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Sunday, April 3, 2011

Key to educational success—Are we overlooking the biggest factor??

In looking at this blog’s readership I have noticed that the topic of education has a high readership (except for the fake Oprah blog last Friday--- to maximize that fact this link should be popular). Today we hear about class size, testing, spending more on education, firing poor teachers and rewarding good teachers as approaches to advance educational progress with today’s students. Are we overlooking the most significant factor in student performance that takes place outside the schoolhouse?

Having an involved parent who instills and expects educational achievement still seems to be the most significant factor in student achievement. The success of charter schools in our inner cities is possibly related to the fact that parents of these students are more likely to have higher educational aspirations for their children than other inner city parents. The recent film “Waiting for Superman” shows in telling fashion how many inner city families hopes of educational opportunity for their child is pinned on getting their child into a charter school.

Here in Maryland we have an excellent example of a charter school that has shown great success—the SEED School in Baltimore. I attended the opening back in 2008. The school is a weekday boarding school in a high school that had closed in Baltimore. The founders of the SEED School believed that only through continuing the “culture of learning” beyond the school day could you sustain the classroom teaching. The prohibitive costs of a 7-day program as is typical in the normal boarding school led them to develop the 5-day boarding school.

Many factors play into what makes an engaged parent. The recent book by Amy Chu called “The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom” has recently sparked a debate on “how” involved a parent should be. Having read the book I must say that the debate has been unbalanced in its criticism of the author. In reading the book you see a parent trying to balance her strict cultural “Asian” background with that of a more relaxed “American” culture. We see this effect in Howard County by the simple fact of looking at the number of Asian students in a school and the school test scores. The book has a great deal of humor and I would highly recommend it.

For any school trying to improve its test scores and any teacher working hard to teach their students the student who comes into the classroom from a home with little intellectual stimulus or educational expectations will always be a challenge. Efforts like Head Start and PBS educational shows such as Sesame Street have some impact on preparing preschoolers for school but those benefits are lost many times as the student progresses through the grades. Additionally the effect of the summer break seems to be more detrimental to children from low-income families. The learning that may continue with summer camps and other learning activities are not as prevalent in these families partially because of economics.

One radical and highly successful approach has been developed by the dynamic Geoffry Canada with the Harlem Children Zone. This approach is “radical” because it believes that children can only succeed educationally when the issues of the health of the family and the community are addressed. As they describe in their website, “the Harlem Children's Zone Project is a unique, holistic approach to rebuilding a community so that its children can stay on track through college and go on to the job market. The goal is to create a "tipping point" in the neighborhood so that an enriching environment of college-oriented peers and supportive adults, a counterweight to “the street” and a toxic popular culture that glorifies misogyny and anti-social behavior surrounds children. The HCZ pipeline begins with The Baby College, a series of workshops for parents of children ages 0-3. The pipeline goes on to include best-practice programs for children of every age through college. The network includes in-school, after-school, social service, health and community-building programs. The pipeline has, in fact, dual pathways: on one track, the children go through our Promise Academy charter schools; while on the other track, we work to support the public schools in the Zone, both during the school day with in-class assistants and with afterschool programs. For children to do well, their families have to do well. And for families to do well, their community must do well. That is why HCZ works to strengthen families as well as empowering them to have a positive impact on their children's development.”

So where does this lead us in developing an effective approach in increasing parental involvement and student achievement? Tomorrow’s blog has my suggestion for a solution. How is that for a lead on?

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