Thursday, April 8, 2010

Hot topic: Parent involvement

This from a reader:
I have seen several parents say that one school or another doesn't have much or has a lot of parent involvement. How do you evaulate that? Is is just based on how much the PTO raises? How much is enough? Does a well established school with a senior teaching staff need as much parent involvement? Can you offset money raised with
sweat equiity? To experienced parents, what percentage of your parents are actively involved in the following categories: give full amount to direct appeal, attend parent meetings, volunteer time in classsroom, work at fundraiser?

42 comments:

  1. When you look at what the federal and state governments say about parent involvement it has primarily to do with in-home efforts. But there are also numerous Ed Code requirements that mandate various committees like the SSC, ELAC, DELAC, DAC, SAC and others. While some of these function at certain schools, overall they are largely failing to provide adeqaute representation for the community in school affairs. (I did a survey of every school in the district last year.)

    There are many causal factors for this failure. But even if a school has little to no in-school parent involvement, if they maintain a high level of in-home involvement students excel regardless. Alamo is an example of a school that has only limited parental involvement at school, (though I don't want to paint it as entirely negative and it used to be better), but its students largely excel with an API of 913 and a large LEP population. Typical PTA meetings have 10 or 20 parents. That isn't very impressive. We could not find a single parent to serve on the ELAC ans we have a quarter of the school LEP identified as I said.

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  2. what are LEC and ELAC? trying to learn more - thanks. great question and topic.

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  3. Don, are your survey results available to the public? I'm wondering about Commodore Sloat in particular. Thanks.

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  4. Too many schools in SF? Go to New York City's website (schools.nyc.gov) and they have a "Fund for Public Schools" link and you can click on it and donate right now to help public schools. I think NYC has a few more schools than SF does, so that argument doesn't cut it I'm afraid. This is something that we can -- and should -- do to improve access to academic excellence for all. The budget cuts are going to destroy the schools with poor families and we need to do something about it!

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  5. Sorry -- I meant to put the above comment on another thread. Just ignore it.

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  6. LEP--limited English proficiency

    ELAC is the parents' group representing English-learner families.

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  7. Thanks for the info, Don.
    Alamo is our neighborhood school and I'm hoping to send my son there for K in 2013.

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  8. I think a lot of people evaluate parent involvement by the quantity of people that are actively participating in the PTA. The amount of fund raising a school PTA can do. The amount of parents assisting in the school on various levels.

    One of the best ways to see this is to go to the school and look at what parents are doing. Go to the "get together" events, if there are any.

    I think all schools benefit from parent involvement no matter how excellent the teachers and staff are. Schools can always use a helping hand. Many field trips need parent chaperons. There are events held by the school that can use parent involvement like making signs or creating activities for the kids that help them understand cultural events.

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  9. The survey I did was based on the data collected after I requested SSC documentation for every school in the SFUSD under the Public Records Act. I along with two district officials compiled that data and graded the schools on certain measures of compliance and general efforts. zjust to be clear - the info and analysis only pertained to SSCs (school site governance) and not parental involvement in general. I will look at my records and see what we found out about C. Sloat. District-wide there was a wholesale lack of compliance with state law as it pertains to representation and input into school planning. The vast majority of SSCs were not functioning close to the manner in which they are intended to run.

    I think I did a dissservice to Alamo in saying that its volunteerism isn't so great. It is true that it has dropped in recent years, maybe as a result of the economy. It's hard to be comparative as I only have children in one school this year so I cannot say from personal experience what it is like in another. I suspect that Alamo is pretty good comparatively, but it could be better. The main problem is trying to get the largely Chinese community to play a larger role in PTA. This is due primarily to language issues.

    Today I spent the day helping to set up for the auction tonight. We collected $46,000 in retail value, about the same as last year. This should yield at least half that value.

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  10. People help at my kids' school in all sorts of ways. One example that really pleases me is the Dad who once a week teaches "Plant Class" in my daughter's Kindergarten class. My son's class has a few parents who are there all the time cooking up different sorts of interesting projects -- like decorating a homemade bench by decoupaging the drawings of all the kids. The bench will then be an auction prize at a school fundraiser. This is for a public school.

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  11. At our school, the white, English-speaking parents are active in the PTA, run various committees, raise thousands of dollars, and love to complain about the Spanish-speaking families' lack of involvement.

    But I see tons of Spanish-speaking families volunteering in the classroom: vacuuming the floor at the end of the day, bringing snacks for all, making photocopies, sorting homework, and accompanying field trips. They just don't show up at meetings.

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  12. I've been a PTA parent at Miraloma for 8 years and think it's important NOT to judge parent involvement by how many people show up at meetings. Some, many and even most of our most involved parents don't 'do' meetings but contribute in a multitude of other ways that are really too numerous to count here.

    Ask around and find how the ways parents contribute and make sure that there are ways for everyone to contribute - regardless of work, class or language. For example we set a goal one year to get every parent to come to school to participate in some way - it might be to come to watch their kids' play, chaperone, or just bring something to a bake sale. ALL of these things ARE parent involvement. (As I recall we did very well on our goal! But the key is making sure everyone sees that as valuable.)

    Finally, recognize the basic rule of thumb: 20% of the people usually do 80% of the work. Just a fact across all volunteer organizations.

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  13. I think "lack of parent involvment" is code for too many "minorities" and low SES students.

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  14. But I see tons of Spanish-speaking families volunteering in the classroom: vacuuming the floor at the end of the day, bringing snacks for all, making photocopies, sorting homework, and accompanying field trips. They just don't show up at meetings.

    Yes, I see this all the time. Lots of behind-the-scenes support for teachers, classroom support, lots of chaperoning, and not so much attending or speaking up at meetings, other than ELAC. We're at a Spanish immersion school.

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  15. -- But there are also numerous Ed Code requirements that mandate various committees like the SSC, ELAC, DELAC, DAC, SAC and others.

    *** Can you explain what these acronyms mean (besides ELAC, explained below)? And is there a link by chance to the survey results? This sounds like something that would be good to read.

    I'm very interested also about parental involvement at Milk, McKinley, and deAvila, as these are our Round 2 choices. Thank you.

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  16. Tons and tons of parental involvement at McKinley...check out Dogfest at Duboce Park April 17 10-4pm to see the school community in action

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  17. IMHO, the key ingredient to success (other than having a principal open to parental involvement) is a minimum of 25 families at a school that can contribute $3000 or more each. The four or five families we have at our school have just not been enough. Raising $50,000 at a big elementary like ours worked middlingly well up until now, but with the budget cuts it won't work for next year.

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  18. How many families does Sunnyside have? Does it have this minimum of 25 that someone else posted about? I have brochure that says there are 80 people in the PTA and that they got a grant for their track record of growing parent involvement. Is that enough? That's our waitpool school.

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  19. 10:09:

    How many public school families do you know who can afford to contribute $3K each/year?
    I think we must have our kids at different schools.

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  20. 12:07 There a lot more than you think. Those are the people who like me are now paying around 9K just for part time daycare but wants to opt for public school when the time comes (2013) given that our child gets into a good public school. 3K sounds like a savings to me. Either that we send our child to a parocial.

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  21. I have a very precise metric for parental involvement:
    "how many parents are spending even an hour a year helping/volunteering NOT for the (only) benefit of their own child?"

    helicopter parents is not parental involvement. How much you spend in your child class is not parental involvement when (and IF) it's just spying on your child, on his teacher or just because you want your own child to do better.

    so if you want to know/"measure" the parental involvement in a school ABC, just go to a 2nd or 4th grade teacher, and ask
    "how easy for you to find a parent to help you clean up the room or tutor a child weekly for [say] 8 weeks?"

    some schools have parent coordinators, or grade level teams, or PTA, or just plain school yard friendships... but at the end, if a child misses [say] three weeks of class due to an illness, and his parents cannot help him catch up, how well will the school community support that child?

    Parenting is HARD - it's probably the hardest job on the planet. So what you don't want to have is a bunch of parents putting metrics on YOU as a parent, and what you want is parents who will reinforce/support/complement YOUR job.
    How much are you willing to stop in hallways, greet 5th graders and enquire about their homework, ask to see it and praise a well done job? How many times do you congratulate a child from your school for good behavior (say, on saturday morning, when you see him helping his parents shopping at the grocery store)?

    one single parent sitting in the hallway cutting/gluing whatever project for whichever class and monitoring the ins and outs of the day, praising kids for good behavior when passing .. makes at least as much difference in a school as raising 40K to hire a hallway monitor.
    (same for a parent taking a PTA/ELAC/SSC position, etc parent thinking hard and helping for the benefit of children BESIDE their own)

    for me, that's parent involvement.

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  22. forgot to say.
    parent involvement is not just time or just money.
    If you are loaded and can afford to pay a private tutor for child XYZ to recover from his illness, good for you.
    if you can never go in person to the school due to work schedule, but send a few letters and emails from home... works too...

    that's why it's so difficult to find a metric. it's not just time, it's not just money. and only teachers will tell you if they fell appreciated and supported and encouraged.

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  23. Trying to find a metric is asking the wrong question. Just go to the school for awhile: some schools have no one helping, others have parents all over the place. You want the one with parents all over the place.

    In my experience private schools have way more quality parent involvement than public schools but there are some publics that do a great job too.

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  24. I love my private school (Adda Clevenger) because I don't have to do any of that stuff. I show up for the performances and bake stuff for the snack table three times a year. But it's an atypical model. It's for-profit and there's no financial aid (and therefore no need to raise money for scholarships). I love my kid, I'm interested in his academic work, and I enjoy chatting with the parents and teachers at school when I see them, but I don't have any real interest in hanging around at school. I admire involved parents but I don't want to be one.

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  25. 3:50 p.m. Thank you. I have no desire or time to be an uber involved parent and would rather spend the $$$ on making sure my kid is receiving a decent education from quality teachers. Parent volunters are well meaning and well intentioned but they cannot and should not replace those trained to teach.

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  26. I agree that parent volunteers should not replace teachers, but I'm pretty sure the union's on that one. And paying private school tuition does not ensure that you will not be expected to volunteer if you can.

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  27. A shout out to parents who volunteer. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. I can't do much, with a crazy commute and a heavy caretaking burden at home. I am so grateful that you can.

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  28. Am I the only person who doesn't remember a parent ever volunteering in the classroom as a kid? I grew up in a pretty wealthy town in Connecticut. There were a lot of stay at home moms, and the parent involvement that remember was limited to PTA Meetings, fundraisers, and chaperones for field trips.

    My kid's class sizes are smaller too...

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  29. I have heard more than one public elementary school parent complain that their kids participate in so many enrichment activities during the school day (field trips, etc.) that parents are doing a lot of core subject teaching through homework. I know that my kid's homework is light and involves practicing things that have already been taught in class. Are the people I hear complaining atypical? Maybe their kids aren't very good at listening and working in class? Any comments?

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  30. Most private schools push parent involvement hard but more or less allow you to buy your way out of it with a donation. Adda Clevenger is somewhat known for being an exception. Because it's for-profit you could not make a tax-deductible donation even if you wanted to. The rare and small requested donations are run though the school's musical partner, the San Francisco Sinfonietta, which is a 501(c)(3). Some people are suspicious of the fact that AC does not seem to want parents around during the school day except when class is not in session (e.g., chaperons for the Halloween parade).

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  31. Re: Commodore Sloat

    I looked at the survey results for Sloat. They performed very poorly on their SSC requirements. Don't mistake this for parent involvement in general. The school may do great otherwise. But as it pertained to site governance they failed 3 out or 4 criterium, pretty much in keeping with much of the district.

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  32. DELAC is a district wide ELAC. The DAC is the District Advisory Council which is composed of SAC members. SAC is the school advisory council, a requirement for all schools that receive comepensatory education funds.

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  33. 8:12, my experience was similar to yours. I grew up in an upper-middle class area outside DC, and can't remember ever seeing a parent in a classroom. We would have thought it extremely weird, and the child of that parent probably would have taken some crap for it, honestly.

    I'm a teacher now, and while I definitely appreciate parent support, I don't really want or need parents in my classroom. I love, love, LOVE that the parents of my students make sure their homework is done, they read with their kids, they volunteer to chaperone field trips, they provide snacks when we need them, they give us gently used toys, games, and materials, and sometimes new stuff, too. They contribute to the PTA, show up for conferences, return phone calls - and they are really nice, too!

    Why don't I particularly want them in the classroom? Partly because it helps the kids build independence when we have to take care of things ourselves. Partly because having a volunteer means I have one more person to manage. Partly because not all children react well to having their parents present, and not all parents can take their focus off of their own child when they are in such close proximity.

    I absolutely want parents to be involved, but for me "involved" doesn't equal "in the classroom."

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  34. I know a lot of stellar families entering Sloat in the fall, so if they are not too burned out from all their preschool volunteering, the parental involvement should continue to grow.

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  35. Don, thanks for checking on Sloat. And point taken that it's not about parental involvement per se.

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  36. I am a Sloat kindergarten parent and actively volunteer at the school. Since I am new to the school, I don't know what percentage of the parents volunteer but, from what I can see, there is a very strong school community and active parental involvement.

    This along with the experienced teaching staff, enthusiastic and talented principal, interesting after-school enrichment classes, and excellent academics make for a very strong school.

    We are thrilled with Sloat!

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  37. It amazes me how much variation there is in perceptions of the same schools. We have families at our private who pulled their kids out of places like Alvarado, Sloat and Buena Vista Spanish immersion because they found them mediocre to unacceptable, but other families have left our private for public and express no regrets. It would be so interesting to crawl into other people's heads and see what they see.

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  38. don,
    Your comments about lack of parental involvement of the largely Chinese population is offensive to me. Alamo is flooded with parental volunteers who happen to be Chinese. In fact, it seems like most of the voluntters ARE Chinese! Alamo's PTA President last year was Chinese too, and I think he did a heck of a job! I hope I am mistinterpreting what you are saying. Can you clarify your statements?

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  39. 10:00: I'm not Don but I believe he made that comment in reference to monolingual Chinese-speaking parents. It has nothing to do with the parents being Chinese... only that they don't speak English.

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  40. Don said he's been trying to get the immersion parents to get more involved with ELAC. He's been at that for some time as I recall. He told me he does not participate on this blog anymore.

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  41. The problems over at Alamo had to do with a principal (now gone) who was dragging the school down. Don was a leading critic and helped to pressure her out. She went to Tenderloin where she soon after quit. I love Alamo school and I highly recommend it to anyone who want a child-centered academically strong elementary education for their children.

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  42. Parents at Alamo received a letter from the PTA in the weekly envelope. This letter addressed the need for greater participation in PTA next year. Our school has over 60% Chinese families, but they are very underrepresented at PTA meetings. I agree with the other person who said this is largely due to language issues. I do see many Chinese parents volunteering at the school and helping out in other ways. I didn't see any sleight to Chinese families in any comments I read here. I'm not sure what 1000pm is talking about.

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