Supporting Teachers Through Family Engagement

Ed. Note: Mandy Grisham is an urban music educator from Memphis Tennessee, and a mother of two boys, ages five and two. She was a recent delegate to Parenting Magazine’s second annual meeting of the Mom Congress. Here she shares her impressions from a recent town hall on education reform and offers her own suggestions for how parents can support their child’s education.

Last week I had the opportunity to join, via satellite, some of the country’s leading education reform advocates in an education reform National Town Hall Meeting, held in Washington, D.C. The town hall participants included Deputy Secretary of Education Tony Miller, House Committee on Education and Workforce Ranking Member George Miller (D-Calif.), New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Sen. Michael Bennett (D-Colo.), and Harlem Children’s Zone founder Geoffrey Canada.

After hearing about many different reform efforts, it’s obvious that government at all levels can have a significant impact over what happens in a child’s life during school hours. But what goes on in the child’s life after school is often out of the hands of our elected officials.

Most of us can agree that the people who influence a child during these post-school hours are an important factor that cannot be left out of the reform movement equation.  So what can we do as parents to support teachers, and improve the quality of education our children receive?

1. Engage with your child, first and foremost. Family engagement begins at home. Whatever your family looks like, take time to play and talk with your child. Ask questions like “what was your favorite part of the day?” Or, “Tell me something interesting that happened today?” If this is the most you can do, then stop right here and do it well!

2. Engage with your child’s friends and their families. “It takes a village to raise a child.” So find out what other parents are learning from their children.

3. Engage with your child’s teachers. Most teachers are eager to partner with you to help make the most of those hours your child is at school. The more they hear from you, the more they know you really care.

4. Engage with your child’s school. Look for ways to serve the PTA or Leadership Council. Ask what skills you have that may serve them.

5. Engage with the system. Get to know your school board members and learn about the budget. Districts will be spending the most money on the matters most important to them. If you don’t agree with the choices, get involved.

6. Engage the government. It only takes a few squeaky wheels to get a politician’s attention and make a difference. Make yourself available to be a “parent on the field.” When they need feedback from their constituents, be available to offer your opinion.

– Mandy Grisham

If you missed the reform town hall, you can still watch it by clicking here.

Duncan Gains Feedback During California Visit

“You aren’t the future leaders, you’re leading today,” Secretary Duncan told a group of students last night at a community forum in Los Angeles that also included parents, teachers and community leaders.  The Secretary’s discussion at Fremont High School was just one of three stops he made in the LA area yesterday to discuss and get feedback on reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

Earlier in the day, Secretary Duncan spoke at a gathering of over 1,000 leaders from the business, civic, education, government and parent communities at the one-day Education Summit held by the United Way of Greater Los Angeles.  Following his visit to the Education Summit, the Secretary stopped at Tincher Preparatory, a K-8 public school in Long Beach California, for a roundtable discussion with teachers, administrators, parents and students.  The Long Beach Press-Telegram summed up the roundtable discussion:

The secretary listened intently as administrators and teachers talked about the programs that make Tincher a success. The East Long Beach K-8 school, where more than 50 percent of the students are designated as disadvantaged, has been lauded for its gains in test scores and was named a “School to Watch” by the California Middle Grades Alliance in 2009.

Duncan said the LBUSD sets an example for other school districts in the country.

“I’ve studied your school district for a long time, and I think you have so much to be proud of,” he told a crowd gathered in the school library.

Today, the Secretary is stopping in San Diego for another roundtable discussion, as well as a visit to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar to discuss education as a national security issue.

It’s Time to Fix No Child Left Behind

President Barack Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan talk with students and teachers at the Kenmore Middle School

President Barack Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan talk with students and teachers at the Kenmore Middle School auditorium in Arlington, Va. March 14, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

“I want every child in this country to head back to school in the fall knowing that their education is America’s priority. Let’s seize this education moment.  Let’s fix No Child Left Behind,” said President Obama earlier today at Kenmore Middle School in Arlington, Virginia.  President Obama was joined by Secretary Duncan, teachers, representatives from major education associations, and Kenmore students.

In introducing President Obama, Secretary Duncan explained that, “While No Child Left Behind helped expand the standards and accountability movement, there is much that needs to be fixed.”

Many teachers complain bitterly about NCLB’s emphasis on testing. Principals hate being labeled as failures. Superintendents say it wasn’t adequately funded. And many parents just view it as a toxic brand that isn’t helping children learn.  We need to fix NCLB now. And it can’t wait.

During the speech, President Obama spoke directly to America’s teachers:

Now, I want to speak to teachers in particular here.  I’m not talking about more tests.  I’m not talking about teaching to the test.  We don’t need to know whether a student can fill out a bubble.  We do need to know whether they’re making progress.  We do need to know whether they’re not only mastering reading, math, and science, but also developing the kinds of skills, like critical thinking and creativity and collaboration that I just saw on display with the students that I met here.  Those are skills they’re going to need for the rest of their lives, not just to be good workers, but to be good citizens.

Now, that doesn’t mean testing is going to go away; there will be testing.  But the point is, is that we need to refine how we’re assessing progress so that we can have accountability without rigidity — accountability that still encourages creativity inside the classroom, and empowers teachers and students and administrators.

Read the White House blog post, and you can also read President Obama’s speech and Secretary Duncan’s speech.  The White House also released a fact sheet that lays out the President’s priorities for fixing NCLB.

Duncan and Senators Call for Education Reform

Arne Duncan speaks to the media about the need for reform

Earlier this morning Secretary Arne Duncan joined a group of moderate Democratic Senators at Walker Jones Education Campus in Washington, DC to tour the K-8 school and call for education reform.

The group of Senators included Kay R. Hagan (D-N.C.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Thomas Carper (D-Del.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.).  The Senators and four of their colleagues—Senators Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.), and Mark Warner (D-Va.) have agreed on a set of principles for moving forward this year on a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

“We know the results of doing nothing, and they are catastrophic,” said Senator Bennet. “The time for bold action is now.”

Secretary Duncan explained that a major goal of reauthorization is to “raise the bar” for college and career ready standards, but also to empower great teachers, great principals and great local communities:

“They know their children much better than we [in Washington] do,” said Duncan. “We can’t begin to micromanage 95,000 schools from Washington, and we don’t want to.  Frankly, we want to reduce the federal footprint.”

He also noted that Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and House Committee on Education and the Workforce (E&W) Chairman John Kline (R-Minn.), as well as HELP Ranking Member Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and E&W Ranking Member George Miller (D-Calif.), are working hard on an ESEA reauthorization bill and that he would continue to work with Congress in a bipartisan way to fix the law this year.

In discussing the principles that the Senators presented, Senator Lieberman noted that “these principles are not Democratic or Republican.  They are not Liberal or Conservative.  They’re just consistent with our natural American values.”

More information on ESEA reauthorization can be found at the Department of Education’s “A Blueprint for Reform” page.