Hot Summer Issues for Parents and Educators: What do you think?

Are Unmarried Parents the New Normal?

A recent article at points out that kids with unmarried mothers and fathers are becoming more common than children with divorced parents. Findings from the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia indicate that children are twice as likely to have unmarried parents living together than divorced ones. “Divorce used to be the biggest issue facing kids, when in fact, having cohabiting parents is the more common scenario,” Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project, told

While the article points out that celebrities, such as Angelina Jolie and Kourtney Kardashian, have all but erased the stigma that used to be associated with children out of wedlock, an unmarried parental unit is not as stable as a marriage. The National Marriage Project reported that two-thirds of children will experience the break-up of cohabiting parents by the time they are 12-years-old while only one-quarter of married couples with children of the same age will divorce.

What, if any, are the implications of these findings for our schools and society?,0

Public Wants Local School Boards to Run Schools

An article by Michele Molnar in Education Week reports that parents and taxpayers look to local elected boards of education to run and improve their public schools. At the same time, the public wants federal and state governments to disseminate learning standards and ensure equitable funding. These were the findings of a study by researchers at Michigan State University based on 40 years of public opinion polls.

With all of the emphasis on federal government initiatives such as No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, it’s important to remember that our public schools are locally controlled. According to the article, more than 90,000 locally elected school board members serve on about 15,000 boards of education in the United States.

It goes without saying that if parents and taxpayers are counting on their elected representatives to run their school districts, they ought to be engaged and involved in the process. Attend board meetings, read local media coverage, and check out school board minutes!

Bullying Specialist Hired Following Complaints

Speaking of local boards of education, the Rochester, N.H. school board voted unanimously last week to hire a “student safety and behavior support specialist” to address bullying and harassment at the Rochester Middle School. This is a brand new position in the district, according to Principal Valerie McKenney. 
She said she developed the position following community complaints about student behavior.

Last month, a mother and grandfather spoke at a school board meeting about their concerns for their middle school student.  The mother told the school board that her child had been severely damaged by teasing and even pulled into a closet by staff, which she believed to be inappropriate. When she asked to see surveillance footage of the incident, her request was denied.

Superintendent Michael Hopkins told the board that the middle school administration will still meet with parents to address behavioral issues with students, but the specialist will work to investigate initial complaints that come in from students, and work with 40 to 50 students that are consistently engaged in bullying.

The new bullying and harassment specialist will receive a teacher’s salary. Was the creation of this position an admission that the existing administration can’t handle all of the bullying in this school?  Is this money well spent? Parents at the Rochester Middle School will have to decide.

Conflict of Interest Paid for by Taxpayers

According to the Huffington Post, a Virginia education reporter, who reported on the Alexandria Public Schools for the online media outlet, Alexandria News, was hired as a consultant for the same district to help it improve the district’s public image. She was paid to help with spin control on an independent audit that revealed mismanagement in the district’s capital improvement budget.  She also drafted a district-wide and school communication plans, and occasionally wrote press releases. The reporter no longer consults for the district.

Superintendent of Schools Morton Sherman said he did not consider the reporter’s role in the district a conflict of interest. According to the Alexandria News, he has spent more than $4 million on consultants since becoming superintendent in 2008.

The use of consultants in school districts across the country has aroused concerns and is an issue that should be monitored by the public in these difficult economic times. Parents and taxpayers should also be alert to conflicts of interest in their own school districts.

Why Parents Shouldn’t Take a Summer Break from Schools

In her K-12 Parents and the Public blog in Education Week, Michele Molnar wrote this week about the importance of parents staying engaged in schools over the summer. I couldn’t agree more. 

She wrote about my friend, Myrdin Thompson of Louisville, Ky., who is the regional director for the central states of the National Family Engagement Alliance. Myrdin is quoted as saying that she recently contacted a school board member in her own school system to find out if her district would be applying for Race to the Top funding in the new district-grant competition.

This is but one example of how she recommends parents stay focused on school issues even though it’s summer. She notes that summer is not the time to take a break from school involvement. If parents are shy about contacting district officials, they can always get in touch with their parent organization leaders.

As someone who spent countless summers working in central administration as a district official, I urge you not to be shy. I can assure you that administrators are in your school district and in your schools even though it’s July or August. Although there is much work and planning going on, it’s also a bit more relaxed for the most part without students and teachers. And that means administrators will be available to speak with you on the phone and meet with you in person.

There are also board of education meetings over the summer. Important decisions are made in the dog days of summer, particularly in regard to hiring. If you can’t make it to the meetings, catch up with reports in your local media. Minutes of board meetings should also be posted on district websites. Remember, too, that the public elects board members and it is their job to represent you and report to you.

Depending on the district, principals typically work at least part of the summer. If you find out when your principal is at the school, it’s a good time to have a casual chat. You will notice that many principals are dressed down during the break — sans ties and jackets for men, and suits and pumps for women. So stop by the school in your shorts and sandals, and use the opportunity to find out the information you want to know as well as sharing your issues with your principal. These could include specific challenges your child has, such as health and learning concerns, or the status of particular programs in regard to budget cuts.  Good principals are visible and accessible, both during the school year and the summer.

Towards the end of the summer, many teachers will be in school setting up their classrooms. It’s a great time to introduce yourself and your child, and find out about the teacher’s plans and expectations.

Contact your PTA or PTO leaders during the summer not only to get information about your school and district, but also to volunteer for the coming school year. Getting involved is not only the best way to learn the ropes of your school and district, but also to help your child succeed.

Breaking News that Parents Can Use

Education news has been breaking at such a fast and furious pace that I’m calling your attention to a few important stories you may have missed.

New Organization to Engage Families in Education

First, I’m delighted that my good friend Myrdin Thompson of Louisville, Ky., has been named regional director for the central states in the newly formed National Family Engagement Alliance (NFEA).  Myrdin ThompsonThe organization was unveiled this week as part of Parenting Magazine’s Mom Congress Conference in Washington, DC. Gwen Samuel of Meriden, Conn., was appointed as regional director for the eastern and southeast regions and has been an advocate for disenfranchised families.

The organization will provide resources, education and support to engage families, individuals and organizations in schools for the benefit of children. Both women have been recognized for their advocacy and training of parents and education professionals in effective family engagement in education.

While Myrdin was in Washington this week, she was honored as a White House Champion of Change and met with President Barack Obama. He characterized her as “awesome,” which is exactly what she is. Myrdin and I are both part of the blogging team at ParentNet Unplugged, a great group of people dedicated to parent engagement in education.

A few months ago, I featured Myrdin in two consecutive Your Education Doctor blogs because one just wasn’t enough. I called her a Parent Advocate Par Excellence, and I’m thrilled that she will be bringing her experience and expertise to our shared passion of parent engagement in education! To read more about Myrdin, here are my blogs:

Profile of a Parent Advocate Par Excellence

Part 2: Lessons for Parents and the Future of Public Schools

A Letter to the President from School Boards Leader

Standardized tests have recently been on the minds of both parents and children. Last week, Mary Broderick, president of the National School Boards Association, wrote to President Obama urging him to begin a national dialogue on education — not among politicians but educators. Mary BroderickShe asked him to wear his “parent hat” to the endeavor of finding a new direction for public education.

Your daughters, she wrote, “like all of our children and all of our teachers, don’t need more tests designed to identify weaknesses. They need excited, motivated, passionate teachers who feel challenged, supported, and encouraged to try new approaches, who share with their students a learning environment that is limitless. …”

She also decried the focus on standardized testing, saying: “Strict quantitative accountability has never worked for any organization, and it has not worked with No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. … Teachers’ focus on tests is undermining their potential and initiative, making it more difficult to share a love of learning with their students.”  Here is the full text of her remarks.

Resolution to Reduce Standardized Testing

Finally, the National Education Association (NEA) has thrown its support behind a resolution calling on federal and state policymakers to reduce standardized test mandates, and to base school accountability on multiple forms of evaluation that will support students and improve schools.

Other supporters include: Parents Across America, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. The resolution’s signers have joined with public education advocates Diane Ravitch and Deborah Meier to call upon state officials to “reexamine school accountability,” and to develop an evaluation system that reflects the “broad range” of how students learn rather than mandating extensive standardized testing. Click here for the full text of the resolution.