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Jerry P. Becker

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Registered: 12/3/04
Tactic for Educating Parents
Posted: Mar 27, 1999 9:30 PM
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From: The School Administrator, January 1999, Volume 56, No. 1, p. 34.

A Tactic for Educating Parents

by Diane Briars

Parents clearly play an important, influential role in mathematics reform.
Our experiences in Pittsburgh (and those of other districts) dramatically
illustrate the need to provide substantial information to parents as well
as the consequences when they are not kept informed.

How can we enlist parents as allies rather than opponents to reform? Here
are four suggestions.

. Make basic skills visible.

Research by the Public Agenda Foundation shows that parents do want their
students to reason mathematically and develop problem-solving skills. But
first they want to be assured that their children will learn the basics -
the number facts and fundamental computation skills. Ironically, math
reform programs also expect students to learn the basics. In fact, most
programs expect more mental math capabilities than traditional programs.

The problem is one of public relations. In their zeal to extol the virtues
and importance of problem solving, reformers stopped mentioning the basics.
We assumed that parents knew they would still be there. This is a costly
mistake! The basics must be clearly visible to parents and the public.

. Provide specific information about how parents can help their children.

Most parents, especially parents of elementary students, want to help their
children learn math. Unfortunately, traditional ways of helping (e.g.,
showing them how to do specific procedures) are not applicable to
standards-based programs.

Many reform programs are activity-based. Students keep journals instead of
using traditional textbooks. Thus parents do not have access to the
regular, specific information about what is going on in class that they got
from textbooks. Even if books do come home, their content often is so
different from parents' experiences that most are at a loss about how to
help their children.

Parents need specific direction about things they can do and ideas on how
to do it. Basic facts practice can certainly be a parental responsibility.
Even better, schools can offer a packet of games to reinforce basic facts
(and other concepts) in fun ways. Schools can provide glossaries of
mathematics terms, send notes to explain homework activities that might be
unfamiliar and conduct frequent parent meetings to facilitate two-way
communication.

. Provide information on assessment as well as curriculum and instruction.

If we want parents and the public to accept and value standards-based
assessments, we must inform them about the topic. Pittsburgh's director of
public relations, Pat Crawford, created a successful way to provide such
information.

During "Take the Test Night," parents answered sample questions from our
state and district tests, including the New Standards Reference Exam, had
dinner, then scored their own tests and discussed the results. Parents were
surprised at the level of questions on the NSRE and clearly recognized it
as a good test of their children's knowledge. The news media gave good
coverage to this event, so the public was also informed.

. Listen to parents.

Parental concerns and complaints are often well-founded. With appropriate
follow-up, they can provide valuable information about faulty
implementation of programs. The most common complaint I hear about our
elementary program is that students aren't learning their basic facts.

When I ask parents if they have seen games coming home or if their children
mention playing games in school, and they say "no," the problem is clear.
Games are the primary vehicle for basic fact practice in that program. By
eliminating games, the teacher has eliminated the basic fact practice from
the program!

The problem is implementation, not the program and not the parents. Many
parents had terrible mathematics experiences when they were in school so
they want a better experience for their children. Most parents are positive
about standards-based reform once they understand it, see it works and
recognize they have a productive role to play.

************************************
*
Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA
Fax: (618)453-4244
Phone: (618)453-4241 (office)
E-mail: jbecker@siu.edu



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