Archive for the 'Parent Involvement in Schools' Category

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First School Laws in North America

At the National Conference on Parent Involvement in 1976 in San Anselmo, California we all received a bookmark in our kits with the following inscription:

The First School Laws in America (Massachusetts, 1642) embodied all the basic principles which underlie the American School System today. These are:

  1. Universal education of youth is essential to the well-being of the State.
  2. The obligation to furnish this education rests primarily upon the parents.
  3. The State has a right to enforce this obligation.
  4. The State may fix a standard which shall determine the kind of education, and the minimum amount.
  5. Public money, raised by a general tax, may be used to provide such education as the State requires. The tax may be general although the school attendance is not.
  6. Education higher than the rudiments may be supplied by the State. Opportunity must be provided at public expense for youths to be fitted for the university.

 

Implement the Rhetoric of Parent Involvement!

Implement the Rhetoric” was the rallying cry of a group of parents – Citizen Action to Reform Education (CARE) – in the 70’s and 80’s in Vancouver BC (Canada). Tokenism, lip service, and symbolic use of parents were frustrating many parents. Below is a report I prepared in 1980.

 

PARENT INVOLVEMENT IN EDUCATION: THE STATE OF THE “ART”

Ten years ago when my daughter entered public school I fully intended to continue being actively involved with her education. Her early childhood years were enormously satisfying and edifying for me and I hope for her.

Our experience in a co-operative, parent participation pre-school was very rewarding. Parent participation was a requirement in the co-ops. Parents were involved at all levels – clean-up, policy, fund-raising, and staff evaluation and selection. Parents filled some of the personnel requirements of the school and attended evening classes to acquire the sets of skills desirable with respect to psychology of learning, philosophy of education and child development. 

I felt I did my part in this co-educational partnership and could see the mutual benefits for myself, my daughter and the school as a whole.

But, my good intentions to carry on this notion of education partnership were brought up short by the Kindergarten teacher. Visits to the classroom were not encouraged, and, never more than one parent at a time. No parents volunteered in the classroom, and communication was limited to twice yearly parent-teacher conferences. 

Plus, of course, voluminous pieces of art work which told me little.  

Teacher newsletters lacked warmth and even though the invitation was written down that parents were welcome to discuss concerns with the teacher at any time – this seemed hollow in view of the “tone”. 

Needless to say, I was deflated by the experience – and found my experience was similar to most other parents who had “graduated” from the co-op. From a “high” of being needed and part of the child’s education, the “low” of rejection was hard to take, much less comprehend. 

I, like a number of other enthusiastic parents, had, — in the thrall of early parenthood  —  taken all the “right courses”: pre-natal, post-natal, early childhood development. As well, we bought all the right books and educational toys. The joy of leaning together with my children (My daughters are now 14 and 12) was something I wanted to build on. 

The “hands off” attitude by the school was common, I found, even though today Kindergarten teachers are more attune to bringing parents along. What made me really confused and hurt was that the “hands off, leave it to the experts” approach did not square at all with the rhetoric of participation as espoused in early childhood courses.

I resolved there and then that this was something to be wrestled with. I’ve been wrestling with it ever since. *

Thereafter, in allying myself with other like-minded parents, “Implement the Rhetoric” became our rallying cry and created an instant bond between us. We knew exactly what that meant. Lip service to parent involvement is a frustration many parents have experienced and experience to this day.

I, even in those days, went so far as to complete a teaching degree in the event I might see the desirability of educating my children at home. This precaution, I found from my research, was not necessary as today there are parents educating their children at home without these paper qualifications. 

This report on the state of parent involvement, then,is not without subjective feelings. But, it is a report to the best of my ability, to convey the reality of parents and schools today – the good news and the bad news – based on an active involvement and study of the field for over ten years.

*[My note: I wrote that in 1980. Today, 27 years later, Nov 9/2007, and as a grandmother, I’m still wrestling with the plight of parents in our public school systems. I am producing this blog as a record of the past and a platform to continue current discussions on the topic.]

 

Family and Education Report (1987) – Part 6

V. BUILDING HOME-SCHOOL PARTNERSHIP 

Regarding the question of school/family relations we became aware of the yet unpublished article by Dr. John D. Friesen, Department of Counseling Psychology, UBC, entitled “The Family and School: An Uneasy Relationship.” In it he writes that

 The thesis of the paper is that parents should assume an important role in the child’s education and that a cooperative partnership between the home and school needs to be promoted.” 

He reviews the evidence in support of this position. He begins to ponder concerning 

…resistant attitudes toward parent involvement in education”, 
and wonders if egalitarianism may be a factor. He states, 

…schools have a tendency to deny the influence of all home environments as educators try to equalize educational opportunities for all children.”

 He further states that 

School and families have a reciprocal relationship, which requires the development of a partnership in which cooperation, trust, and mutual understanding exist.” 

In view of our long-standing interest in improved home-school relationships, we ask: 

Question #10: Do parents think they have adequate, supportive and meaningful consultation with their schools?

Question #11: If the consultation is unsatisfactory, and in light of positive evidence in support of greater parent-school cooperation, to what would parents attribute this resistance. Where could the remedies come from?

VI.             ADULTS AS ROLE MODELS TO CHILDREN

The Committee was mindful throughout its deliberations and study that good education occurs not only from good materials, textbooks and lessons, but also from the role models students have before them. Parents, for one, must be seen as effective people by their children with a role to play in educational decision-making (not as frustrated, “driven-to-tears”, helpless individuals). Family competency and stability relate to how well parental duties are carried out. Family efficacy enhances positive parent-child communication. The following question arises: 

Question #12: Do parents think they are as fulfilled as they could be in carrying out their role in the education of their children?

Teachers, principals and others in school settings must also have exemplary role modeling attributes.  We would like information on the following: 

Question #13. Do parents think mechanisms are appropriate for both the selection of school personnel and for the removal of those considered incompetend and abusive to students?

VII SUMMARY

While we recognize there are many laudable experiences and practices in the school system, our Committee was not charged with the task of examining the overall picture, but rather to pursue those questions relating to how the family is portrayed in the curriculum and how the family is treated in home-school relationships. To date, the Committee detects a general concern that the family role has been diminished in the system, and there is anxiety, at least among a good number of our members, about the decreased influence of parents in the education of their children and in quality control of their schools. 

The Committee is seeking to eventually propose policies and tools to greater enhance the family role in education. In order to do this, we would now like to broaden our base of information. 

Through the general distribution of this Interim Report #1, the B. C. Council for the Family hopes to receive input from across the province on the above 13 questions in order to proceed to development of tools and policy proposals for greater family involvement in the education of their children. 

March 1987

 

Family and Education Report (1987) – Part 5

 

III. CURRICULUM DECISION-MAKING

We note that the general principle in a free, democratic society is that public institutions must reflect the public’s will and not the self-interest of those who run the institutions. The Let’s Talk About Schools discussion paper (1985) reflects this basic principle: 

The Provincial curriculum is presently determined by elected representatives of the people – the legislature and schools boards. Their authority in this regard is based on the proposition that the public, through its representatives, has the right to determine what is taught in schools.” 

However, our committee found a discrepancy between policy and practice. The seemingly official practice is described in this passage from a recent article in the BC Teacher, April/May ’86 (“An Agenda for Curriculum, the Next 10 years: A Perspective from the Ministry of Education”, by Bob Overgaard), 

…curriculum development in B.C. is a system controlled largely by teachers, on behalf of, and in contact with, their colleagues. Although the government reserves the right to inject its authority at any point in the process, its role has consistently been to support a process of professional and collegial negotiation…” 

We pose the following questions: 

Question # 5: What do parents think about their exclusion from the curriculum process, that is, the development, review and incorporation of community values?

Question #6:  Do parents think “collegial negotiation” among differing educator view-points adequately covers the range of input that might be gleaned from the wider community?”


IV FAMILY IN THE CURRICULUM 

We have examined the materials relating to Social Studies, Grade 1 – 3. With respect to the question of family and personal privacy, we note that much attention is focused in the Grade 1 materials and suggestions for class discussions on sharing information about one’s family and one’s feelings (What are some things that make your family happy? Sad? Tell your class about a special relative.”…) 

The concepts to be learned from the Grade 1 curriculum are listed as understanding “family, identity, interactions, need, change, diversity, interdependence and power.” 

We note awareness on the part of curriculum developers concerning matters of privacy and sensitivity: 

Studying family life involves many sensitive subjects: death, divorce, adoption, step-parents. We remind you that tact will be needed when dealing with such topics and urge you to reassure the student that his or her family, whatever its form is an acceptable one. Many of the activities call on the students’ own experiences of family life and some children may reveal confidential information about their families. You should be sensitive to situations which approach an invasion of privacy: guided by a knowledge of your students and the local community, you should be able to select and monitor appropriate classroom activities.” 

The Committee would like the following feedback: 

Question #7 Do parents think the children are mature enough at the age of 6 and 7 to deal with such matters as the above curriculum goals dealing with interactions, interdependence, power and such matters as may be raised concerning death, divorce and adoption?

Question #8: If any problems concerning lack of sensitivity arise, how do parents proceed for appeal or remedy?

In our study, we also examined contrasting views of the family as held by such divergent ideologies as traditionalists, feminists and socialists (Family Issues and Public Policy, Study Commission of the Family, London, England). We note that one’s attitude to the family is strongly influenced by one’s value system or point-of-view. 

Depending on one’s philosophy, ideology or value system, there is a difference of opinion as to whether curriculum should aim at a) giving students facts with which to make their own decisions, b) extend family values, or 3) change values. We feel that the “decision-making” exercises and the texts in the Explorations series can undermine family authority and integrity and can lead to peer dependency and socialization to a group norm. The following question arises: 

Question #9: Do parents think schools should be involved in value questions, and if so, at what age levels, and with what guidelines and philosophy? 

Family and Education Report (1987)– Part 4

 

The Family and Education Committee was established by the BC Council for the Family in the Spring of 1985. On August 26th the President of the BCCF wrote to the Minister of Education requesting assistance with respect to gaining information and materials for examination. The letter emphasized the following:

          the Council’s concern that many problems of western society were traceable to the erosion of the family

          that the BCCF has a role to play in conducting studies and communicating with parents on matters which help to enhance the family

          that efforts to foster positive home-school interaction had not resulted in improved consultation

          that there was concern about how the family is portrayed in the curriculum and how it is treated in home-school relationships.

 The letter requested access to sets of materials for examination by the committee as well as other information about policies and process. The committee was expected to present interim reports
 

…to help us further elicit response from our various audiences. In this way, we believe, we will be able to build some useful tools to help parents become more involved with their schools.”

 After two years of work the Committee produced Interim Report #1, March 1987. The following briefly reports the experiences and findings of the committee and poses the questions for which we would like feedback. 
 

I.                   ACCESS TO INFORMATION

It was a difficult and long process for the Committee to obtain materials and textbooks for examination. Since the Committee feels it is important for parents and public to know what is being taught in public schools we would like feedback on the following:

Question #1:  What is the experience of parents, at all levels of the education system, in obtaining materials and textbooks for purposes of review?
 

II.                PARENT CHOICE

 
The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights states that
 

Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given their children.”

We noted that, like the rest of Canada, BC has few alternatives to offer in the public education system. We would like to ask parents:

Question #2:  What do parents think about the number and range of choices concerning schools for their children?

Question #3:  What information is available from different schools about programs, philosophy, results and services in order that parents might make informed choices?

Question #4: When parents have the right to excuse their children from controversial subjects or programs to which they object, is the process respectful of the child and family?