Parental Engagement in School

Parental Engagement in School

The most accurate predictor of a student's achievement in school is not income or social status, but the extent to which that student's family is able to create a home environment that encourages learning; express high and realistic expectations for their children's achievement and future careers; and become involved in their children's education at school and in the community. Henderson and Berla (1994). P. 160

In City Schools there is a Family and Community Engagement policy set up to ensure parent involvement in schools.  The policy deals with School Family Councils, Parent Teacher Organizations and other school based meetings. There is a statewide policy governing the citywide Parent Community Advisory Board, and separate set of City Schools board policies outlining the opportunities for public input at board meetings and public forums.

School Family Councils

A SFC is the structure by which community members, parents and teachers have a say in major decisions about their school: the budget, hiring the principal, and the school improvement plan.  The council is supposed to have at least 3 elected parents (one of whom should be a PTA or PTO member) and 2 community members selected by the council. It is still unclear what “an advisory role” really can and should mean. As part of this policy the CEO of City Schools is supposed to assess the implementation of the policy every year, and provide training and materials to help implementation.  A few years ago, there was an push for all schools to create an SFC.  However, since the federal funding ran out, training and enforcement of this policy has lapsed.

 

Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) or Parent Teacher Association (PTA)

Every school is required by the district to “...establish a recognized, organized parent group if one does not currently exist.”  With all the demands on parent, teacher and administrator time, it takes some determination to sustain an effective body that has some influence.  Many schools have either no group or one that meets irregularly.

Parent Community Advisory Board (PCAB)

In 1997, Senate Bill 795 required the creation of a new board of school commissioners in Baltimore City. One element of this complicated bill was the mandate to create a new parent/community advisory board.  This board must consist of 14 members, the majority of whom must be parents of a current student. It meets monthly, and the CEO is required to attend on a quarterly basis. PCAB’s role is to “consult with” the board of school commissioners and the CEO.

Input at Board Meetings and Forums

The rules for how the public can have input to the school board are mostly contained in one set of policies called: School Board Governance and Operations.  These policies can be found at the online portal for all school board policies. https://www.boarddocs.com/mabe/bcpss/board.nsf/public#

 

Discipline issues--Why Restorative Practices?

There has been a push to eliminate suspensions in Baltimore. This is due to national data on suspension leading to strengthening a “school-to-prison pipeline.” This has been challenging because without suspensions teachers and administrators feel like they don’t have the support or resources needed to handle the challenging behaviors that students bring.

Though many hope that strict discipline (also known as Zero Tolerance) will deter future bad behavior through sending a strong message to the person breaking the rule (and to others), research shows that:

  • Zero tolerance policies actually increase challenging behaviors and thus suspensions.

  • Zero tolerance discourages people in authority from using their discretion to change punishments to fit the circumstances, and from taking the time to understand the underlying causes.

  • In Baltimore (using 2014 data) African American students make up 84% of all students, but they represent 95% of students who are suspended or expelled.  Students with disabilities and African- American students are more severely punished for the same infraction.

  • Schools with higher rates of suspension have lower school climate ratings and a larger police presence.

The overarching problem with this style of discipline is that over the past 40 years, more and more students have been exposed to a range of traumas, including: loss of family members to death and imprisonment; hunger; homelessness; fewer stable community based supports for families and children and other serious issues stemming from a disinvestment in Black cities and neighborhoods. If a child’s misbehavior stems from trauma, it often keeps getting expressed until the crisis is recognized and somehow addressed.  Schools need more resources (social workers, parent liaisons, therapists, counsellors) to address these issues.

One strategy that the district has launched in some schools is called has Restorative Practices. RP means regularly conducting community building circles where students and teachers talk about their lives, build relationships and build a community of care and support. It is first and foremost a preventative measure. It is also an approach to problem solving that focuses on the root cause of the problem. When there is a challenge, is actively addressing problems through conversations that bring all parties together to unearth the root cause of the issue. It is also a different way of coming up with consequences for behavior that fit with situation at hand and address the concerns of all involved (teachers, students, victims and perpetrators).

Though the district is trying to implement RP, many teachers have not yet gotten enough support in learning how to build a classroom community and schools do not have a full range of support personnel who can help students who are in deep crisis.


Findings retrieved from: www.marylandpublicschools.org; Are Zero Tolerance Policies Effective in Schools: An Evidentiary Review and Recommendations; American Psychological Association Zero Tolerance Task Force

 

Teachers Unions 101

Teacher Unions

Since the earliest days of unions, teachers have been fighting over the same issues: salaries, conditions at schools, and tenure. In the early 1960s the teachers unions fought hard to get adequate salaries and protections for teachers.  As a result of the success of their union’s activities in cities like New York and Baltimore, teachers were becoming the new middle class. They were less and less subject to arbitrary firings and discipline.  For many, teaching was a way out of the working class and into a stable career.  The focus on what we call “bread and butter” issues (job security, pay, sick leave, benefits, work hours etc) was, at one time, the most important set of issues to fight for.

 

 

But over time, and perhaps starting as early as the late 1960s, there were more and more teachers who wanted to do more to align with the communities and students they served.  There was a tension developing between the union leadership whose principles and beliefs came from the working class struggles, and many of the teachers who were also concerned with changing schools to make them more equitable and responsive to what the communities were fighting for.

 

Currently there is a national move to drastically cut back on the power of all unions.  This summer there is a Supreme Court case called “Janus” (Janus vs. ASFCME) that could change union employee’s options for being a full-dues paying union member.  This decision could drastically cut the number of employees in each union, decreasing the power of the union.

 

In Baltimore, a group of teacher activists have formed a social justice caucus within the Baltimore Teachers Union in an attempt to balance “bread and butter” issues with working to create equity and keep public schools in the hands of communities.  This caucus is called BMORE (Baltimore Movement of Rank-and-File Educators) and is part of a national movement of social justice caucuses working to increase teacher participation in the union to fight for schools Baltimore students deserve by working with parents and communities.  

 

On the whole, we believe that since teachers working conditions are the same as students learning conditions, there should be a natural alliance between parents, teachers, and students. One of the common barriers to this natural alliance is the messaging in the media and in faculty lounges around parents being the problem.

 

Here is a list of some things that could help build coalition between parents and teachers:

  • Teachers and parents need interaction beyond disciplinary meetings

  • How can teachers at other schools band together

  • Helping teachers, students, and parents organize themselves to advocate

  • More neighborhood schools--the scattering of students and teachers away from neighborhood schools stops relationship building

  • A community wide school board

  • Open teacher contract negotiation and how the contract can represent those wishes of teachers, students, and parents

  • Don’t fall for pitting teachers against students

  • Don’t get into a defensive fight. Put out a vision for what schools need.

Why schools can’t go back to how things used to be

There was a time when segregated Black schools--though not as well resourced as white schools--were still successful. Prior to Brown vs Board of Education in 1954, Black schools were located in Black communities that had an economic mix, where businesses and needed services were present. There were jobs and a sense of community. Black students were educated by Black teachers who often lived in the same community. The curriculum was traditional, but, to some extent, cultural responsiveness was built into the way schools worked--Black success was visible to students.  These teachers taught young people to be proud of who they are because they knew and understood their heritage.  

 

We lost this positive schooling experience in the 1970s and 1980s as a result of White and Black Middle Class flight that came with the disappearance of blue collar jobs. This left Black neighborhoods to become struggling spaces with few employment opportunities.

Though some groups advocate for a return to intentionally segregated schools, we are calling for schools where all teachers have to learn about the history of the city, and understand what matters to the students and their families, and have to learn to teach from that place.  Teachers also need time and support to learn these skills.

Five reasons why we can’t just go back to how things used to be

  1. The whole teaching profession has changed.  Teaching and teachers unions have been systematically attacked and undermined.  As a result, teaching is seen as a less and less respected and desirable career choice.  This is particularly true for many Black teachers who now have other professional opportunities; but it is also true for all teachers.

  2. Many teachers burn out after two or three years.  They love the kids, but there is never time in the day to do all the things they need to do to meet their needs.  Teachers need far more paid time to do all the extra mentoring, professional development, lesson planning and one-on-one meetings required to be truly effective.

  3. There are way too few support staff to deal with the range and depth of crises experienced by schools in our major US cities.  In the absence of adequate “related service” specialists, teachers end up doing the work of school nurse, social worker, psychologist and parent liaison.

  4. The pressure to increase test scores has made teaching into a highly regulated job, with more time spent doing test prep than actual teaching.  Teachers feel like they have no control over their own classrooms.

  5. Where teachers used to get real supervision that included support, mentoring, and resources; they now get cursory observations completed with a checklist.

In summary, teachers’ teaching conditions and students’ learning conditions have changed drastically over the past 40 years to the point where we need to pay a great deal more attention to what would make teaching, once again, a desirable long-term career and schools places where teachers, students and parents want to be.

 

Decline of Black Teachers  

Black teachers are important

Research says that Black teachers are essential for modeling black success and that assigning a black male to a black teacher in the third, fourth, or fifth grades significantly reduces the probability that he drops out of high school, particularly among the most economically disadvantaged black males. Exposure to at least one black teacher in grades 3-5 also increases the likelihood that persistently low-income students of both sexes aspire to attend a four-year college.  (The Long-Run Impacts of Same-Race Teachers http://ftp.iza.org/dp10630.pdf). Other studies do show that good instruction can override ethnicity in relation to academic outcomes but for more holistic outcomes, black teachers are vital.

 

Why the Decline?

At the national level, in the last 25 years, “the minority teaching force has increased at more than two and a half times the rate of the non-minority teaching force.” (Albert Shanker Institute [ASI], 2015. The State of Teacher Diversity American Education, p.2) The overall percentage of minority teachers in the national teaching force has risen from 12% to 17%. In the same time period, however, cities like Baltimore with large numbers of minority and high poverty students have seen a huge loss of minority teachers (with the exception of LA where the hiring of Hispanic teachers has increased dramatically).

 

What’s unique to Black teachers is that they are disproportionately represented in majority Black and high poverty schools, and many of these schools have the worst conditions for teaching (and learning)--rote learning tasks, a narrow curricular focus, over-testing, little autonomy, top down authority, and punitive discipline practices.  As a result, Black teachers leave at disproportionately high rates in majority-minority cities with a preponderance of highly segregated and low income schools.

 

In the ASI study of 9 cities, (not including Baltimore), the reasons dissatisfied Black teachers cited for leaving include: (ASI, p. 20)

o   Dissatisfaction with Administration (81%),

o   Dissatisfaction with Accountability/Testing (65%),

o   Student Discipline Problems (61%),

o   Lack of Influence & Autonomy (57%),

o   Poor Workplace Conditions (56%),

o   Classroom Intrusions (46%),

o   Poor Salary/Benefits (39%),

o   Dissatisfied with Teaching Assignment (31%),

o   Class Sizes too Large 23%

 

“While students’ race and ethnicity, poverty levels and school urbanicity are not factors in and of themselves, the same hard-to-staff, high-poverty urban schools that are more likely to employ minority teachers are also more likely to have less-desirable working conditions. And these less-desirable conditions, our data suggest, account for the higher rates of minority teacher turnover.... In other words, the data indicate that minority teachers are employed at higher rates in schools serving disadvantaged students, and then depart at higher rates because these same schools tend to be less desirable as workplaces….Schools that provided teachers with more classroom discretion and autonomy, as well as schools with higher levels of faculty input into school decision making, had significantly lower levels of minority teacher turnover.” (ASI, p. 21)

 

In Baltimore, during the time period 2003 to 2015 the share of Black Teachers decreased 24.5 percentage points from 63% to 38%. During the same time period the share of white teachers increased nearly 14%. In comparison to 9 other large urban areas Baltimore has one of the steepest declines during this time period. (On par with New Orleans and Washington DC).  

 

How teacher and student accountability measures make things worse

The decline in Black teachers in our major cities was exacerbated by the introduction of Common Core standards, the accompanying set of achievement measurements (PAARC), and the movement to attach teacher evaluations to these standardized tests. These measurements are used to label students, grade schools, increase pay for teachers considered to be improving student achievement, and weed out “underperforming" teachers.  The assumption has been high standards and competition between schools and teachers will produce better results. In fact, what has happened is that the profession of teaching has been made more burdensome, while leaving students no more able to achieve. Even the most stalwart promoters of testing, choice and competition, such as the Fordham Institute, acknowledge that understanding the value of effective teachers is a different matter from making effective policy to find and keep more of them.  Recent attempts to use policy and funding to increase teacher effectiveness have not had the desired impact.

(https://edexcellence.net/articles/education-reform-is-off-track-heres-how-to-fix-it)
 

The narrative of accountability appeals to a collective public frustration about struggling schools, but the strategies promoted are not necessarily effective and can be counter to the public interest. Baltimore has not been subject to the same level of education reform tactics (replacing existing schools with charters, massive numbers of school closures, de-unionization of charter school teachers) as have other cities.  But we have been subject to a merit-based teacher contract, an overall reduction in force, a loss of unionized employees as a result of the outsourcing of education programs to private entities, and massive increases in time and costs associated with testing, with the effect of further reducing discretionary school-based spending and curtailing time for relationship building, reflection, and teacher growth in schools.

 

In the end, assessing a student and a teachers’ worth through measures that focus on test-based achievement measures rather than on addressing the humanity of children and understanding the circumstances that surround school life is demeaning. The reality of Black oppression makes Black teachers more likely to resist any kind of purely data-driven approach to classrooms or to school improvement.

 

Summary of the Problem

Despite a national trend over the past 25 years in which the proportion of minority teachers in the teaching profession has increased, the State of Teacher Diversity study shows that in low income minority districts there has been an alarming decline in minority teacher representation.  While more research is needed to draw solid conclusions, disruptions such as shrinking the overall size of a teaching force, closing schools, adding charter schools, and significantly changing the way teachers are evaluated have all been shown to be triggers that can destabilize teachers who are already teaching under the most difficult conditions.  And it is minority teachers who are over-represented in those with the most difficult assignments.   

 

What we want to see change

After conversations with educators and advocates, we have emerged with the following proposed changes to the recruitment, certification and support process for teachers.

 

Recruitment

  • Limitations on alternative certification contracts including limits to total number of contracts and requirements for hiring Baltimore residents, and teachers of color.

  • Focus efforts to design a set of recruitment pathways that attract and retain Black and Brown educators.  These pathways should be modeled after successful programs across the country and can be paid for in part out of the funds currently spent on contracts with alternative certification programs:

    • Prioritize recruitment at HBCUs and other institutions that incorporate culturally responsive principles and practices in their teacher education curricula.

    • Prioritize and offer early contracts at hiring fairs focused on Black and Brown candidates.

    • Provide Baltimore City School graduates financial or other incentives for becoming teachers in the system.

    • Implement a program to move high school students, paraprofessionals and committed Baltimore residents with a Bachelor’s degree into teaching positions

    • Provide experienced, fully certified teachers with incentives to come back to the classroom.

 

Certification

  • Eliminate PRAXIS and other standardized tests as primary gatekeepers for determining the most suitable candidates for our classrooms; and the need to allow for multiple types of supported pathways to teaching with flexible certification requirements.

  • New teacher induction programs that: allow time for reflection and coursework as part of the normal work week, include effective and intensive mentoring, and assess teacher candidates over time, based on multiple measures (not just test-scores) of classroom performance, cultural competence, and potential for growth.

  • Communication with local institutions of Higher Education regarding coursework for provisional teachers to make sure that the classes offered toward certification are relevant and significant to teachers who are already in the classroom and include classroom-based support.

 

Support for teachers

  • Placement of full-time mentors in schools that have the highest teacher turnover rates and the most difficult teaching conditions.  This mentoring program could be based on the successful Blum Mentoring Program that was shut down in 2005.  Sources of mentors could include retired educators.

  • Work with the teachers union on targeted and strategic reach outs to teachers who are vulnerable to leaving the district, determining what is causing them to want to leave, and troubleshoot possible individualized solutions.

 

Public schools anchor communities

This op-ed written by Helen Atkinson was published by the Baltimore Sun. Here is an except: 

"It used to be that the reason for having charter schools was to bring innovation to school districts serving children whose communities are out of the mainstream. The first charters were devised by progressive educators in the spirit of allowing flexibility to address specific community level concerns and students' cultural interests.

The rhetoric and argument has shifted completely. Gov. Larry Hogan, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Maryland State School Board Member Chester Finn and President Donald Trump, to name a few of the players calling for the expansion of charter autonomy and funding, have a completely new set of arguments. Their reasoning has nothing to do with improving our existing school districts serving low income black and brown children."

Background to the Budget Deficit Crisis

This powerpoint created by Corey Gaber, a teacher in Baltimore City, provides ample evidence that the state’s contributions to City Schools has not kept pace with inflation, let alone with the needs faced by a school district that serves so many children from communities with concentrated poverty.  The argument is made very clearly that it is both false and misleading to blame the current budget crisis on “mismanagement of funds” or any other derogatory label typically applied to Baltimore’s funding.

“Our children deserve an excellent and equitable education. The state has not met its constitutional obligation to provide the resources necessary for an adequate and equitable education over the past 9 years. This is the #1 driver of the budget shortfall.  By the state’s own definition of adequacy, Baltimore City has a 290 million dollar gap.”

It is important not to be swayed by the misleading statements by the governor about record funding for public education, nor be taken off into tangents about parent choice, charter vs. traditional funding, North Ave incompetence, teacher salary/benefits being too high, or union contract issues.  All these are a smoke screen used to deflect away from the simple fact that Baltimore’s schools are and have been underfunded.

Response to the Discipline Policy

Following the policy collaborative meeting, we will have until February 3rd to make our recommendations for changes to the policy.  

Back in December the school board decided (8:1) to delay voting on the school discipline policy for two months while the district works with stakeholders to make the policy more progressive. Board members Cheryl Casciani, Martha James-Hassan, Peter Kannam and Andy Frank echoed our input by saying: “Why not take the time and make the policy truly progressive?” Dr. Santelises said: "After all this work, we might as well get it right."

We are also interested in talking more generally about how to democratize the policy making process. We have a particular focus on teachers’ concerns about the flexible Code of Conduct and the mandate to reduce suspensions prior to full implementation of any new approaches to school climate and discipline.

We are currently focusing on Baltimore City Schools’ discipline policy. The board will make a final vote on the policy on Feb. 28.

Input on the Baltimore School Discipline Policy

Teachers’ Democracy Project held a forum on Baltimore City Schools discipline policy on Tuesday, Dec 6. The Discipline Policy was under review by the school board and they were seeking input from the community. Teachers and parents talked about what the new discipline rules mean for their students. The forum brought multiple view points together and addressed one central question: How could this policy create a more functional system? Dinner will be provided and the event is free to attend.