Polish and Parents (2010 PI Meeting Reflection)

Vishakha Parvate, KCP Technologies

The two memorable revelations for me of the 2010 DR K-12 PI meeting were the exceptionally polished software products on display and the lack of discussion about parental responsibility for learning. 

Speaking as a software developer, the quality of the software products was an awakening in that projects are no longer content to create materials that are not commercial production quality. This is a really heartening development because, after all, if our goal is to make the most difference to the most number of students ,then we must look beyond our conventional avenues of dissemination and distribution. As an aside—“publisher” should not be a dreaded word—why should the avenue of dissemination be treated like a condition to be tolerated rather than a partner to be embraced? The presence of the more than a couple of "research products" in the App Store is a good start. Perhaps CADRE can do well to establish a SIG that focuses on product development. Often, when we are presented with the product of a research project, as an emerging researcher you wonder what went into this product. Similarly, when a research project creates a software product, for other projects it is beneficial to be able to discuss issues of how to recruit programmers, graphic designers, and project managers on an NSF budget where you cannot match an industry salary. It was very apparent, at least in a couple of the projects, that the software was not the output of a technically savvy grad student. So, I'd love to see not only more such products emerge but also see a community develop that provides support to projects creating software products.

To move onto my second revelation, I want to begin by saying that at education conferences, I avoid sessions that focus on equity. Equity for me is a topic that should deal with teachers working in heterogeneous classrooms where the heterogeneity is a function of differences in learning styles of students rather than of differences in home environments and parental engagement. It is really strange to me that in this climate of strong calls for teacher accountability there is not an equivalent call for parental accountability. It is not a 10th grade math teacher's job to deal with the fact that a student in her class is failing in math because they cannot read the content—that may seem harsh but I am sorry, that's just not her job. Cathy Black, chancellor of schools in New York City, when touring schools that work said, "Where there’s a strong and effective principal, where parents are committed, you have great schools.”

Why is it OK for a parent to send a child to school with little or no preparation in terms of motivation to learn but not OK for that child's teacher to send that child back home with little or no learning? What’s true of Shanghai's schools, which just outshone American schools in international testing, is also true of the schools that turn out the best (top 2%) talent in Asian countries: families will go to great lengths to ensure that the children have everything they need for doing well in school, and students will put their lives on hold to do well in school. There are no discipline issues; students are in school for exactly one thing and that is to learn. This system of schooling does stifle creativity, and it does ignore those students who cannot keep up, but on the whole, the system raises the level of respect that schools command amongst students. In story after story from teachers, I have noticed that there is a direct correlation between parental involvement and student success. 

Sure, it is the job of a school to teach, but then it is the job of parents to provide a safe and encouraging family that prepares the student to learn. Somewhere in all this rhetoric about success for all and differentiated instructions and constructivist learning, we are unfortunately in a state where we are almost afraid to ask parents to hold up their side of the social contract.