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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Monday, November 30, 2009

Parent Involvement series in MJS--first reactions (note updates below)

by folkbum

Many moons ago, I mentioned here that Erin Richards of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel was working on a series about parent involvement in schools.

It is running this week, finally, and it is good. (It seems I have a cameo in today's story.)

Yesterday's story, the first, has some sobering statistics about MPS and its failure to connect with parents. Here's something from it, featuring the blame-teachers-first mentality of our present administration:
But MPS has a spotty record, long operating a splintered outreach program that makes it easy to catch the same parents repeatedly and miss the vast majority that needs assistance. [. . .]

"(Teachers) still view themselves as individual practitioners," [Superintendent William] Andrekopoulos said. "We will try to work with them and resolve these issues, but we don't have any language in the (union) contract that says they absolutely have to work with parents."

But leaders in the Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association [MTEA] say the administration has never tried to engage the union at the bargaining table on the issue.
Blame the union, blame the union--and miss a key point. A teacher's work with parents is, in fact, a part of the evaluation process we all undergo (teachers are evaluated annually for the first five years, then every three years after that or as deemed necessary by the principal). Principals can identify problem areas in evaluations and require teachers to work on those. If word came from the top that every principal would be checking parent contacts during evaluations, you'd better believe the contacts we make (for indeed, we do try) would be better documented.

In addition, it's a fairly common thing for schools to include in their School Improvement Plans (all of which are public documents available from the MPS website; search for a school name and "school improvement plan" to see specific ones) better coordination and contact with parents. Service to the SIP is also a factor in teacher evaluations.

Finally, I would add that the amount of training I have had as a professional on dealing with parents is right about zero. No district or school inservices that I can recall had parent outreach as a topic. Teachers and the union don't set those topics. The one moment I do remember learning about better parent outreach came in an MTEA presentation for new teachers back when I first started in the district. I gathered with a bunch of other newbies in the basement of the MTEA building, on my own time, and heard suggestions from a panel of experienced teachers.

So why, again, are we blaming the union?

UPDATED to add two things: One, not seen yet (though it may be coming) in the discussion about parents and MPS is the fact that so many MPS parents send their children, particularly older children, to schools far away from home or even work. At a public meeting held for the community of my school regarding significant potential changes to the school, not one parent showed up to speak. Not one. Admittedly, the meeting was a bit short-notice (a different story entirely), but that not one parent was there is stunning to contemplate. (I addressed the myth of the Neighborhood Student in my last Compass column.)

Two, bills up for consideration right now to move away from elected leadership in the district to appointed leadership under the control of the mayor will just further remove parents from the process. Indeed, the leading bill, Colón-Taylor, would re-purpose the elected school board to be a buffer between parents and the real governance of the district. Given what we already know, thanks in large part to Erin Richards's collecting all the info into one place--about MPS's failures with parents, how is it rational that such a move is even being considered?

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