Tuesday, April 24, 2007

2 more education observations

I've been wondering a lot lately about parental involvement and student eduction. They have shown a slide at the Global Conference multiple times that highlights the impact of factors on student learning and achievement. Teacher quality is 43% of the impact, but parents/family was 49%. (The other 8% hardly seems to matter now, does it?) I could go into detail about how they measured it, but suffice it to say that teacher quality and home/family environment have almost all of the effect both positive and negative on student learning and achievement. It makes intuitive sense, of course - families that value education and nurture and support it tend to have kids that do better.

Yet this politically and institutionally, we seem to treat the job of educating kids as our schools' responsibility - almost as if it's their problem to deal with exclusively.

So I wonder, why can't we institute a formal contract between parents and teachers, that specifies what the teachers will do and what the expectations are of the parents? (I've heard of some schools doing this on an ad-hoc basis.) At the very least, it should include discipline expectations and food/clothing - after all, a hungry or cold student isn't likely to be ready to learn. But it should also include basic additional involvement like making quiet time available for homework/study every day, attending parent-teacher conferences, reviewing report cards and seeking remedial help when necessary.

Almost certainly this would need to be done school by school or district by district because conditions can vary so much. And I recognize that this can be hard for low income or single parents, but I think that the contract can point the parent to available programs and stipulate that they should be used if needed.

The point of doing such a contract is not to go about suing parents or anything like that, nor to assign blame when the kids don't achieve. The point is really twofold: (a) to highlight to the parent that education is a shared responsibility, and (b) to mitigate the inevitable problems and fights (and occasional lawsuits) that arise when a student is expelled for disciplinary issues, or gets a failing grade, or is held back a year. This mitigation would make it easier for teachers to choose to do the right thing rather than the easy thing.

My second observation arises from a session today that talked about play as a learning mechanism. A panelist made the observation that learning is fun, and the one place that we've done a great job of ensuring that learning isn't fun is...the classroom. I think these two points are dead-on. We are learning even when we are engaged in "mindless" play, even if it isn't intellectual pursuits. A laboratory or a kitchen are where we play to learn. I don't have a better idea for how best to learn theory and themes besides a classroom or textbook of some sort, but for "bottoms up" learning, I think that making play expose "academic" principles - whether physics, science, or social interactions - is a great way to teach and to learn. We should be more and more creative about incorporating these methods whereever they can lead to actual learning.

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