In the news lately there has been a lot of talk of underperforming “Renaissance” schools who will forced to dismiss many of their teachers. On the one hand, I applaud the attempt to shock our worst schools into improvement. On the other hand, I am dismayed that the teachers are being disproportionately punished for the failures of their schools. It occurred to me that so many factors contribute to the success of schools beyond the teachers. I am going to try to go about hypothesizing what those factors are so that can be an angle for my research and school visits moving forward.
My first hypothesis–schools that have involved parents perform better. Groundbreaking idea, I know.
On a recent tour of Meredith, I was struck by how many adults were in the kindergarten classrooms. I peered into two kindergarten classrooms, and there were four parents in one, five in the other. This was probably in part for the benefit of ‘tour day’ but still, it demonstrates something. The Meredith Home and School Association is clearly very involved. Their web page is pretty sophisticated, with the HSA, District, and Meredith calendars embedded and online donation capabilities. Ironically, the page is kept more up to date than the school web page itself. Then there was my tour of Greenfield. They too had parents volunteering in the classrooms. A parent led the tour, and parents were raising the hundreds of thousands of dollars to create a new ‘green’ playground. The Lower Merion schools that I visited appeared to have similar levels of involvement.
This is in contrast to some other schools that I visited where kindergarten teachers I met were “thrilled when parents volunteer in the classroom” but were clearly not used to having them participate.
Of the schools that I have visited in the city and in the suburbs, public and private, there is a very high correlation between parental involvement and school performance as measured by standardized tests and anecdotal evidence. Involved parents contribute in so many ways–in school, fundraising, and pushing teachers and administrators to be better. I suspect that most importantly, involved parents are likely to be involved in their child’s education at home, obviously a great supplement to the efforts of the school. I presume that kids from high performing school districts are likley reading before kindergarten, for example. There are other factors that correlate with parental involvement, of course. Affluence of the families certainly factors into parental involvement, as it is obviously hard to volunteer at school or donate money to school initiatives if you are working three minimum wage jobs. Still, when I visit a school it is much easier to determine whether parents are volunteering in the classroom than it is to determine their annual incomes.