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Article of Interest - Parental Involvement

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Bridges4Kids LogoSchools Must Engage Parents, Survey Finds
by Judy Putnam, MLive.com, November 14, 2004
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Parents who take time to help teachers understand their child are less likely to feel like outsiders at the school and more likely to understand how to help their child learn, a new survey concludes.

The survey, released today by the Lansing-based Your Child coalition, found that 25 percent of Michigan parents surveyed reported that they did not help teachers get to know their child.

That's the one-quarter of parents that schools and teachers must reach out to, said Margaret Trimer-Hartley, spokeswoman for the Michigan Education Association, the state's largest teachers union and a member of the coalition.

"We have to figure out ways to reach out to them, to bring them in for nonthreatening experiences so they can see the school as a positive experience,'' she said.

Of the disengaged group, 34 percent reported they felt like outsiders at their child's school, compared with 22 percent of other parents. Only 43 percent said they fully understood what was expected of them as a parent, compared with 58 percent of other parents.

The less-engaged group also gave lower marks to their child's teachers, schools and principals.

Your Child is a coalition of education and family organizations formed to improve education. Members financing the $50,000 survey were the MEA, The Great Lakes Center for Education Research & Practice, Middle Cities Education Association, Michigan Elementary and Middle School Principals Association, Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals and the Michigan Alliance for Gifted Education.

The October telephone survey of 639 Michigan parents was conducted by the Lansing polling firm EPIC-MRA and has a 3-percentage-point margin of error.

Surveys by the group last spring found gaps in perception between parents and teachers about how prepared children are when they come to class. Only 16 percent of teachers reported that parents regularly communicated with them, while parents reported they were heavily engaged in their children's education.

Lack of time is the biggest reason parents report for not engaging with teachers, the survey found.

So what can be done?

Bryan Taylor, president of the Partnership for Learning, a Lansing nonprofit group that works with schools and parents to improve education, said there are simple things parents can do.

*Meet five minutes face-to-face within 15 days of your child getting a new teacher or write a letter explaining your child's strengths and weaknesses.

*At least three times a year, call or e-mail your child's teacher with a question. Put it on the calendar. This will give the teacher an opening to tell you anything you might need to know.

*As your child gets older with multiple classrooms, make sure you have an "inside source" in the building, someone you can turn to for information and outside perspective. It may be someone you already know, such as a previous teacher.

"You're opening the door for communication,'' Taylor said. "That's what all these things are about.''

Teachers also need to find ways to reach out to parents who've had bad experiences of their own in school or who feel intimidated, Trimer-Hartley said.

In Grand Rapids, for example, she said some elementary teachers are going to children's homes before the start of school to introduce themselves, and the district has planned "parent institutes" to talk to parents about helping their kids succeed in school.

The MEA has encouraged teachers to ask open-ended questions of families, such as: What is your child's best quality? What are his or her challenges? What's kind of reading experiences does your child get at home?

In the past, some of those questions may have been considered culturally insensitive or prying, Trimer-Hartley said. She said with the pressure for all students to read and compute at proficient levels, teachers can't afford to hesitate anymore.

"The more data a teacher has about a child, the better they can prescribe what needs to be done for that child,'' she said. "It's letting go of the fear and asking some of the open-ended questions so they can learn about the child and the family.''

Kalamazoo art teacher Margie Hunter said it's a tough time when families are stressed by working multiple jobs and teachers are juggling ever-growing class sizes.

"Soliciting parents, driving to parents' homes, calling them, maintaining relationships when you're in larger classes - it's asking teachers to pretty much give up their entire life and maybe work till midnight,'' she said.

    

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