Oliver Moles

OLIVER MOLES

Yes.  Oliver Moles with the U.S. Department of Education in the Office of Educational Research and Improvement.  I’m soon to be retired, but working for a long time on parent and family involvement research and development activities.

I think the beginning of the school year is really critical because it sets the tone for all of the things that follow and it really is an opportunity for teachers to be in touch with all parents.  In some way perhaps by home visits, perhaps by telephone calls, to make some kind of personal contact with people before kids get into any trouble or uh anything happens in the school year, and it opens up and makes a kind of welcoming statement to parents that uh this is a school that is very much interested in working with them.  It gives teachers an opportunity also to indicate what’s going to go on in the class, what some of their goals are, what their standards are, uh what kind of homework to expect perhaps.  All kinds of things that can be done much more in a personal way uh then through group meetings, although those are important too.

The U.S. Department of Education has had a partnership since 1994 with a large number of groups, schools, uh community groups, businesses, religious groups, uh and now over, I think, perhaps 7,000 organizations around the country, many of them schools uh to help to work on ways that families can be more involved in school and that these organizations can help to improve kids achievement in school.  The partnership does a lot of different kinds of things.  It has over the years conducted conferences, uh produced a website which is ongoing now.  I think its www. – well, pfie.gov, uh as a website uh and has a lot of materials of different sorts that it’s uh produced.  Right now, I believe, reading tips for parents, but over the years things on preparing teachers and working with businesses and so on.  Uh, it’s been a rich resource and its been featured in each of the monthly newsletters from the Department, the “Community Update,” which people can uh get for the asking, I think, again at that website or by calling 1-800-USA-LEARN, uh to put on – get on the mailing list for – for that which gives features from programs around the country that are working in partnership.

There’s been a lot of research over a number of years – some people say over 30 years and I think that’s correct.  Some goes back to the 60’s and 70’s on different ways of working with parents and uh there are perhaps half a dozen or more different ways that parents may be involved with schools.  Uh, some in particular that are trying to increase communication with parents through personal contact, or through meetings, or uh through community activities, or through making the school more accessible with uh parent resource rooms or centers in school, or putting things out in the community, that is one important thing.  But when parents – when schools try to work with parents on ways of improving the home learning environment, I think that’s very critical and also very difficult to do.  But some of the things Joyce Epstein’s uh teachers involving parents with schoolwork, which is interactive homework that schools may send home is one kind of model.  Uh, there are other things that people have done to encourage parents to read to kids.  Uh, one study shows that even if parents don’t speak uh English uh that if they uh even listen to children reading to them that indicates their interest and kids do better.  Uh, and I think that’s powerful information.  This is a study that goes back some ways, but it was a well designed study.  So there are a great variety of things that schools uh can do but it takes resourcefulness, and commitment, and uh – and a good bit of uh personal uh contact and assistance, although meetings and workshops are important too.

Well, I think first of all it’s terribly important and particularly if it’s a diverse kind of school or community where uh some of the teachers may be of a different background then the parents themselves, uh or where the parents may not uh be speaking uh English fluently, a lot of need for translation services both in meetings and also in uh personal contacts and uh in flyers and materials that are sent home.  Uh, but I would say that parents are an important allies.  They’re not really a substitute for good teaching and uh I wouldn’t encourage this person to uh think of that as – as a substitute.  Good teaching is important, but building in partnerships, building true relationships where there’s a shared responsibility where parents know that its important for kids to get to school on time, to do their homework, to shut off the television, to perhaps discuss uh television with them uh so that they get family values communicated to them in the course of watching and interpreting television.  The – these kinds of things are important on – on the parent’s side uh and also encouraging teachers to work with parents and to see them as – as partners.  Teachers may uh may feel on the basis of one or two experiences that parents are – are pushing and they are being expected to do too much or to gain favors individually, but parents by and large are interested in kids and want them to succeed and do well both now and in the future and I think to play with this – to play on this idea uh that parents – the – the strengths of their approach and their interest in their kids uh is well now universal uh regardless of where parents come from.  And to see this as an important anchor for school relations with uh parents and toward building these uh relations with them.

Well, as I indicated some of the things that go on in the home, kids reading and uh parents reading to them, parents listening to kids read even if they don’t uh understand all what kids are doing uh because of their own educational background uh is important and that seems to have a relation to kids’ achievement.  Uh communicating with parents and doing uh various things to improve the home learning environment whether its setting higher expectations for kids, which is important for teachers as well as for parents, or whether its uh communicating and discussing what went on in school, uh those kinds of things are shown in studies uh to be related to kids achievement uh perhaps even more then some of the things that go on at school, attending meetings or volunteering or – or working on school governments or advisory committees. Those are certainly important for parents’ participation and for the whole democratic process uh and for getting parents input.  Uh how they help kids is maybe uh an indirect process um for those in terms of kids’ achievement.  But all of these have their uh – have their part and some of them, in fact, are required, uh like parents on governance and informing them of what is happening in Title I schools and Title I programs, and uh not all schools and staff are familiar with the requirements of – of Title I, which in this case go back at least to 1994 and now the new amendments and the new uh No Child Left Behind Act uh reiterate this and add some other things as well, but uh to inform parents of school objectives and to have month – to have annual meetings with them and uh to provide opportunities for parents to be involved in a – in a variety of ways uh at school and at home, and to train teachers to work with parents as well as training uh parents themselves.  Uh, they all actually build into some of the uh requirements and there are funds set aside for this in the uh – in the Title I program, um 1% of the money for school systems that have any – any considerable amount of money under Title I. 

Uh, there are requirements uh and options in a variety of programs in the department and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, some of them that go back quite a ways, but in more recent time these really focus on parent activities uh of a wide variety.  Some of them had to do with uh parents – uh getting parent input as programs are designed.  Uh some have to do with outreach to parents to make sure they know what the program can do for their children and what their choices may be.  It ranges all the way from the uh – uh the Disability Act, the – to – where there are individual education plans that parents uh are required to be a part of for their uh children who may be handicapped in one way or another, to the programs for Title I and for migrant parents uh – uh, which are part of this other act, No Child Left Behind Act.  Uh, and uh then there are special programs like Even Start, which work with children from birth up through age 7 and have both parent education programs to help parents to improve their basic and general education skills, uh, children’s literacy activities, and then parent/child activities too.  Those are special programs that come under special grants, but the Title I and the migrant education are broad programs that uh are distributed throughout the country without having to imply on the special (unintelligible).  Uh, it – it runs through a number of program uh – and off the record I’ll give you a report on this that I wrote that says a lot more about them if you should want to quote it or get into that.

I think it has evolved over a period of time.  In the 60’s and 70’s there was a special concern about parent advisory committees and going out of the poverty programs uh because Title I is particularly for kids who are low income and low achieving.  Uh with that – that kind of receded for awhile uh and I think though in more recent years there is just a recognition that parents are a valuable resource uh for teachers and for students.  And people keep coming back to talking about parents as first teachers, first educators for children recognizing that before kids get to school parents have tremendous influence, but they have tremendous influence after kids get to school too and although up through high school where schools may think, “Well parents are really out of the picture.  They don’t care.  We don’t want them.  Kids don’t want them,” but it’s important for career planning uh to involve parents uh for thinking about colleges or uh all kinds of issues that come up for kids across the board, not just kids who get in trouble but kids uh who are doing well or kids who are doing average uh who really want their parents help to – even though they don’t want it in the same way or the same visibility as before.  But if parents have special skills on career days, for instance, uh, uh or volunteering, perhaps not in their kid’s class, but in other places in the school.  Uh, they are important roles for parents.  Schools need to think more about this to see how they can continue to involve parents over the years.

Well, there are a fair number of obstacles.  Um, the U.S. Department of Education was asked by the Congress several years ago to look into this question and a report went back to the Congress and then an idea book was circulated uh afterward quite widely.  Um, some of these are barriers, like time – amount of time and resources, that are both a problem for parents uh because they may have maybe even more then one job, uh they may have long commutes, they may have family responsibility, but also for school staff who may have other things, may have their own families that they need to get to after school, they may not be able to come back in the evenings, some neighborhoods uh people may be uncomfortable.  So time is one problem; training is another.  And uh that again is both for parents and for school staff because uh there are a lot of parent education programs that schools may run for adolescent development, for child development issues, uh but teachers also don’t get much training, uh get very little training, in schools of education for working with parents, so there’s a need for that as well too, and other kinds of issues.  The way schools are organized at the secondary level makes it difficult because there’s no single teacher for parents to be in touch with and if their children are having difficulties or if they want to find out just how kids are doing they may have to talk with half a dozen.  So some schools have organized ways where there are uh particular teachers who are aware of what a small number of kids are doing and are the liaisons to those parents.  Those are some of the um kinds of issues.  Certainly there are cultural differences and language differences, and class differences that uh are important too for schools to be aware of and to try to work with, and much of this legislation talks directly about translating materials into languages that people are uh – that the parents of the children uh are uh comfortable with, their own languages and so on if they don’t speak English.  

Five critical roles that schools play in fostering.  Uh, well there are different kinds of techniques and activities that they might be en – engaged in and I guess they come back to some of the things I was talking about.  That is, the need to communicate clearly with parents and in a way that gives parents an opportunity to communicate back to which suggests more personalized uh kinds of contacts.  Uh, so that’s one important role, just better communication with parents.  Uh, another is to give them ideas uh both for general um parenting skills and parent/child – parent/child relationships, uh and ways of helping them with uh homework, with study skills, uh with uh math and uh reading, and so on.  Uh, that’s another area.  So some of it has to do with class specific things, some are more general uh things about uh parenting skill or for kids who are having uh, uh behavior problems or for preparing for tests and so on.  Uh, I’m not sure I can come up with five, but those are um some of the directions.  If you want to say some more about that uh maybe I’m not thinking the same direction as you.

I think the next 10 – 5, 10, 20 years is going to show an increased interest in working with – with parents and with communities too.  I think that will be an important addition as well.  Communities being groups of parents but also with the different agencies, businesses, uh neighborhood groups, uh with service agencies certainly.  There’s a fair amount of connection with service agencies but much more could be done and some schools are talking and actually are open longer hours and providing kinds of service not just to children but to families.  These are expensive, but it’s a way of locating perhaps various services in the schools that schools in New York City and elsewhere are beginning to do and help other schools to do too to make these community schools as well.  Uh, I think that kind of thing will continue.  It has a long history, but it seems more important uh in part as parents are pressed and have more demands on their time uh that to go to one place rather then to 10 for uh assistance in various ways with health and welfare uh concerns would make sense.  So I think that will increase.  I think just the recognition that schools can’t do it alone uh will also do this.  Although there’s a danger in all of it of finger-pointing and people in schools saying, “Well if only the parents brought up the kids better we could work with them,” and – and parents on the other hand maybe saying, “Well, now it’s the school’s time – time and turn uh to um take care of the kids and uh they are now school age and I – there is no more role for me.”  So there’s need to be constantly aware of that because that’s an undercurrent in – in many places, and yet I think there’s much more of a strong current toward trying to see ways of working together and recognizing the strengths that both parents and teachers bring to kids’ education and to uh helping them to prepare themselves for the future.

There are a variety of resources.  I think this is important and I’m very glad that this series is being put together uh for the kind of teachers and the kinds of circumstances that you’ve described.  Uh some of the national organization do uh develop workshops and work with their teachers, uh the teacher unions.  Both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers have developed programs, uh workshops, uh that are – with their members uh and some of them travel around the country and others bring people into Washington and I worked with some of these uh and they’ve built on some of the work that we’ve done and others too.  So these are uh some important resources, as well as the work of Joyce Epstein which is in a variety of ways I imagine covered, but certainly important to uh – to mention what material, and experience, and activities she has.  Um, I think more of this is going to be necessary because I’m not sure that the schools of education still will uh focus enough on this even though there is some movement in this direction to the American Association of Colleges.  Teacher education now has some formal uh requirement for more parent involvement, but it competes with other demands in teacher training so that it may get lost uh for many colleges.  Um, so it’s – it’s a kind of continuing activity, but there do happen to be a lot of other organizations besides the ones I mentioned.  Uh, there’s been a coalition on parent involvement and education that has been in existence for 20 years in Washington among the national education associations that meets regularly and was the first and the most continuing partner with the Department – U.S. Department of Education in its partnership for family involvement education.  And it – this coalition – it’s called NCPIE is uh an information sharing organization basically but uh it is uh a rich resource and uh a well attended uh activity that lots of people I think find uh good ideas to take back to their organizations uh through the sharing of uh programs from around the country and activities, including some of the ones that I was just mentioning as to what uh the NEA and others are doing uh by way of uh the training that they offer to them.  

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