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 Woman reading Essential Reads

» A Culture that Engages Every Family, Steven M. Constantino, Ed.D.

» How to Revitalize Your School-Parent Compact, Marilyn Price-Mitchell, Ph.D.

» How Do You Know if You're Really Open to Partnership, Anne Henderson & Karen Mapp

»PTA--Gateway to Engagement, Advocacy, and Access, Meryl Ain, Ed.D.

» The Power of Asking-Instead of Telling, Jody McVittie, M.D.

» Empathy in Action, Rick Ackerly, Ed.M.

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Summertime and the Living Is?

By Myrdin Thompson

daisySupposed to be easy. Right? But one thing I've noticed is that education reform never takes a summer vacation. In fact, the summer is when many decisions regarding the school year ahead are typically undertaken and announced. Without much fanfare or hoopla.

To me it's like how we set up the slip'n'slide in the backyard. We unroll it. Attach the hose. Turn it on and leave it running so when our children want to use it they don't have to track us down and interrupt our chores/activities and they can just go take that running head start and enjoy the activity. But here is what also happens while we aren't watching our children...they add soap to the slip'n'slide to make it, well, more fun for them...but more dangerous and nerve wracking for us.

And I tried really hard to just sit back and soak up the sun...and so maybe it's the endless 104 degree days that are making me a bit grumpy about all that's going on in education. Or maybe I just don't know how to relax. Even my summer reading list reflects this. Karen Mapp's Match on Dry Grass, Hugh B. Price's Mobilizing the Community to Help Students Succeed, Russell W. Rumberger's Dropping Out, and even Joyce L. Epstein's School, Family, and Community Partnerships. I encourage my friends to read these and other books about education and education reform because our colleagues in ed reform are reading them...and in fact writing them. About us. Parents. Families. But despite all of these books and articles (in magazines and newspapers) about the transformations in education that speak to the importance of family engagement in education (how crucial, how necessary, how important) and despite all these advocacy groups that state as their mission to help students and families  better navigate the changes to our education system, far too few actually ask families and parents to be partners in this process.

For example, you might have missed this piece of news in June while you were busy preventing the summer slide (literally and figuratively):

  • Kindergarten Career Test  and ACT launches new testing tool to determine if students are ready for college

Yes, college and career readiness is important. So much so that study after study tells educators and families how to help children be college/career ready. Read twenty minutes a day. Avoid the educational summer slide that can occur - by participating in camps, library reading programs and activities, utilizing online educational game resources such as Study Island, and parents are given numerous tips and other suggestions at sites such as Scholastic (math as well) and Reading Rockets. But now the ACT has an assessment test which will help educators understand where students are in order to better get them to where they need to be. Here's my question (concern, thought): don't our schools have these types of assessments (not in a multiple choice form mind you) that help teachers and schools know which students are in need of extra supports? Don't teachers spend their summers attending professional development sessions to help them better address these issues in academics as well? And couldn't the monies for these assessments be used in a different manner to help with the same college/career readiness goals? On any given day ask any five year old what they want to be when they grow up (and depending on what they've watched/read/or heard adults talking about) and they will say: a fireman, an artist, a dancer, Spiderman, a teacher, the President, a doctor, and a writer. While an assessment could be helpful in guiding teachers it could potentially curb the potential of these students.

I'm not saying that we don't need a great plan of action in order to help our children, families, schools, and communities, in order to help everyone to achieve their dreams and aspirations. I've not seen the assessment test so I can't speak to the specifics of it's effectiveness (or ineffectiveness for that matter). And as it's just been announced and won't necessarily be implemented well into the 2013-14 school year, much of what I am concerned with could well be addressed and thus my fears and concerns might be for naught.

But this actually brings up a larger point for conversation. Again, discussions and decisions about education are being held...and families are nowhere to be seen. This is what I know. A family is the one constant in a child's life. The dynamics of that family might change due to a divorce or other circumstance, but essentially family remains the same. Teachers and schools, however, are in flux. They are transitional. A child's teacher for kindergarten will not be the same for first grade, and they definitely won't have the same teacher for their senior year, or even be in the same school environment. In fact, many of our students won't stay in the same school or school system as their family could be part of the military, or they could move because of changing job opportunities. So if families are the constant why is it so difficult to create healthy family engagement opportunities and relationships? I know several educators trying to bridge this gap from the other side (such as Steve Constantino, Joe Mazza, and Dr. Meryl Ain) through blogs and twitter chats.

What I don't see are the big names in "ed-reform" asking for or inviting me to express my opinion. They all certainly want me to sign a petition or attend a rally, but when it comes to actually having a conversation that has yet to happen. Ironic, because that is what many ed-reformers complain about that their voices aren't being heard. Is it any wonder that families are frustrated to the point that they seem to be just shutting down and tuning out? Even though this is when we need families to be supportive and engaged in education. With every waiver that passes, every speech that is made, and every pending debate regarding not just a Presidential election, but many local school board elections as well. We need to connect with our student's families so they can connect with the over arching conversation "what is the purpose of education in this nation?" My good friend (and colleague at the National Family Engagement Alliance) Gwen Samuel in a conversation said to me "when a child is sick they call for their mom or dad in the middle of the night. Not their teacher, not their Principal." I would also say they aren't calling on Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee or Diane Ravitch either.

As Epstein points out "...children interact with, influence, and are influenced by their families and especially parents, and by changes in their families and parental behavior that result from the actions of the schools. Children interact with, influence, and are influenced by their schools and especially teachers, and by the changes in school's and teachers' practices that result from the action of families" (35). We are connected. For good or for bad. Therefore we must work together, in respectful collaboration, to help all students achieve success. Home and school are the two major environments that shape a child's life. As pointed out by Kevin P. Chavous in another recent Huffington Post article, "Parents Know Best: Let's Start Acting Like It" that "we should also celebrate those parents who have decided to take an active role in emancipating their kids from low quality schools. Our schools will never be truly reformed without them." 

We need to stop treating each other as annoyances, afterthoughts, or adversaries, but start respecting each other as allies. Only then can we give all children a solid foundation on which they can build their better futures. We know our kids are out there, ready to take a leap of faith that the slip'n'slide will be the best adventure of their summer. Instead of walking away while they start to launch, let's be there at the end to cheer them on. Sure, it might be a messy process, but the joy on their faces makes it all worth while. 


Photo Credits: TBSteve


Posted on July 11, 2012 by Myrdin Thompson

Myrdin Thompson has been a public school parent, volunteer and advocate since 2002. She is the Parenting Mom Congress delegate for Kentucky (2010), and also a United Nations Foundation Champion for [email protected] and was recognized by the White House as a Champion of Change. She writes about education and parenting/family engagement on her blog  and you can follow her on Twitter.

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Tags: 2-way communication, *School-Family Partnership, Building trust & respect, Communicating, Ed Reform


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