working parents or lack of providing materials for 24 hour learning. I have worked in 5 schools where all of these things were taking place and there was always less than 1% parental involvement in any type of activities at the school. If parents want to communicate with teachers and there is none being reciprocated, then come up to the school to see the teacher and Principal so that it can be resolved. If parents want to participate in programs, volunteer at the school anytime you have a free moment and ask the people in charge how to make it happen. If parents want more learning, come to the school to speak with the administrators and teachers about it. The school doors are always open but many people want the school to make the effort in bridging the gap. What about those parents who don’t work and still don’t participate, regardless of the time programs are being held? How can we solve that problem? The teachers at my school get to see most of their parents by confiscating cell phones being used during classroom time. It never fails that the parent will be there before the start of the next school day. These type of schools and parent behaviors are a lot more common than you think. Everyone involved in a child’s life needs to share in the responsibility of educating the child. Thanks.

  4. The, “We’re doing everything we can!” cry is extremely frustrating to me. Thanks for discussing it! What if, as a way to be responsive to parents, school start/end times were aligned more closely with common work days? Of course, parents work a variety of shifts, but who works from 9 am -3 pm? Being a supportive, involved parent is a nightmare when you need to figure out how to arrange an after school option for an elementary student — let alone a middle school student! The education world talks about extended learning time from an academic standpoint. I wonder if there’d be more traction for an extended day with legislatures and communities more broadly if there was an acknowledgement that it serves many, many different purposes and goals.

  5. Parent involvement is always an issue, and not just in urban schools. I teach in a rural, low income area and we have used activities as simple as spaghetti dinners prior to conferences to try to get involvement. Whatever we do, I agree that we often say we’ve done “everything” when we really just need to look at it from a different angle.

  6. We can all do more to help our children succeed. We need to stop blaming others for the failures of our students. We can all volunteer, attend workshops, attend professional development training, take our kids to tutors, read on current events, and arm ourselves with the things that we need to help our students more. Let’s all take a vow to do these things and keep the lines of communication open and going strong.

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