Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Parental Involvement In VA Schools

The Washington Post is carrying a story about a group of parents who are working to prevent their sons from falling behind in school.
Twelve-year-old Alex Carter is an A student who loves science and reads a book a week. So it surprised his father when he announced last year that he didn't want to enroll in an honors class that his teacher recommended for the following term.

"That class is for the smart people, the nerds," Alex told him. His father replied, "Well, who are you?"

Alex is a junior league football player, an avid golfer and a lifelong suburbanite. He's also one of only a handful of African American students in his seventh-grade class at Eagle Ridge Middle School in Ashburn. He dreams of becoming a professional athlete like his dad, Tom, who played cornerback for the Washington Redskins. But as he nears his teenage years in a predominantly white school in Loudoun County, his parents are concerned that he could abandon academic pursuits because he thinks they are better left to his white classmates.

That's why Tom and Renee Carter joined last year with about 15 families, including the parents of nearly every black male sixth-grader, to push their sons to graduate on time in 2012 with options for the future and without lowering their expectations or test scores along the way. They call it Club 2012.

The group holds monthly house meetings, twice-weekly homework sessions, "rap sessions" between fathers and sons, and social or community service activities. The parents speak often with teachers and administrators, many of whom come to parent-organized events.
The group is from DC suburban Loudon County, VA, an affluent suburban county where test scores are typically very hight and minority popoulations very low. But that doesn't stop the achievement gap.
In affluent Loudoun, known for its strong schools, black students consistently lag behind their white classmates on standardized tests. Last year, 63 percent of black eighth-graders in the county passed the state math test; 62 percent passed in English. White students' pass rate for both subjects was 89 percent. At Eagle Ridge, where 8 percent of students are black, the gaps were similar.
The parents of these boys (and they are all boys since black girls tend to view academic achievement is a more positive light) did something that, while not unprecented, is unusual--group buy-in.
But even with their advantages, these parents say they worry about the images of African American men that their sons absorb from popular media. Carter said he started noticing his son and his friends strutting, letting their pants sag and picking up slang. He became troubled when they started doubting their abilities in advanced math and science.

Carpenter said she understands that her son now cares most about his friends and being cool. So she figures if she can get all of the boys to buy into the idea that math is cool, too, then they will help one another succeed.
Thus, but putting the peer pressure to work for them instead of against them, these parents are trying to break teh idea that it is uncool to be smart and educated. I don't know the genesis of the idea for this "club" beyond what is presented in the article, but the concept sounds very similar to the positive peer pressure discussed in The Pact, a book by three black doctors/dentists from New Jersey who defied the odds in part because they relied on each other and helped each other through the academic tribulations to becoming doctors.

While this kind of parental involvement in not only important, but may actually be crucial for the success of students in school, the one factor that is only briefly mentioned is the need for such groups. Parents often feel very alone in the advocacy for their kids's education. Some may say that is what the PTA is for. I respond with what Joe Williams said about the PTA--don't expect them to do anything other than raise money. The PTA, by definition is about the whole school and what the whole school needs, not a particularly vulnerable subset of the school. At schools where test show 90% of kids passing the starndardized tests, there is no need to advocate for the 10% of the kids not on the passing list--they are seen as a hurdle, not a problem.

While it seems that Club 2012 may be an isolated club unlikely to exist beyond the personal interests of the founders, it does point the way for other groups. Bringing people together with a common interest can yeild strong benefits for their children and the parents themselves.

Update 2/21/07: Related Comments Here.

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