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Monday, March 26, 2012

20 questions parents should be asking about school reform

From the Washington Post's Answer Sheet, By Ronald Willett

In an earlier post, I made a case for taking a broader perspective about the causes of U.S. school learning challenges, rather than simply focusing on its teachers.

The list of entities that play a major role in whether a district, or school, or even a classroom can meet the public’s learning goals include local school boards, state boards of education, the testing industry and more. And finally, I said this:

“The observant reader may note that the above list is one short. Here it is, though it is not politically correct to say: ‘America’s K-12 parents.’ ”

If you are a parent, here are 20 questions for you to answer that will reveal how you would support a local school system that wanted to seriously reform.

Take the test. To how many of the following 20 propositions can you honestly say “yes?”

1. “Would you like your children to have informed opinions and values that may differ from your own?

2. Are you willing to advocate for higher taxes to lower class sizes, raise teacher salaries to attract better candidates to the profession, and buy technology?

3. Are you willing to have your children’s performance measured in ways other than standardized test scores?

4. Would you support year-round school, classes segregated by ability rather than age, and alternatives to whole-group instruction?

5. Are you willing to take a larger share of responsibility in the academic performance of your own children?

6. Would you be willing to change the school colors, school mascot or football program?”

7. Would you be willing to back your child’s decision to forego playing football or basketball to take an art class, or take a math course online, or be a volunteer for a social cause?

8. Your child comes home arguing that evolution is science, that there is no science in creationism, and that the latter should be taught as history or philosophy – would you applaud and respect the point of view, or pick up the phone to hammer your school superintendent?

9. Would you approve of your school system choosing to dismiss funding an expanded football/sports complex to invest in better learning infrastructure?

10. Would you challenge a principal or superintendent who has pretty strong views on education issues, knowing that you could be defamed both by the system, and in the community by other parents for not “going along to get along,” or rocking the boat by challenging authority?

11. Are you willing to stand up and demand that your school board’s meetings strictly adhere to the open door laws, and that their meetings be put on your cable CATS (Community Access Television Service) channel in real time?

12. Would you be willing to “go to the mat” — for example, use your state’s open records or freedom of information act — to find out what is really being taught in your K-12 classrooms, what texts are being used, and whether the teacher is qualified in the subject matter taught, or is this part of trusting your system?

13. Would you be willing to formally pursue some adult education that is 21st century to be able to properly and contemporarily coach your children on homework and in career preparation, or is that what your taxes are for?

14. Are you willing to run for a school board, advocate a PTA for your system and support it, or step up to volunteer to serve on school committees that are heavy time users?

15. Would you be willing occupy your school’s parking lot and protest if the system was teaching to the tests, misrepresenting its financial condition, protecting poor or unprepared teachers and teaching, obscuring bullying by either a teacher or administrator, producing flawed curricula, falsifying its true learning performances, or covering up parental complaints, or are those just board problems?

16. Have you, in the last year, read a book on K-12 education or the current reform movement, watched a PBS or other show on the same topics, or read a similar article in a professional journal or in a major national or world news magazine?

17. Have you asked your child questions regularly – beyond the prototypical scrutiny of their report cards – that enables you to assess how they are actually being taught, what they believe they are learning, and whether they believe they are missing opportunities to learn or perform, or is this too intrusive?

18. Have you ever opened and fully read one or more of your child’s textbooks?

19. Do you regularly read anything, fiction or non-fiction, together with your child or children in K-8?

20. Do you know the names of your school’s superintendent and principal, their degrees and academic origins, your child’s teachers’ names, their academic origins, and whether they are qualified to teach the subjects handled?

If you can’t answer with an affirmative position at least a majority of the 20 propositions, your child is likely getting the education you paid for and deserve…but they do not.

America’s parents are as much a part of the infrastructure that creates real learning in K-12 as schools. You can delegate the chores, but not the responsibility.

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