Friday, May 16, 2008

Unsolicited Advice

Cliff comes tight with questions he has as a parent who will be sending his child to a school in New Orleans. I started to respond to his post, then realized I was bloviating badly in his comments section. It has turned into a post of its own:

Good questions. Please let me know when and where you find answers. I've been looking for some of those answers since September.

I can't speak for Clark, as I have not heard much about this particular school. But the best unsolicited advice I can give you (and it would be the same for any parent with kids at any school in New Orleans), as a current and soon to be ex-teacher in the RSD (with plenty of friends working the Charters...) once your kid gets into a school, stay involved.

Go to the school. Meet the teachers. Pick up your kid's report card without having to be told to do so (teachers are currently asked to call parents to let them know this). Observe your kid's classes and make sure they are getting what they need. Observe other grades and see how the progressions work. Make sure they use the library and computers and resources they have available.

Don't tell your kid that you are going to go to the school. Just go up and see what the class is like without them knowing you are there.

Recognize that the friends your kid makes will be the most important factors on your kid's at-school behavior. Your kid's classmates will be the second most important factor. Parents, administrators and teachers are a distant factor.

Understand that many teachers and administrators, new and old, are as confused about the system as the most involved parents. Best thing is to get to know some teachers and administrators, and volunteer to help (any time you can spare) in school functions. That will keep you in the loop as everyone learns how this system works (or fails).

Rise up, join, or (you may have to) start your PTA group.

If your kid ends up in a class without supplies, complain. In writing. To the school and the district. You can do this respectfully, quietly, and in order (school first, then district), but it must - must be done. Lack of involvement has done as much damage if not more than mismanaged funding. The same advice can be said for:

If your kid ends up in a class with bullies, complain. In writing. To the school and the district. If the bullies have something called IEP's, complain a lot. In writing. Get to know a lawyer.

If your kid ends up at a school where they are lumped into a class with other students with far greater or far less ability to grasp the subject matter, complain. In writing. To the school and the district. Get to know a lawyer.

These actions may sound harsh, but from what I've seen, the schools are hamstrung by the district (who is hamstrung by obscure educational "policies" from somewhere...) in dealing with those few students whose presence in any classroom or school can absolutely derail and wreck the learning of dozens of other students.

The most desperate need for the schools in New Orleans right now are effective alternative and special education schools for those students who cannot function, socially or organically, in classrooms of 20+ other on-level students.

Differentiation of instruction is fine for 7th graders if the spread is that they read between a 5th grade and a 9th grade level. If your whole class of 7th graders has a reading spread of Pre-K to 10th grade levels, no amound of differentiation is going to work. The near level, on level and advanced students will not be pushed while the teacher(s) are busy trying to calm the Pre-K reading level 7th grader who is jumping on tables to distract everyone from the fact that he or she can't read.

In such a case, all students get 'left behind,' and when New Orleans' LEAP scores come out, that should almost totally answer your question for "why" they are not performing well.

If your kid is going to a school where all students are lumped together with no rhyme or reason and the onus is put on the teacher to "differentiate instruction effectively," your kid is going to have problems with bullies, instruction, and idleness in a class waiting for the furthest behind to be catered to because they have the most involved advocates both inside and outside the bureaucracy. Your student will also have less consistency in instruction, as teachers in such situations have been known to burn out quickly.

You must be your child's own advocate, but moving them from school to school, public, charter and private only keeps the problem perpetual. Fight for the school to become better, and the better administrators, teachers and students will all be better off and we can start to really fix this thing. If you sit around and wait for anyone else to do something about it, well, we've seen what that gets us.

Congratulations on your lottery slot. Good luck with the kid and the school.



sophmom said...

You've hit on a couple of really important truths here. For one thing, the entire system will continue to fail without "effective alternative and special education schools for those students who cannot function, socially or organically, in classrooms of 20+ other on-level students."

Secondly, and I know because I've BTDT, there is an urgency to parenting. It's time sensitive. When looking at placing one's precious children in a troubled school system, parents (the kind of parents who get involved) realize that it will take more time to fix than they have, and that the only way to spare their own children the damage, is to put them someplace else, cost be damned.



G Bitch said...

Bingo, sophmom. As a parent, you always feel the wolf breathing down the back of your neck, even if there is no wolf. And yes, even with your best efforts, sometimes you need to move your kid. That's why I object to the Balkanization of the schools--as a parent, you are encouraged by the "system" and its chaos and uncertainty to hold on to your one little island for dear damn life, the rest of the islands be damned.

And doesn't that lead to other problems, Cousin Pat? What if the school you volunteer, fight for, write letters for, paint walls at and help the crossing guard at still fails? What if it gets snagged by NCLB sanctions? Or gets worse when the bottom of the schools budget falls out, as it is destined to do in a couple years?

And your advice is excellent. Bravo. But weighted to the middle class and above, generally. If you work all day, you can't go to school. If you work at night, you miss meetings and can't just pop into your kid's school or class. Some people do work every single weekday. And I can tell you as a parent that though some teachers are quite fine with observation, others take revenge upon your child and/or others or become instantly and permanently hostile. Which leaves you not only out in the cold but with the potential to be ostracized as Word Spreads about you being That Kind of Parent.

Call me nuts but I still believe schools should be able to educate the child without seeing the parent on a regular or any basis. I was. My mother had hissy fits any time she had to go to my school, scheduled or not. And i was a good kid at decent schools. As all over my report cards. If my mother had had to go to my school for my report card, she never would've seen one. And I went to college in spite of that. Not everyone has good or decent or even parents period. That shouldn't prevent her or him from growing, being a productive citizen and giving back someday.

Keep up the good work, Cuz.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

Thanks for the comments. Here's a few more things to chew on:

Sophmom: A lot of folks place their kids in a troubled school system not out of choice but out of necessity. Especially in the Greater NO area, even the luckiest kids are going to land at schools that are, for all intents and purposes, the lesser of the evils available.

G: Outstanding points.

Balkanization will occur anyway, every time a parent takes their kid out of a school and puts them someplace they believe is better but isn't because of systematic problems. Tiers will develop. Though this problem is acute in New Orleans, I have rarely seen any city or county in the South handle this well.

A school with a strong base of parent involvement is not a school that is likely to fail, unless the powers that be (far above) are actually out to get that school. The first element of involvement is knowledge, and parents of any class should be able to figure out if the school is on the way down, just in need of some involvement or a strong community on the way up.

While I would like to toot my own horn about the goodness of my ideas being universal, I can understand the arguments about issues of class struggle. Unfortunately, the classes that need to know the most about the conditions of their community schools are the classes least able to become involved because of the lack of time and resources to do so.

If that is the case, then, by all means, that person's first order of business should be to take care of their own house. But that in and of itself is also the involvment I recommend. Even the most working-class parent should be able to understand that, on occasion, their children recieve report cards from the school. Even the most working-class parent should be able to recognize that when their child does not do their schoolwork, that child fails the class (just like the working class parent would not get paid for not showing up to work to visit the school...) And even the most working class parent should be able to keep up with their own kids for a few minutes a day.

As far as the "revenge" factor is concerned, their are several factors that are far more likely to do damage to a child at a school: these are the "bully factor," the "no textbooks" factor, the "no air-conditioned classroom" factor, the "no plumbing" factor, the "no disciplinary control" factor, and the "watered down instruction" factor. If I were a parent, I'd risk pissing off a few teachers to make sure my kid isn't going to school in fear. Students are in far more danger from other students than from teachers.

Far more "good" teachers will thank such parents for their efforts, I can almost guarantee it. If they don't, well, then the public school system is too far gone to be helped at all.

The last bit of unsolicited advice that I forgot to add above: children lie a lot. As a parent, do not believe that your kid can do no wrong when you aren't around to see them. Don't put the blinders on when it comes to a child's behavior at school. You can generally tell when a teacher is overblowing some small thing or if your kid needs some attitude adjustment pretty quickly. Here's the hint:

If a teacher calls you up to tell you that your child used one dirty word; discipline your kid as you see fit.

If four teachers talk to you constantly about your child dancing or overturning desks and tables; constantly cussing out teachers, administrators and classmates at the top of her lungs; walking around the campus instead of going to class; going into other people's classes in other buildings while wandering; throwing textbooks; throwing rocks at other students and teachers; constantly physically touching other students and teachers inappropriately or violently; constantly attempting to physically intimidate other students and teachers...well, you should go ahead and believe the teachers that something might be amiss with your child.

Becuase if that's the case, she or he is helping bring the whole system down.

G Bitch said...

Cuz, email me. Someone wants to talk to you about the school year.

sophmom said...

That's what I was trying to say. I think the loss of families with resources that could have been directed at their community school(s) to "other options" depleats, by definition, the resources that remain available to the community school(s), which continue to suffer in a never ending circle.

It seems to me that a lack of basics like books and bathrooms has nothing to do with parent involvement but indicates a completely broken system, which I understand is part of what you're trying to say.

So, is it done yet?