Monthly Archive for January, 2007

Education Reform Efforts

[Always willing to influence the cause of parent involvement, I keep writing briefs when the opportunity arises. Hoping it's not a lost cause, my latest brief was in 1999.]

Brief to The Independent Commission on Public Involvement in Vancouver School Affairs

Dr. Norman Robinson, Commissioner

By Tunya Audain

September 30, 1999

Overview

My 35 years' experience with school system tells me that parents are largely excluded, systematically and deliberately, from both the institution of education and the decisions that affect their own child(ren). This should not be, because not only do parents have a duty and right to be involved, it is demonstrable educational malpractice to exclude parents. Government education systems in many countries have usurped parental duty and replaced it with systems that are then acting in loco parentis (in the place of parents). Both children and families are damaged. Educational mandates are seriously diminished.

School acts generally state it is the parents who are responsible to see that their children are educated. The culprits in this exclusion are the current 'stakeholders' in the system: faculties of education, teacher and employee unions, superintendents, boards of school trustees, and ministries of education. Parent Advisory Councils, where they do exist, are likely token and fund-raising machines.

These stakeholders have such a vice-grip, political and powerful, so that parents' only option if they wish a voice in the education of their children is to choose a private school or home study. These special interests should be seen for what they are: part of the system, yes, but often self-serving with tremendous power and buildup of information and techniques to exclude others who might interfere with their present cozy arrangements. Parents are more often seen as a nuisance or convenient yes-people rather than partners in the educational enterprise.

This brief will concentrate on ways in which parents should be placed at the forefront of educational decision-making. Colonial attitudes and in loco parentis policies and practices should be replaced by sincere efforts to accept the research and the genuine desires of parents to become central in the educational enterprise.

Much of my active involvement in education has been in the Vancouver school system and unresponsiveness has been a long-standing problem in the Vancouver system. However, it must be noted that unresponsiveness of the kind I will be describing is typical in most Canadian jurisdictions.

Background I started taking child development courses at UBC when I became pregnant with my first child. I received a teacher education certificate from Ottawa Teachers College and then spent 6 month in Mexico in 1971-72 at Ivan Illich's institute, studying and learning from educators John Holt, Edgar Friedenberg, etc. This was the time that education systems were heavily under attack for unresponsiveness and irrelevancy. The deschooling movement was popular.

This was also the time Dr. Laurence Peter wrote his famous book, The Peter Principle, 1969, based on his experiences in the Vancouver school system. 'In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.'

When our children were of school age, we chose an open education school, Charles Dickens Annex in Vancouver. This proved to be misplaced faith in the innovation as a VSB research report showed that achievement was behind expectations and behind other schools.

I joined an activist parent group, CARE (Citizen Action to Reform Education), which aimed to move VSB to greater awareness and responsiveness to parents. Our efforts were tokenized and rebuffed. The Chairman of the Board told us that if we wanted a hearing we should stage a dinner, (like the teacher unions), and they would come and listen!

At this time a new school board was elected on platforms to pursue greater parent and public responsiveness and Dan Lupini was appointed superintendent. He came from Montreal with supposedly strong credentials regarding parent involvement. Though intentions seemed good, there were no improvements. The status quo socialized these reform efforts to continue to keep parents and public out.

Newspapers and public were concerned about reading and writing and the Board agreed to have public hearings on the matter. The chairman of VESTA wrote a letter opposing parent representative on the commission, but the reps remained. I was one of them.

Many parents and public made heartfelt submissions about unresponsiveness, poor attention to the basics, etc. This whole effort was soon hijacked by the school board officials and made into a cause celebre regarding ESL. From then on, agendas of the board were dominated by submissions to Ottawa for relief and the subject of the commission, reading and writing, was ignored.

We moved to West Vancouver to a more structured school and after some remedial reading practices, my daughters were doing well in school.

I continued my relationship with parent groups in the province and founded the Gifted Children's Association and spent many years pioneering the home education movement in Canada. I was also secretary of the Coalition for the Education of All whose concerns were with children with disabilities in schools. Much of my efforts were channeled through the vehicle of Education Advisory, a service that I provided.

I have read extensively in the field of parent involvement, educational responsiveness and accountability, etc. I feel we have a long way to go to satisfy parents' legitimate claims and longings to be part of the education of their children. Furthermore, I feel that education systems that ignore parents are practicing educational malpractice and defying the research in child and family development and educational achievement.

Parents should not be going cap-in-hand asking for parent participation. Nor should they be forced to advocate or lobby, or need to take activist courses and measures to get their point across. Their participation should become an unquestioned norm.

For me, now a grandmother and with minimal involvement presently, this issue is unfinished business. I have been very involved on many levels for many years and am still disappointed that education systems continue to rebuff parents.

I hope this commission can begin to address some of these concerns in a hard-hitting and honest way.

  1. System Self-interest Should be Replaced by Responsiveness Structures.

The whole interconnecting system needs examination as to how self-interest intrudes or interferes with responsiveness to clients.

  1. Teacher training: textbooks, lectures, research, etc., bares examination as to how seriously responsiveness is taken. James Coleman many years ago found that efficacious parents generally produce efficacious children and subsequent research support this. Why then does the system make parents feel inadequate? Parent empowerment through education participation should be part of the curriculum in teacher training.
  2. Education associations of superintendents, principals, etc., should also see parent participation as part of the mandate of educational decision-making.
  3. Teacher unions and employee unions should be restricted to employee work conditions, etc., and removed from curricular and administrative decisions.
  4. School boards should have some credibility. Private school boards have the ultimate credibility: one board per school, made up of parents, voluntary, who have power to hire and fire. At present, VSB board members who are non-parents, are paid well, often long-term and entrenched, and whose hands are tied in firing incompetent staff and teachers.
  5. Ministry of Education should support parent participation in decision-making by firstly, offering more choices to parents. School accreditation should have strong parent involvement. School scores should be widely published. Parent Advisory Councils should become the the board of trustees for each school, rather then having system-wide school boards with more than 100 schools to manage!
  1. Political Agendas Should be Challenged and Eliminated.

The education mission and mandate should have no place for political agendas. As it stands now there is a virtual monopoly on education by the state. As it is wrong to impose a national religion on citizenry, so it is wrong to impose an ideology on system-wide schools.

  1. There is a historical relationship between unions and Marxism. Teacher unions in particular have this reputation. This relationship needs to be recognized as to how it impedes decision-making, imposes collectivist social engineering agendas on curriculum and practice, and excludes parents from education of their children. The recognition of political agendas is now incorporated in training in criminology and law. (See references) and should also becomes part of the literature in teacher training and public knowledge.
  2. School Board elections at large should be abolished and certainly political candidates such as TEAM, NPA, COPE, etc. Each school should have its own board of parents, voluntary and non-paid, with power to hire and fire. These individual boards should have curricular decision-making power so that if the parents of that school choose to have a Marxist school or traditional school, etc., they can.
  3. There should be transparency and accountability in school affaire. Public money raised for education should be totally justified as going to educational needs. Bloated bureaucracies, trustee trips, expensive public relations, costly legal expenses, etc., should not be part of educational spending. As it is now, small 'p' politics is at play. As long as things are not open, one sector can do unnecessary spending as long as they don’t blow the whistle on another sector.

To defy good practice and especially to defy proven research is to court malpractice charges. Is it not criminal to retard children's education achievements or diminish family strengths if it can be shown that present school practices do so?

  1. Defiance of Research Should be Strongly Challenged and Rectified.

Research has been around for a long time to support certain educational practices but whish are constantly being ignored and defied. The negative effect on school achievement, family formation, and society does a grave disservice to Canada.

  1. New research has just come out from Statistics Canada that there is a serious mismatch between parent expectation for their children in education and the expectations of teachers. We have known since the 60's about the strong motivational influence of expectations on school performance (Rosenthal, Pygmalion in the Classroom, Teacher Expectation and Pupils' Intellectual Development, 1968). (See Globe and Mail article, Aug. ll, 1999 attached). All teachers should have high expectations for all children.
  2. Research on the connection between parent participation and school achievement should become understood, enacted and applied.
  1. Malpractice Should Become a Constant Consideration in Education.

To defy good practice and especially to defy proven research is to court malpractice charges. Is it not criminal to retard children's education achievements or diminish family strengths if it can be shown that present school practices do so?

  1. Firstly and foremost, how exclusion of parents from their duty in education disempowers them and damages families should be examined. Many parents testify as to how they are browbeaten and made to feel inadequate in schools. Parents need more than staged involvement. Principals should stop saying they deplore parental drop-outs (!) from school because it is the gradual discouragement of parents in early years which causes them to be hesitant about later involvement.
  2. The restrictions that prevent close parent-teacher relationships should be examined and corrected. Many teachers say they would like closer relationships and collaboration but are prevented due to system obstacles and fear.

References

  1. Leary, James, Educators on Trial, the Identification and Prevention of Classroom Malpractice, 1981, Action Inservice, Farmington, Mich
  2. Siegel, McCormick, Criminology in Canada, 1999, International Thompson Pub., Scarborough, Ont. (See sections on Marxist criminology theories)
  3. DeKeserdey, Schwart, Contemporary Criminology, 1996, Wadsworth Publishing Co (See Marxist perspectives on law)
  4. Lieberman, Myron, The Teacher Unions, how the NEA and AFT Sabotage Reform and Hold Students, Parents, Teachers, and Taxpayers Hostage to Bureaucracy, Free Press (Div of Simon and Schuster) NY, 1999

Promise of Parent Involvement in the 70’s

Promise of Parent Involvement in the 70’s

As I continue to paint the picture of public school parents in the 70’s you might begin to see why some of us were so frustrated and felt betrayed by an unfeeling system which denied meaningful parent involvement (not fund-raising). We wanted the best for our children but were treated as nuisances and troublemakers.

People in general believed that publicly elected school trustees were the representatives of parents but we continually heard them say:

“We are the voice of the community. Parents are only one constituency we have to deal with.”

“If you want us to listen to your group of parents, put on a dinner for us, like the teacher unions do.”

“I actually see our role as protecting the system from parents.”

But we also saw that some trustees were teachers or ex-teachers or union representatives or ex-union representatives. Wasn’t this conflict of interest?

Meanwhile, a few people did understand our cause. Even a few educators felt that to exclude parents was to interfere with the best interests of children. We heard about the Coleman report which stressed the need for parent involvement. One important point James Coleman made was that efficacious parents produced efficacious children, inferring that making parents feel inadequate reduced their feelings of competency. (How often do you hear of parents leaving a school or school board meeting feeling crushed and defeated? Or, left with the promise: “Leave it to us”, rather than an offer of co-operation or being treated like a partner.)

In l975 the Vancouver Sun produced several feature articles

THE LITTLE DEAD SCHOOLHOUSE: A REPORT ON EDUCATION
Robert Stamp, Professor of Education, University of Calgary had published the book “About Schools: What Every Canadian Parent Should Know” and we were elated that perhaps this sane voice would have an effect on the powers that be. That those institutions that seemed unfeeling to our pleas would be persuaded: teacher training faculties, school boards, administrators, legislators, teacher groups and teacher unions.

However, I did not see much movement to genuinely welcome parents into the public school system during my children’s school years.

Are things different now? 32 years later?

I now quote extensively from the Sun article, (Weekend Magazine, Sept. 6, 1975).

In the article Robert Stamp says:

“In 1970, I went out on a limb and predicted that ‘parent power may become the dominant focus of school debate in the coming decade.’…How will the schools regard this new generation of parents—as potential allies or harmful adversaries?

…Is it possible to formulate a list of ‘parents’ rights’ in education?

· The right to be recognized as an important partner in the child’s learning experience must be considered first…

· Next, comes the right to be treated courteously by school personnel…

· Parents must be informed about the school’s health and medical regulations and requirements, behavior standards…

· And there must be the right of full access to the child’s cumulative record file.

· Parents must also possess the right to contribute ideas and suggestions on school policies and procedures…

· Machinery must exist so parents and students may choose teachers within a school, schools within a system, and even among competing systems. Parents, along with teachers and students, must also have the right to propose and initiate alternative or experimental schools of their own.

…Even given the most open feeling on the part of today’s schools, many parents remain apathetic because they feel their efforts will go for naught, that the whole exercise will eventually result in tokenism. Parents want to be reassured that their effort will be genuinely helpful….

…This is where school principals have a key role to play. Strong community involvement creates a host of new managerial challenges for principals…

…Unfortunately in the past, principals weren’t prepared for these kinds of challenges. School-community relations were missing from their training programs and of little consideration in their selection as administrators…

…The classroom is the level of most intensive parental concern—“What’s happening to my child?” This is the level where parent voices can be heard most effectively. This is the level that provides the best opportunities for personal dialogue between parents and educators.

[32 years later, how is it? TA]

On record in the Legislature

[This was published in Hansard, Aug. 17, 1983 (24 yrs ago) when the Social Credit government was introducing Bill 6, Education Finance Amendment Act dealing with tighter controls over school board spending.]
MR. PARKS: I think the people of British Columbia are beginning to understand what the opposition in their protracted debates, not only on Bill 6 but on the entire legislative package . . . .

This morning there appeared – it was quite timely, I should note – a letter to the editor. Since I’ve seen members of the opposition grope for support for their position, referring to letters to the editor, I would suggest there is a balance in those columns. I would note that this letter, in my opinion, accurately reflects the opinion of the majority of the people in this province. As I said, in this morning’s Province the following letter to the editor appeared:

Crawford Killian, Province education writer, complains that government actions are brutal measures ‘against teachers, administrators and trustees.’ Apologists for the system like Killian often miss the point of education. It’s for children, not the convenience of teachers, administrators or trustees.”

I’m sure that comment is shared by the vast majority of British Columbians. The author goes on:

[ Page 897 ]

I am fed up with educators and their apologists who always complain about teacher jobs and lack of taxing control when the prime concern should be whether the needs of children will be served. If more parents were allowed in decision-making, you can be sure children’s needs would come first!

If we come down to rock bottom, we don’t necessarily need teachers nor masses of money for education to happen. But we will always need good models and mentors for our children. Parents concerned that the public schools will be a battleground this fall are already asking questions about alternatives, such as vouchers, home education, computers and private schools.”

I find it most disconcerting that parents are thinking about the necessity of considering alternatives to our public school system. We have, in my opinion, one of the finest public school systems in this country, if not in the Western world. The only thing that a measure like Bill 6 can bring about is a further improvement of that public school system. The author concludes:

Our present government school system has been steadily, over a decade, losing public confidence and credibility, and until we can institute some strong measures of public accountability, I predict this disaffection will continue to grow.”

That’s from one Tunya Audain of West Vancouver. I think that is a fine example of what is happening in our province. Rather than listen to the negativism – worrying about teachers and teacher-pupil ratios – it’s time to remember that we are coming through some very tough economic times.

Brief on Reform 1985

[TO READERS: Is this 1985 brief (25 yrs ago) still relevant in 2007? Please comment]
Brief to West Vancouver District Review Committee on B.C. Education

Tunya Audain, 85/02/26

I’ve been involved with education systems for about 20 years, having taken my first Education Course at UBC when I was pregnant with my first child, now 19. I’ve taken an active interest since then, and have found the education system increasingly becoming unsuitable for today’s needs of our children, families and society.

The education system is now becoming unglued, and deservedly so. It is a dinosaur that is cracking from within. To throw more money at it (without basic structural changes) is to throw good money after bad. To give the system any more time to reform is unthinkable because the “writing” has been on the walls for years, and it has been unable to retool: there is no motivation when there is a captive audience of 95% school-aged population in the public school system. For the public to waste time trying to change the system is also a waste of their time. Veterans like myself have spent countless hours with no results.

Instead of spending time trying to reform an unresponsive school system, many parents I know are now forming small schools, working harder to afford private schools, or are educating their children at home. This is a more productive use of their time and energy and psychic goodwill.

We have had criticism of the schools for over 30 years, and it’s been just like water off a duck’s back. In the 70’s Nat Hentoff called the public education system the biggest consumer fraud yet. I agree, and it remains for some economists to prove this. There is a branch of economics called Welfare Economics, and they deal with such matters as the public good with relation to health, education and other public services. They deal with such concepts as: choice, taste, preference, diffusion of new technologies and information, waste, and so on. They even consider such questions as relate to Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, the basic principles of democracy. It will be important for them to consider such questions as:

1. How much efficiency is there in a centralized, monolithic, monopolistic, bureaucratic education aptem?

2. How much damage has been done to families because their role in the education of their children has been usurped from them? Many families feel helpless and disempowered in dealing with their schools. Whereas the legal responsibility for education of children resides in the parents with the schools as back-up system, we have been made to feel that the schools must have the children for that task.

3. How much damage is there to the education system because the natural advocates of children’s rights have not had a prominent role in education? What damage is there to relevance, use of new information and techniques, and so on?

4. Can one calculate the damage to children and society when children who are learning disabled and become juvenile delinquents because of inappropriate education? There is an estimate that 85% of juvenile delinquents In the criminal justice system exhibit poor self-concept, poor reading skills and various learning disabilities unattended to.

5. What is the value of teacher training, when so many feel inadequately prepared to teach? Usually, only a quarter feel adequate to the job. What further loss to our children and communities is suffered because teachers are not trained in parent and community relations so that they can work in partnership.?

6. What value is there in retention of school boards, which over the last 20 years have increasingly been reluctant to prove that children under their care are achieving as well as they should, who fall to remove incompetent teachers and administrators, and who rely unduly on the advice from their staffs with little consultation with their constituency? Who have become unduly entangled and intimidated by teacher unions?

7. What waste of effort and money accrues when the system excludes public scrutiny because it has become the preserve of the educational establishment which makes decisions according to self-interest and their views of social engineering?

More such questions need to be posed for some discussion of cost-benefits, etc.

Meanwhile, in relation to the task at hand, that is, review of the system to relate to a new school act, I would recommend:

1. Parents should be in a central role in their schools. There should be school-based management so that parents are involved in the decision-making: the programs. staffing, evaluation, etc.

2. There should be many more options for parents, within the public education system and there should be provision for creation of more options outside.

3. We must reject the term “schooling” as being inappropriate for what we want from the education system. Parents do not send their children to schools to be schooled.

4. Bring in vouchers as a scheme by which parents can shop for the school or educational setting of their choice. Of course, it will be an accountable, responsible system of gaining for children their entitlements to education.

5. Stricter standards of accountability are required. Attention must be spent on the minimum essentials for all children. Professionals must be accountable resource managers. There must be more proof of achievement for money spent.

6. School boards should be diminished in their role in education in favour of the schools being the accountable agency.

7. Sec. 35, (7) of the Ombudsman Act should be proclaimed so that parents can take any grievances they have about education to the schools and school boards, where most the problem-solving should oocur anyway, not diverted away to Victorla

8. There should be a shift from measuring the process and inputs measured. that is. capital and labour expenses (teachers, buildings, books, etc) to measuring the product or results. Thereby, we focus much more on the learning, the consumer-intensive activity (which, by the way, helps harness the parents a lot more too) and brings education back to where it belongs, on behalf of the child, not the preservation of a system which has grown outdated, inbred, inept and unaccountable.

The new times that are ahead of us cannot abide the ponderous industrial model of educational “delivery” and demands a lot more options, more inventiveness, more use of the technologies around us and much more joy in the learning process. For that we need parents, teachers and children who are unencumbered by the system as is.

To do less is to continue to betray our children and the future.

Overcoming Resistance to Parent Involvement

[TO READERS: Is this 1979 (28 yrs ago) article still relevant in 2007? Please comment. TA]

1979, Education Advisory #9

OVERCOMING RESISTANCE TO PARENT INVOLVEMENT

Two recent surveys of secondary school principals noted that one of the greatest frustrations was: “parent lack of interest in their children’s progress and their lack of involvement with the school”.

While it is heart-warming to know that secondary principals place such a high importance on parent involvement it is very disappointing that principals as a whole do very little to overcome this gap. They have the knowledge, the resources, and now, if the survey is to be believed, the interest to do something about it. Why don’t they?

If Education Advisory mail can provide any clue to this paradox, it would indicate that principals are, in reality, very resistant to genuine parent involvement. The classic frustration echoed in letter after letter from parents and parent groups is: “How can we get the principal beyond the fund-raising, tea-and-cookies image of parents?” By the time parents reach high school, no one should be surprised that parents have become turned-off from that kind of “parent involvement”.

The onus is really on the school to provide the substantive and suitable opportunities for parents to be involved, and then, even fathers will take an interest. In Vancouver where School Consultative Comittees are mandated, half the chairpersons are fathers

1. Work on filling the vacuum in this area. Most people on the street believe that parents have a close relationship with their schools. Little do they know.

  • Ask legislators to speak out for parent involvment. Earlier this year the Saskatchewan Minister of Education told the principals’ association:
    • The legislators of this province are telling you that they want the parents of Saskatchewan back on the teaching team. If we want education to work we need those parents back on the team, to reinforce the educational process at home, to encourage readership and supporting practices, to appreciate what the investment in education really means, and to help young minds adapt to to social change, and, like it or not to tell us how they want us to do all these things.”
  • Support from the highest levels is very important. Principals who are doing genuine parent involvement tell us that this framework of support from above is important if they are not to succumb to charges from their peers of “insubordination” and “breaking rank”.
  • Get your school board to put down in writing that it supports parent involvement in each school, that it will encourage principals and staffs and parents to work together, and that , it will provide incentives for this to happen (workshops, materials, etc.).
  • Write to education faculties and in-service training institutions and suggest that they provide the theory, skill training, attitude development, and actual experiences with real parents for principals, teachers, counsellors, and school secretaries. A must textbook should be Parent Conferences in the School: Procedures for Developling Effective Partnership bv Dr. S. Losen and Dr B. Diament, Allyn and Bacon Pub. 1978. It helps teachers be effective in parent-teacher relationships and deal with parents on a co-equal basis.
  • Ask commmunity agencies that value the family to get behind the promotion of good school-home relations (churches, voter associations, family agencies, mental health groups, etc.)

2. Work at your school level to change attitudes and resistance. Don’t let resistance prevent the formation of parent groups.

  • Organize a parent group anyway, with or without principal help. Remember, many parent groups meet independently, then meet with the principal later.
  • Invite a trustee, superintendent or parent chairman from another school to your meeting.
  • Start a project that will help the school, a handbook for example, that no principal can consider threatening.
  • Remember, a small parent group of quality is far better than a large group of domesticated “Yes-men”.
  • Set up a liaison with the principal, say two parents, who will make it a point to talk with the principal regularly about the parent group and the views of parents.
  • Get some teachers interested so that they can convey the message to other teachers and help develop trust in the process.
  • Tell all the parents, through a newsletter, that you have established a parent group. Ask for their views, suggestions, priorities, and involvement.