Recognizing the Importance of Fathers

One out of every three children in America —more than 24 million in total — live in a home without their biological father present, according to a 2012 White House Fatherhood Report. Roughly one out of every three Hispanic children and more than half of African-American children also live in homes without their biological fathers.

The presence and involvement of a child’s parents protect children from a number of vulnerabilities. More engaged fathers — whether living with or apart from their children — can help foster a child’s healthy physical, emotional, and social development. While evidence shows that children benefit most from the involvement of resident fathers, research also has highlighted the positive effect that nonresident fathers can have on their children’s lives.

Recognizing the importance of fathers in children’s physical, emotional, and social development, Shirley Jones, a program specialist in the Department of Education’s regional office in Chicago, partnered with the Detroit Area Dad’s PTA and the Detroit Public School system. Together, they organized the “Dads to Dads” forum at Detroit Collegiate Preparatory High School at Northwestern, where 350 men, women, and young adults committed to a day of discussion on how to best support children in their communities.

National PTA President Otha Thornton, one of the speakers at the forum, challenged the parent participants to identify the barriers that prevent them from being more involved in their children’s education and lives. He also talked about finding ways to overcome these barriers and encouraged dads to develop visions for their kids’ futures.

Mentoring programs, support groups, and other resources – such as places of worship, school PTA’s, and local governments – were also presented as places where fathers might turn for support.

Panelist Rev. Dr. James Perkins spoke during the final session and stated, “Your sons and daughters will learn what’s important by what’s important to you.” He stressed that fathers can encourage their children by spending time with them, which will have a lasting impact.

Anna Leach is a confidential assistant for the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Education.

Las Vegas Parents Get Fired Up for Education

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Keynote speaker Helen Littlejohn told parents they are critical to the success of their students

Like many around the country, parents in Nevada’s Clark County School District are hungry for information about how they can support their children’s education.  At a recent event hosted by the school district and its community partners, Las Vegas-area moms and dads had the chance to learn new information and find practical answers to their questions in a supportive atmosphere. “Family Enrichment Day provides an opportunity for families to connect to learning and to foster school-to-home relationships,” said Eva Melendrez, the District’s Parent Services Coordinator. “The event makes learning fun, through interactive workshops and activities for the entire family,” she added.

The Clark County School District focuses on increasing parent participation in a number of ways, with community partnerships and Parent Centers and Family Resource Centers on several campuses. Staffed by AmeriCorps volunteers, the centers focus on communities experiencing high dropout rates. They also have a district-wide Parent Engagement Forum that provides valuable two-way information and feedback concerning social and academic issues.

For the first time, the Las Vegas Alliance of Black School Educators was a co-sponsor of the event. “It was a great experience for us to start getting more African American parents and families to participate,” said Tracey Lewis, local chapter president. “We are looking forward to continuing this collaboration with the district and expanding our efforts,” she said. “This is about getting important information to families in clear, understandable ways,” she added, “so they can prepare their students for college.”

Over 400 parents representing 53 schools joined students at the Clark County family engagement fair.  Staff from the U.S. Department of Education were on hand with a clear message: parents are critical partners in the educational success of their children. “We must teach our children to be critical, creative thinkers, problem solvers who will invent the next great things, who will fearlessly attack the challenges of our time and those of the future,” said keynoter Helen Littlejohn, the Department’s communications director for the western states. Littlejohn led a chant of “¡Tú tienes la fuerza!” – “You have the power!” – and shared stories of parents in communities of color supporting education.

Participants were entertained as well as informed. The day was packed with academically enriching activities in math, science and literacy, in addition to a “Let’s Go to College!” session offered by the state-funded campaign Go to College Nevada.  Parents also learned some effective ways to engage with teachers, in order to better support their students.

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Clark County parents filled the breakout session rooms to learn about ways to support their children.

The event was held on a college campus, to “demystify” the college environment and allow participants to grow comfortable navigating the grounds.   For students and parents alike, the day at UNLV underscored the importance of great teaching and learning, and fostered the desire to finish high school and pursue higher education.  Participating parents gave the day high marks, and highlighted what they’d learned, from the importance of reading with their children, to a new found confidence that the students in their family could earn a college degree.

While Nevada moves forward in developing evaluations that will hold teachers and administrators accountable for family engagement, officials are working to design additional opportunities for district-wide parent engagement, as well as supporting schools as they create school-family engagement plans. As Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky says, “Together, we can ensure the success of every student in every classroom – without exceptions, and without excuses!”

Department of Education Staff

Top 5 Ways to Prevent Rusty Summer Readers

With summer vacation started or on its way, as parents or guardians, it’s important to ensure that reading remains on your child’s schedule even while school is out. Reading over the summer is important not only because it improves literacy and language skills, but also because it prevents what has become known as the “summer slide”—a regression in reading ability.

A student reads a bookStudies show that children who don’t read or who read rarely over the summer encounter a stagnation or decline in their reading skills.

With that in mind, here are five of the best ways to keep your child reading this summer:

  1. Let your child choose what they want to read – or be read to – for 30 minutes each day. Children are much more likely to engage in material that interests them rather than materials that are forced on them.
  2. Use language and reading opportunities throughout the day.  Talk often with your child and point out reading materials wherever possible:  on menus, magazines and newspapers, signs, brochures, maps, guidebooks, smartphones, ipads, etc.
  3. Make daily reading a social event. Get the whole family to join in with their own books or take turns reading the same book aloud. Include telling stories as well.
  4. Connect reading to other summer events. If you take your child to the zoo, think about reading a book about animals before and afterward. This will place your child’s reading within a larger context.
  5. Make reading a lifestyle choice. Keep books all around the house to cultivate an atmosphere of reading, and set an example by reading yourself. Children need good models of reading books, magazines, or newspapers.

Madison Killen is a student at the University of California Berkeley and an intern in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach

Parental Engagement Helps Lead to School’s Blue Ribbon Success

Arriving at Anchorage’s Chugach Optional Elementary School last month for a Blue Ribbon School celebration, I was greeted by an excited group of staff, students and parents. During our student-led tour, parent and teacher cooperation were on display amid colorful classrooms set up to resemble a comfortable home environment with couches, curtains and rugs.

School Choir Sings at Ceremony

A Chugach Optional choir sings as Anchorage School District superintendent Carol Comeau, left, and principal Anne Salzer, right, with ED's Linda Pauley look on. Photo courtesy of Anchorage Daily News.

Principal Anne Salzer explained that, “Parental Involvement is the key to success at Chugach.”

Chugach Optional was founded in 1973 because a group of parents proposed that the Anchorage School District offer an “option” to a traditional neighborhood school.  Their vision for the school was a progressive, open concept school, which ultimately became Chugach Optional.

Part of the founder’s vision was that parents should have a wide range of options within the District. Today the District has ABC schools, “Optional” schools, and language immersion schools. “Optional” is the label that stuck to schools like Chugach, though the pedagogical foundation is progressive, and open concept.

Salzer attributes six factors that have contributed to the school’s success:

  • High parental involvement
  • Emphasis is set on student responsibility for their learning (no letter grades, open ended assignments, choices for students)
  • Engaging activities
  • Arts integration
  • Inquiry learning
  • Multi-age classrooms

One of the student tour guides said that “having parents in the school makes me feel warm and comfortable –like home.”  A parent commented that, “Chugach Optional makes you feel like family, a place where you feel at home; everyone is on a first name basis.”

Click here to sign up for ED’s Engaging Families newsletter, and read more about ED’s Blue Ribbon Schools.

Linda Pauley works in the Office of Communications and Outreach in ED’s Seattle office.

In Boston: Arne Says We Must Invest in Education

Duncan with Parents

Secretary Duncan stopped by Boston Public Schools’ Parent University during his trip to Boston. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

“Education is an investment,” Secretary Duncan told a town hall audience earlier this week at Emerson College in Boston. Duncan explained that other countries aren’t cutting their investment in education, and for America to compete in the global economy, investing in education is vital.

Duncan started a busy day at Boston University where he discussed Race to the Top with Mass., Commissioner of Education Mitchell Chester, superintendents, union presidents, and others. The Secretary then stopeed by J.F. Kennedy Elementary to visit Boston Public Schools’ Parent University. Following the visit, Duncan updated his Twitter account saying:

Later, Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) joined Arne for the Emerson town hall and a meeting with college presidents on keeping college affordable for America’s middle class. The meeting on college affordability follows on the heels of President Obama’s recently introduced Blueprint for College Affordability. “[W]e’ve got to have an economy in which every American has access to a world-class higher education,” President Obama explained when he unveiled the blueprint. “This country has always made a commitment to put a good education within the reach of all who are willing to work for it, and that’s part of what helped to create this economic miracle and build the largest middle class in history,” he said.

Following his visit to Emerson, Duncan gave a speech at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education’s Askwith Forum, entitled “Fighting the Wrong Education Battles.”  Duncan encouraged education advocates to “seek common ground—knowing that it will both take you outside of your comfort zone and require tough-minded collaboration.” He said that we need to “stop defending the status quo when it hurts children. Let’s wage the right education battles. Together, let’s work collectively to advance achievement and a love of learning in America.”

Read the entire speech here.

Roundtable Highlights Importance of Fathers’ Involvement in Education

Cross-posted from Fatherhood.gov.

Fathers, uncles, male mentors, grandfathers, brothers, and community leaders recently gathered at the Café at Chicago Vocational Career Academy in Chicago, IL to share what men can do to increase their involvement and support in the lives of their children—especially their education.

The Department of Education (ED) was honored to sponsor the event alongside other federal agencies such as the Department of Health and Human Services as well as father serving organizations such as Black Star Project, Watch D.O.G.S., the Illinois Fatherhood Initiative and Real Men Charities.

Approximately 45 men attended from multiple ethnic and cultural backgrounds. A panel of fathers and experts shared their experiences and research that affirmed the positive role of fathers in the lives of their children. Panelist Dexter Chaney, one of ED’s Teaching Ambassador Fellows and a Chicago assistant principal, explained a principal’s perspective on parental involvement. In his remarks, he linked parental involvement to ED’s efforts to motivate parents to be partners in their children’s learning. Other panelist included

  • Kenith Bergeron, U.S. Department of Justice;
  • Norris Stevenson, IL Department of Healthcare and Family Services;
  • Elliot Mark, Family Resource Center on Disabilities;
  • Walter Jones, Fathers Who Care;
  • Kirk Harris, Fathers on Healthy Communities Initiative;
  • Carl West, MG Media/Truth B Told News Service; and
  • Ian Stroud, Citywide American Indian Education Council.

Participants at the Roundtable, Café at Chicago Vocational Career Academy in Chicago, IL

One young father, in his late teens, said the message should be “taken to the street.” He shared his feelings of isolation without a job and family supports. The group challenged this young man to return with his friends to a follow-up meeting. Attendees also challenged each other to go to their neighbors and friends encouraging them to become involved.

As a result of this session, monthly meetings will be held to continue the dialogue. A larger Fathers Forum is scheduled for May 5, 2012 at Odgen School in Chicago, IL.

Shirley Jones serves within the Department of Education Office of Communications and Outreach for the Great Lakes Region.


How Can Parents and Teachers Partner to Improve Student Achievement?

Secretary Duncan often repeats the call that parents need to be in full partnership with teachers in learning and understanding, making the education of their child a shared responsibility that includes teachers, parents and students.

For teachers– whose schedules are often quite full—finding ways to engage and partner with parents can seem overwhelming. Secretary Duncan recently took to Twitter to hear directly from teachers on the most effective ways to build partnerships with families and communities. Arne received an overwhelming response from teachers across the country, and most who responded felt communication early in the year and positive communication throughout the year were beneficial ways to partner with parents, families, and communities.

Below are just a few of the responses from teachers who suggested ways in which the school may effectively build partnerships with parents, families, and communities.

Incorporating these suggestions may add just a few more minutes to a teacher’s day, but will bring about benefits to the student-teacher-parent relationship that will last a lifetime.

Follow Arne on Twitter here, or sign up to receive a daily email with a summary of ED and Arne’s tweets.

Carrie Jasper

Carrie Jasper works in the Office of Communications and Outreach

Providing Meaningful Family-School Relationships

During ED’s back-to-school bus tour, Secretary Duncan stated that, “parents have to be part of the solution. Parental engagement must help increase student achievement.” To accomplish this goal, the department is spanning the country to host parent forums in partnership with states, districts, schools, organizations, associations, colleges, universities and businesses.

A parent arrives at the Garland parent forum.

Parents Arrive at the Garland Parent Forum

In late October, ED joined the Garland Independent School District in Garland, Texas, and the Garland Area Alliance of Black School Educators for a parent forum to provide parents with information, strategies, and resources to help increase their child’s educational achievement. A few of the tips on how parents can be part of the solution discussed during the forum include:

    • Listen to your children. Develop a closer relationship with your children by giving them your full attention.  Listen to his/her conversation.  They may reveal concerns and fears of which you are not aware.
    • Ask for help from the classroom teacher. There may be subject topics you and your child need clarification.  Call or write the teacher for an appointment where you both can receive assistance.
    • Email your child’s teacher if your child is having a problem. An email provides documentation of contact. Long emails are dreaded and often not read.  Keep them concise and clear.
    • For teachers, administrators, and school support staff, be sensitive to the needs of the parents. There may be some parents who speak no or very little English.  Find ways to reach out to those parents. They, too, wish to be partners in their child’s learning.

Over 500 parents, community and faith-based representatives, and school district personnel attended the forum. One administrator who attended the forum stated that the forum had prompted him “to do more. I need to thank my parents more for the things they do [at school and at home].”

Secretary Duncan is in Mason, Ohio, today to hold discussions with parents and school officials about programs to promote excellence in education, expand job growth and invest in the economy.

Carrie Jasper

Carrie Jasper works in the Office of Communications and Outreach

Empowering Parents in Full Partnership

As Secretary Duncan has said, “I want all parents to be real partners in education with their children’s teachers…Parents can serve in at least one of three roles: Partners in learning; advocates and advisors who push for better schools; and decision-makers who choose the best educational options for their children.”

Parent Teacher ConferenceED recently held a Northwest parent forum to help empower parents and to allow parents to share strategies and experiences regarding their successful education partnerships. The forum, a first for Seattle, Wash., took place at Cleveland High School in Seattle, with the support of Seattle Public Schools, the Seattle Alliance of Black School Educators and the ED’s Northwest regional office. 

Some of the tips for a successful education partnership include:

    • Become a class parent. You’ll develop a closer relationship with the teacher and will get an inside look into what goes on in the classroom, usually without having to commit a ton of time.
    • Invite the teacher to visit your home for tea or coffee or just to say hello.
    • Find out the best way to communicate with your child’s teacher, and keep in touch by phone and/or email as much as possible.

Almost 200 parents, community and faith-based representatives and school district personnel attended the forum.  The forum included a diverse audience made possible by Seattle School District interpreters for Somali, Spanish and Vietnamese, among other languages.

The forum provided training, resources and encouragement to parents seeking to help their child achieve, as well as ideas for parent’s to effectively communicate with teachers and administrators. Presenters shared past examples of parental engagement that successfully bridged the gap between parents, students, teachers and schools, including some first-hand examples of their own children’s school communities. 

 Above all, the day-long forum reminded parents that their voice and action are ensuring that children have access to a world-class education that prepares them for success in the knowledge economy.  They left resolved to meet the need and opportunity to work in tandem with schools, recognizing that alone, neither of the partners could be entirely effective.

Linda Pauley

Linda is a Public Affairs Specialist in ED’s Seattle Regional Office.

An Interview with Dr. Karen Mapp on Family Engagement

Like other areas of education innovation, there are no silver bullets when it comes to pressing questions of how best to engage parents and families, particularly in high-need schools, in order to raise student achievement. But there are informative studies as well as researchers and practitioners on the front lines of family engagement who possess insights that can point the way. With the prospect of doubling the amount of Title I funds set aside for parental and family engagement, promising policies and practices that can be pursued and brought to scale in this area of education reform are more important than ever before.

Dr. Karen Mapp, lecturer on education and director of the Education Policy and Management Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, has joined the Office of Parental Options and Information (POI) as a consultant to explore a number of pressing issues of both policy and practice – ones that will inform and improve not only POI’s work, but also the broader policy framework of parental and family engagement as it applies to Title I and other nationwide federal school improvement efforts.

Dr. Mapp recently sat down with POI Director Anna Hinton for a conversation about the number of issues they expect to tackle, including the need to move family engagement from an event-driven approach to a strategy that’s embraced as a critical component of whole-school reform. To read the entire interview, visit the Office of Innovation and Improvement’s (OII) homepage.

You can also receive email updates from OII by clicking here.

Doug Herbert
Office of Innovation and Improvement