Family expectations and encouragement play a very strong part in fostering the emotional, social, and educational development of a student; level of family engagement in the learning process correlates significantly with several measures of student achievement, including behavioral measures, standardized test scores, and enrollment in honors and advanced placement classes. Thus one of the most crucial jobs of the culturally responsive instructor is enlisting the aid of students’ families in the education process.
In much the same way that a caring relationship greatly aids interactions between teacher and student in the classroom, the existence of a caring relationship between instructor and family goes a long way toward facilitating family involvement in student learning. It is imperative that parents and families feel that they are important actors in their child’s education.
Sending parents surveys and questionnaires asking for their thoughts about education, student behavior, and academic expectations can go a long way toward making them feel a sense of empowerment. Engaging in open dialogues in person is even better; if a teacher can make it clear that she is interested in listening to and acting upon a family’s educational goals and needs then it is that much more likely that their child will benefit from the social support required for academic success.
Such support need not manifest itself in the student’s family volunteering at school or participating in school activities; if you can convince parents that their child’s school environment is nurturing and worthwhile then they are more likely to do the little things that help a student succeed, such as making sure that homework is a priority, encouraging consistent school attendance, and providing reinforcement for the child that school is an important part of life. If parents communicate high expectations, pride, and interest in their child’s academic life then that will likely lead to improved attainment of academic goals and learning.
Inevitably, a major factor for sustaining reform is having the money to do so. Most efforts now are centered on how to make the most of current funding and utilizing money effectively in order to maximize the positive impact of reforms, rather than how to access untapped resources. Despite the dearth of new money, it is possible to free up cash through alternative means of spending.
An extreme proposal to accomplish this is to reduce staffing to the absolute minimum. For example, a school with 500 students would have 20 teachers and 1 principal. Approximately $1 million could become available, depending on how many educational specialists (regular and categorical) and instructional aides worked within the school. This is radical option, and there are other, less extreme ways to change the way money is spent, to include increasing class sizes, spending less on upgrading technology, and eliminating some programs.
The key however is to look in detail at all financial outlays, measure them according to the extent to which they contribute to the goals of the school reform, and rank them according to how well they do this. This will enable schools to break down spending into its core components and work out what is necessary and what can be cut during the process of change in order to better implement their improvement strategy. This is particularly important in times of austerity, when elements that are not essential may have to be reduced or cut in order to help drive reform, no matter how popular or long-standing they may be.
Spending money on non-essential areas does not support school reform efforts. Prioritizing what money is spent on does not automatically mean cutting all non-academic projects. What gets cut will depend on the goals of individual schools. This should be a workable situation, as long as the school is still accountable to the state and the district for shifts in expenditures.
Public education in the U. S. is best viewed as a work in progress. The public school system has been in a state of reform for much of its existence, roughly since the inception of the common school near the middle of the 1800s. Despite high levels of consternation and frustration that emerge from a system that seems to be in a constant and even cyclical state of change, major reforms implemented throughout the history of public education continue to influence school structures, policies, and practices in the U.S. today.
Education reform is effected by and responsive to social, cultural, and economic change, as well the need to improve perceived shortcomings in the system. The need for reform should not necessarily be an indictment of the system as whole—in fact education innovation can be viewed as beneficial. Thus, the notion of sustainable school reform may be too static for a nation that intends to be a major leader in all areas, including the level of education its citizens are able to achieve.
However, the system does suffer from discernible levels of inertia, which have led to ongoing criticisms that it is unable to provide all children with learning conditions where they are able to achieve to the best of their ability. Public education has historically been too inflexible to effectively handle the educational needs of some children, particularly those designated to the margins because of their socioeconomic status, language, and/or ethnicity.
Many children unable to assimilate to dominate culture norms were not able to take advantage of opportunities to be educated through the public system. In the most powerful country in the world, the education of all children living within its boundaries should be a constant, even as educational reforms are implemented to address social, cultural or economic changes.
Episodes of education reform emanate from various sources. Reports—both commissioned and those written by education and/or social theorist have served as catalysts for varying degrees of change in the system of U.S. education. For example, changes were made to secondary education in response to the 1893 Committee of Ten report and the Seven Cardinal Principles of Education report in 1918. While one could correctly observe that these reports had different goals for secondary education, close inspection of secondary education today reveals elements of both.
James Coleman’s notion of equal educational opportunity, first proposed forty-plus years ago as part of a government commissioned report, continues to be the basis for discussions of the impact of race and socioeconomic status on the quality of education experienced by children. And, the educational reform document of 1983, A Nation at Risk, had a profound and continuing impact on multiple aspects of education. Much of the conversation around standards-based education, accountability, and teacher quality for example, was in response to that report.
The federal government has also influenced education change through legislation such as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965, which has gone through several reauthorizations. Despite the popular perception of the unpopularity of the No Child Left Behind Act, which is the current reauthorization of ESEA, there are mixed views among the public regarding the efficacy of the law. Teachers have been particularly critical of the legislation. Still, when asked to comment on the law in total, teachers find some aspects of the law deplorable, but embrace other aspects.
Sustainable school reform—in the form of policies and practices for all schools for all times--should not be the goal for education. That we find ourselves in reform mode in the 21st century should be viewed as positive situation. We should work toward creating sustainable pathways that allow for continuous efforts to create improved educational environments for all children so that they are able have choices as adults, given the circumstances of the social and historical moments in which they find themselves.
Proponents of a year-round school year suggest that a shift in the time designated for teaching and learning will help students achieve more by minimizing summer learning loss, allowing for innovation and implementation of creative programs, and providing the time needed to assist children who need extra help. Many school districts around the country are in fact working toward increasing both the hours in each school day and the number of days schools are in session.
However, along with significant advantages, there are also distinct disadvantages associated with year-round schools. The major disadvantage is the assumed detriment to family structure. American families have become accustomed to the traditional long summer vacation. Parents may find it difficult to schedule vacations and family reunions. This concern is not to be dismissed, as it is important to children’s development to spend quality time with their families. Childcare could also become a concern, particularly if multiple, shorter school vacations were scheduled throughout the year, at times when parents are working.
Year-round schools can also prove to be disruptive to family life when children in the same household attend different schools. If one child in a home is a student at a traditional school while another attends a year-round school, the children may not have holidays together. Families could end up in a situation where one child is on a lengthy vacation while another is required to attend school.
During summer vacations, parents may struggle to schedule family vacations with varying work and school schedules, particularly if these schedules are not what they are accustomed to, or if different children in the same family have different schedules. Despite these potential problems with family scheduling, relevant research studies have actually found that, after implementing year-round schooling, parents found it not as hard to deal with the new schedule as they had anticipated before the implementation of the program.
Another possible drawback however is the impact on the family situations of teachers in year-round-schools who are parents. Teachers who have children attending traditional schools may experience difficulty when it comes to spending time with their children during the summer vacations. Because of these potentially negative effects on the family life of students and teachers, the year-round school system was discontinued by some schools, including the Seminole County, Florida school district.
Extracurricular activities are another dimension of schooling that can be negatively influenced by year-round schooling. Teachers managing extracurricular activities observed similar difficulties adapting these activities into a year-round schooling schedule, as they did fitting their family life into the schedule. Extracurricular activities can put stress on all students.
Another area of concern when adapting to year-round schooling schedules is administration. School administrators have sometimes found it difficult to deal with licensure and contractual issues of the teachers when working out schedules for year-round schools. It can also be difficult to plan optimal usage of school buildings. Of course, a serious issue is finding ways to best leverage this new, extra school time and to increase quality instruction time. In short, year-round schools require the administrative blocks of schools to keep working throughout the year, which increases the administrative burden.
Situations become even more difficult in multi-track schools, as the administration is required to manage different students in the same school at different times. The multi-track year-round schools require more use of buildings, educational equipment, and other facilities, which creates further insufficiencies and increase expenses. Time is often wasted, particularly in mundane activities such as moving equipment from one class to another.