Category Archives: Politics of Education

“I’d Better Bring Home An A”: The Power Of Parent Expectations

This week, Bellwether staff share their perspectives on family and parent engagement. Follow Ahead of the Heard from now until Friday for a series of blog posts that tackle common misconceptions about engaged parents, working with multilingual families, and more. Click here to read other posts in the series thus far.

 

It’s the beginning of the school year, and I’m already behind on my assignments — that is, the flurry of forms to fill out, orientations to attend, and Back-to-School nights to add to the calendar. As an education researcher, I applaud all the efforts to engage me in what’s going on at school — and I love hearing about what my kids are learning — but as a working parent of a middle schooler and a high schooler, I admit I groan a little trying to fit it all in.

Often, parent involvement gets framed as caregivers’ level of interaction with the school — coming to school events and volunteering with the PTA, for example. While such activities may present minor scheduling headaches for me, many caregivers face much bigger obstacles, including lack of childcare, language barriers, or working multiple jobs. Framing engagement around school-based activities can lead to the assumption that the parents who don’t appear, especially low-income parents, are apathetic about their children’s education.

But that assumption is off the mark. A parent or guardian can have a powerful impact on a child’s achievement even if they never set foot in the school. A 2013 meta-synthesis of research on parental involvement drives this point home: out of a wide variety of types of involvement explored in many different studies, parents’ expectations for academic achievement had the strongest impact on students’ academic performance.

A student I met once in a focus group at a large city high school made this point even more succinctly. When asked her thoughts on parent involvement during high school, she said emphatically: “My mom is working in another city right now, so she’s not at home. But I know I better bring home an A, or else!” Even though they were physically separated, her mother’s expectations for high achievement were a very real motivating factor.

Ultimately, a central goal of family engagement is to increase the alignment between home and school in support of each child’s education. One way to do that is by inviting caregivers to the school, but there are many other ways to provide families with the tools they need to champion learning at home. For school leaders and policymakers seeking to engage a wider range of families, below are several examples of strategies that empower parents and guardians to reinforce high expectations for academic achievement, even if they are not able to physically come to the school. Continue reading

Assets, Not Barriers: 5 Ways Teachers Can Connect With and Empower Families Across Language Barriers

This week, Bellwether staff share their perspectives on family and parent engagement. Follow Ahead of the Heard from now until Friday for a series of blog posts that tackle common misconceptions about engaged parents, working with multilingual families, and more. Click here to read other posts in the series thus far.

 

We know that parent engagement makes a difference. Students whose family members are involved in their education, regardless of their background or income, have better attendance, higher grades, and more rigorous course schedules.

But what if a language barrier keeps schools from fully connecting with parents and families?  English Language Learners are the fastest growing segment of the student population — in 2014, 11.8 million students spoke a language other than English at home. It’s imperative for schools and teachers to collaborate in support of students and families across languages. Not only that, but embracing and encouraging multiple languages and cultures (in the classroom) can be an educational asset. In order to get there, teachers must be willing to engage.

Christian Martínez-Canchola, photo via author

I spoke with my friend and former colleague, Christian Martínez-Canchola, about the best strategies teachers can employ to connect across language barriers. Christian currently serves as the Primary Years Programme Dean at Uplift Grand Preparatory in Dallas, Texas. As a classroom teacher, Christian led her bilingual students to outstanding outcomes — they consistently outperformed district averages by 30-point margins on district, state, and national assessments.

While this is by no means an exhaustive list, Christian suggests five ways teachers — regardless of their language abilities — can engage multilingual families and communities in a partnership for student success:

  1. Establish trust: Speaking in a language you aren’t comfortable with is a vulnerable experience; building a trusting relationship with students and families should be one of a teacher’s first priorities. To foster this, Christian is a proponent of starting the year off with a bilingual parent survey. The outreach effort signals immediate investment to parents, and allows teachers an early look into their students’ lives. Questions range from basic contact information, to more personal inquiries. “I ask parents to describe their child’s strengths, their weaknesses, what they want to be when they grow up,” says Christian. “These are the people who know their children best.”
  2. Listen and then act: It can be easy for teachers and school staff to make well-intentioned assumptions even without a language barrier — when communication is challenging, the danger for misdiagnosis intensifies. Make conscious contact with parents and community members to identify needs.“There are always parents talking to one another. Leverage conversations with those key stakeholders — you may think parents would benefit most from a car seat drive, but in reality, they may need assistance calling the electric company or accessing dental care instead.”
  3. Redefine what engagement looks like: A narrow definition of family engagement can lead otherwise interested parents to count themselves out. Says Christian, “the parents who typically volunteer in classrooms can afford the time. For most parents though, that’s a privilege. I found that there was this misconception that parents had to physically be in the school to help, when that wasn’t the case at all.” Family members, regardless of language, can assist teachers in other ways. Classroom support can happen at home, from cutting out math manipulatives to assembling packets and leveled books. Christian adds: “Parents want to be involved. Even something small, like sending home classroom materials to be cut out, allows them to have a role in the success of their kids.”
  4. Prioritize intentionality and structure: Home visits and back-to-school nights can provide opportunities to establish trust and build partnerships. At the same time, Christian stresses the importance of planning these interactions and of not allowing them to be too ad-hoc. “If they’re intentional, [home visits] can be really impactful, but they lose all power when flimsily done,” she says. “I like when they’re structured, when schools or even outside agencies provide [teachers with] training on their actual impact and the logistical needs a bilingual home visit requires.”
  5. Empower teachers with existing resources: Districts and school leaders can connect their teaching staff with free and low-cost tools to make translation easier. Many large districts, including District of Columbia Public Schools, New York City Department of Education, and Dallas Independent School District, have translation hotlines, where teachers can reach interpreters and teams dedicated to translating documents. In addition, the Google Translate app has text translation for over 100 languages, and can translate bilingual conversations for 32 others. While not a true replacement for face-to-face translation, these tools can serve as a point of entry.


Christian’s work is fueled by a fervent desire to exemplify the strength and power of her students and their families. As one of the few Latinx and bilingual school leaders in her network, Christian says she is passionate about building a pipeline of educators who both reflect the communities that they serve and driving transformational, sustainable change. We can borrow lessons from her work empowering teachers to connect across lines of differences in the pursuit of positive outcomes for all children.

In Light of DACA Repeal, What Can Educators Do Now?

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/peoplesworld/6649238679/in/photolist-b8z61c-4RQmyt-9Cyku1-9CvmU4-datE3o-dEusfL-buDiFk-4FQ457-4FQjJw-c1eLxL-hCp4i-8V26FA-c1ELVw-d9GmjA-kW5Dg-H3zvXa-d9Gm7K-hCoTs-8xVpix-v2QfRK-RxuMq5-c1ELJq-hCoKv-8xVqaD-natkW8-8xYrrs-hCopC-8xYr4L-9MyCEe-aDbMLz-dA61aW-4Ro7WA-d9Uw88-c1EMUQ-buDd7Z-bAHAhP-bNkhN8-9Cvr14-bQCmSK-buDigr-8xcrkt-buDfRD-pPPJ8L-bzqvx7-4FKUST-buDmhP-8LHuxQ-buDhTg-d9UuaV-hCr29

An Immigrant Youth Justice League rally in 2011. Photo via Flickr user peoplesworld.

Having immigrated to the U.S. from the Philippines at four years old, I know firsthand the difficult decision my parents made to leave behind the country they called home in search of opportunity for my family. Although I have family abroad, this country is the only place I know as home.

Recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) were brought to the U.S. as young children by parents who made the courageous decision to leave the only home they knew, often due to danger, conflict, poverty, or a lack of opportunity. While my immigration story is different, I can’t help but feel connected to the 800,000 DACA recipients whose only chance of hope and a future in this country was abruptly taken away from them this week.

In the wake of DACA repeal, I sought advice from Mayura Iyer, a Teach For America corps member teaching in Dallas, TX. Mayura’s main priority is to control the one thing she can in this moment – to make her immigrant students feel as safe and welcome as possible in her classroom. Every educator has this opportunity and responsibility, and below are some resources and suggestions Mayura offered to continue supporting immigrant students in her classroom:

Make sure students and their parents know their rights. Provide students with materials they can share with parents, particularly in-language translated materials, such as those from Remezcla and Here to Stay. Have these materials readily available in the classroom to allow the students to pick up on their own time – if and when they’re ready.

In addition, it’s important to clarify any misconceptions and myths that students hear on a daily basis. For instance, many undocumented families may fear that immigration authorities are present in schools and that undocumented students may be vulnerable to deportation at school. Clarify your school or district’s policy to protect immigrant students (see, for example, the National Education Association’s “Safe Zones” resolutions policies or Virginia’s guidance regarding school division responsibilities and actions in reference to students and immigration) and ensure students and parents know that school is a safe environment for them.

Uplift and value the experiences of immigrants and students of color. Celeste Hayes’ “How to Decolonize a Classroom” addresses the whitewashing of narratives about people of color in history. Teachers can actively uplift the stories and voices of immigrants and people of color by being intentional about the historical figures they post on their classroom walls or the projects they assign to their students.

Incorporate cultural competency in lessons. Teach Tolerance offers a number of instructional resources on diversity, identity, and social justice that teachers can use to help facilitate difficult conversations on topics such as race, immigration, and inclusion. No matter how difficult, these discussions are vital to creating a welcoming environment for all students, particularly during these uncertain times. While conversations about immigration and inclusion may seem most relevant to classrooms with large immigrant populations or students of color, it is equally if not more important to make sure these conversations take place in schools with small minority populations. Students take these discussions outside of the classroom and to their homes, and if we’re trying to make our country a more immigrant-friendly place, then teachers must make a conscious effort to create such environments in their classrooms.

DACA recipients are among our students, teachers, friends, and neighbors, all of whom are inextricably woven into the fabric of America. Repealing this executive order, with no guarantee from Congress that timely legislation will pass before it expires, is irresponsible and inhumane. In the meantime, educators play an important role in ensuring that immigrant students feel like they belong in the classroom — and in this country.

3 Big Myths About Child Care on Equal Pay Day

Last week, the internet Greek chorus turned its attention to a previously wonky topic: DC’s educational requirements for child care workers. A Washington Post article highlighted that DC is first in the nation to require higher education for child care workers, and a plethora of commenters took to Twitter to criticize the policy. Various individuals commented on the “stupidness” of this new policy. For example, Senator Ben Sasse tweeted: “This is insanely stupid.” Economist Alan Cole tweeted: “What’s the endgame for someone who can’t make it through college? Are they going to be allowed to do things anymore?” The article transformed into a Rorschach test revealing Americans’ antiquated view of child care.

Baby Bottle Robot 

The reality is that many Americans still view child care through a prism of babysitting. They desire the cheapest option: a safe baby with a caregiver of minimum capability, like someone who can easily read aloud to their child. As a result, many parents overrate the quality of their child’s day care. But the reality is child care is complex and skilled work that remains deeply undervalued. And today as throughout history, it’s work mostly performed by women.

Today, on Equal Pay Day, let’s pause and consider three persistent myths about child care, which ultimately hold women back from achieving equal pay with men:

MYTH #1: Child care is menial work which can be done by anyone.

Many critics of the new credential requirements in Washington, DC implied that child care is necessarily low-wage work because it requires minimal skill. Commenters were unified in asserting that high-quality care-taking did not require specific competencies and in undervaluing the actual work of nurturing and addressing the demanding needs of small children. These viewpoints belie the reality that adults who educate young children require knowledge and competencies as specialized as those of an elementary, middle school, or high school teacher. A successful early childhood teacher needs to understand child development; language development; and how to foster early literacy, early numeracy, and positive socio-emotional development, among other skills. Continue reading

Where Are All The Female Superintendents?

From Randi Weingarten to Betsy DeVos, to Michelle Rhee and Kaya Henderson, some of the biggest names in education policy on both sides of the aisle are women. The majority of teachers (76 percent), too, identify as female. But new survey results from the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) show that about 77 percent of school superintendents identify as male. So while women make up the majority of the teacher workforce, they are vastly underrepresented in higher-paying leadership roles.

Today is International Women’s Day, and while these survey results show progress from previous years, there’s significant room to grow in closing the school leadership gender gap. This disparity reinforces gender wage gaps, and, as we’ve covered previously, this inequity of earnings follows female teachers into retirement.

It’s important to note that, while we can dig into these findings broadly, the AASA survey’s 15 percent response rate suggests it may not be fully representative. Additionally, while the federal government collects representative stats on teachers and principals, it does not do so on school district superintendents. Still, state-based work, like this October Houston Chronicle piece as well as a November Education Week article delve into these trends further, with similar findings.

Here are three takeaways on the state of female superintendents we can glean from the AASA’s 2016 survey: Continue reading