Want Better Schools? Get Parents Involved.

by Brian Glass

My first career was as a Junior High  School teacher in New York City. I taught in Brownsville Brooklyn (African-American), the South Bronx (Puerto Rican), and Astoria Queens (a mini U.N.). In all three schools there was no truancy problem, lack of a  desire to learn or major discipline problems. I never had to remove a student from my classroom! There were, however, common themes: good teachers, and administrators, parental involvement, and support, and, perhaps as a result, a desire to learn.

Before Brown V. Board of Education, education  was “separate” and certainly not “economically  equal.” Integration was considered a good idea. However, busing caused white flight, and the schools became re-segregated over time. Some African-American schools, such as Dunbar High School in Washington D.C., out shined their white counterparts. Its school building was old, but Dunbar was the highest-rated school in the District before integration. That’s no longer the case, even with the new, and very expensive, Dunbar High replacing the old.

So, now we have the City of Richmond seriously considering to re- integrate several schools with a new twist called “diversity.” This is the school district that spends more than 25% more money than the counties that surround it and is building three new schools as part of the answer to the continued problem of “separate but unequal.” I find it ironic that of the two best elementary schools in the city, Mary Munford Elementary is in a 68-year-old building and William Fox Elementary is in a building more than 100 years old. In the plan under consideration, African-American children would be bused to these ancient edifices.

The logistics and the overall cost of busing hasn’t been fully taken into account yet, nor has the city’s ability to find the additional bus drivers, which appear to be in short supply across the metro area. Also not considered is the loss of federal grant money steered to schools based on their minority status. Let’s remember that Richmond’s is the school system that always needs more money. Where will these funds come from?

Neither has the risk of another round of “white flight,” to the suburbs been factored in.

Finally, let’s say for argument’s sake that graduation rates and/or statewide test scores increase as a result of adding white students. Does that solve the problem of black student achievement? Is the school system saying that without the white students the situation will be even worse?

From my perspective the key to raising black student achievement is to get more parents involved. I saw the results first hand in NYC.

Brian Glass, a commercial real estate broker, lives in Henrico County.

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6 responses to “Want Better Schools? Get Parents Involved.

  1. Parents who have minimal/stunted educations and as a direct result do poorly in finding good paying jobs – have very different attitudes about the “worth” of education and are not near as dedicated to the idea that schools are opportunity for their kids. Some of them actually have their kids when they are barely out of school as they are not college-bound. Their lives are often chaotic and dysfunctional, and they just are not good parents.. They got problems and issues.

    During an entire school year, a teacher may never meet one of these parents much less “engage” them in helping their kids.

    The bigger problems in the schools are called “tracking”. It’s when they organize classes according to the current academic level of the students so those who are not are grade level are often grouped together while those who are at grade level or better or grouped likewise according to their academic levels.

    Intuitively that sounds reasonable but in reality, it dooms the kids in the low track classes because they will never be challenged with on-grade level material – and several years of that in elementary leads to failure in middle and high where they don’t track and those low kids end up in classes with material over their heads.

    Tracking also tends to put the best qualified teachers in the high classes and entry-level or mediocre teachers in the low classes.

    If you ask schools if they “track” they will deny it because it’s known to be harmful but in reality – that’s what happens albeit informally.

    For instance, you do not assign an entry-level teacher to a academically high-performing class and on a school basis – the higher performing teachers want to teach high performing students not the low performing ones for the same pay and a high risk of being blamed when that class does not reach grade level.

    How are engaging the parents going to fix this? It’s a nice idea that if you get the parents involved that they’ll motivate their kids but this is a do-gooder mentality… wishful thinking that is not the reality.

  2. If busing is bad for public schools – why would it be good for Charter schools ?

    Seems like as long as neighborhoods are segregated by income levels – you’re gonna have the problem of the schools in those neighborhoods essentially representative of the bifurcation of the neighborhoods, no?

  3. Brain. Good post! Peter

  4. “Is the school system saying that without the white students the situation will be even worse?”

    If that is the case, then what the school system is saying has been proven over and over again over the past 150 years to be totally false. Indeed, its been proven false for as long ago as the missionary academies set up by New England’s missionary teachers moving into and setting up schools in the South after the American Civil War to the Success Academies in New York today 150 years later (plus all the successful schools of color in between as mentioned in Brian’s post, for example).

    What is absolutely true is that all our schools, public and private, will fail miserable without the strong active involvement of parents in their children’s education. Without parents taking responsibility, every effort at school reform is a waste of other people’s time and money, a fool’s errand that enriches only a few educators running a failed system while they get rich doing it.

  5. Who needs parents when there are untaxed dollars in the economy and jobs for people with masters degrees in this, that and the other thing. How hard do schools make attempts to reach parents who haven’t been involved at all with their kid’s school?

  6. It seems to me you guys are all swinging for the fences. How about a few singles? It has been my experience, with school boards on the North Shore of Chicago, that most public school systems run their schools according to their bus schedule, and not vice versa. In so many cases, the buses are held up and take longer than necessary because school systems refuse to require the kids to walk any distance at all to collection points. That means that the buses make many more stops than necessary.

    In my neighborhood, I made an informal survey and locally tracked the time it takes to stop and load kids, starting from the time the bus’ brake lights go on and ending when the bus reaches full speed again after the stop. I did not take into account the time a bus departs from the main road into a cul-de-sac or side street, as it was much harder to measure. I found an average time of about a minute. In my neighborhood, I roughly calculated that at least four of five stops could be eliminated by requiring kids to walk a little further to collection points, a savings of four minutes, again without calculating the time slowing, turning, and driving into sidestreets. A fair but very conservative estimate of that time might be a total of three minutes for the four stops. At least one of the stops required that the bus stop, back up into a second side street and turn around to go in the opposite direction. On more than one occasion, the process was slowed by people walking their dogs, kids standing in the wrong place, or a substitute driver not knowing where to make the turn. In fairness, the bus drivers go like a bat out of hell in order to try to make up some of this time or to keep the extra time to a minimum, but of course that raises a whole host of other issues.

    I don’t know what the total time on each of these routes is, but let’s just say that five extra minutes for five stops instead of one is a fair estimate of the delay involved. Multiply that by the number of total stops on the route and you probably will save a bus trip or two from the school out and back.

    I don’t hear this talked about. Reason? It might inconvenience the parents and the poor little dears, resulting in the parents coming down on the school administration like a ton of bricks. Speaking of parent engagement, you won’t find parent engagement like you’ll find when parents are being inconvenienced. On the other side of that problem is the parent I see racing through my neighborhood chasing the bus with the license plate “uslyl8”. Just sayin’

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