Monthly Archives: January 2013

Parenting Tips and Resources to Beat the Winter Blahs

It is the end of January, the time of year when the winter blahs can settle in for parents as well as children. Especially this year, when the monster flu season is upon us, taking out entire families for days, even weeks at a time. Even if your family has avoided the flu (and congrats if you have), you can be dragged down by more mundane issues: The days are short, the weather is cold (certainly for those of us on the East Coast and in the Midwest), and there are miles of school year to go before summer vacation. You are supposed to be encouraging an antsy son or daughter to stay focused these days, but you are tempted to complain along with them. What’s a parent to do?

Several sites around the internet offer tips and resources for staying alert and involved, and/or interesting articles to distract you from the blahs. Here are just a few to get you started:

Five Hot Homework Tips for Parents, found here, is a provocatively titled article from the US Department of Education. The 5 “hot” tips include some relatively novel ones, like the suggestion that you work alongside your children in a reading or math activity while they are doing their homework to model focused behavior, or that you spend time helping your child learn time management while they are studying. But even more helpful is the link at the bottom of these five tips to a longer and more comprehensive list of homework tips for parents. Take a few minutes to scroll around this entire DOE site; there are lots of interesting and resourceful articles for parents.

Moms Team: The Trusted Source for Sports Parents, found here, is a very impressive collection of information for parents with sports-minded children. It offers advice and information on many and varied aspects of the world of children’s sports, including health and safety, nutrition, successful sports parenting (with a sub-section for single parents), extensive information on a large variety of sports, and there is even a “Team Moms/Coaches Channel” designed to help coaches and parent volunteers do a good job with their teams. Worthwhile browsing, even if your child isn’t a serious sports enthusiast.

Help For Children Who Procrastinate: Who among us hasn’t battled a bout of procrastination, especially this time of year? (Good for you if you haven’t, but trust me, you are in the minority.) Helping your children get an early start on developing methods of fighting procrastination is a gift that will keep on giving. While the article found here addresses procrastination in children with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), the advice is good for all children who are having trouble staying focused. (And it can help easily distracted parents as well!)

15 Best Family Vacations in the U.S.: One way to beat the blahs is to start planning your next vacation. U.S. News and World Report offers a list of recommended family vacations, found here. This list includes explanations of why each place is included, and the top things to do there. Even if none of the fifteen appeal to you, it is likely to inspire you to think of places that will.

GCP readers, how do you stave off the parental winter blahs?? Send in your suggestions!!!

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Filed under Parents, Resources

Perceptions and Reality

Public School 163, an elementary school on the Upper West Side of NYC, has a general student body that is 63 percent Black and Hispanic, 27 percent white and 6 percent Asian. But the demographics are quite different in the school’s Gifted and Talented (“G&T”) program: 47 percent of the children enrolled in the nine G&T classes are white; 15 percent are Asian and 32 percent are Black and Hispanic. In the early grades the disparity is most noticeable: Of the 24 students in a kindergarten gifted class, one is Black and three are Hispanic. A first-grade gifted class with 21 students has one Black and two Hispanic students, and there are two Blacks and two Hispanics among the 26 students in a second-grade gifted class. Only 18 percent (80 out of 447) of the children in the general education (not G&T) classes are white.

An article in Sunday’s NY Times, found here, discusses the issues surrounding the demographics of the gifted and talented program and the general student body. Is the selection process fair? Does it rely upon standardized tests which are considered to disadvantage children from poorer communities, in part because they cannot afford extensive test preparation? Does the school advertise the programs in the best ways possible to attract all deserving candidates? The article suggests that much work must be done to alter these demographics.

But two comments, one from a parent and one from a teacher in this school, warrant special attention from GCP readers. Ellis Cose, an African American parent of a child who attends a gifted and talented program at P.S. 163, noted: “I don’t think the fact that G&T programs are clearly and disproportionately white, and are so lacking, given the size of the population, in black and Latino students is the result of anyone’s bad intentions.” Mr. Cose is the author of “The End of Anger” (2011), which explores the issues of race and generational change. “I think it is really the result of people committed to a system that can never work if the objective is diversity,” he said. “The only way it even conceivably can work is to give young poor kids the same sort of boost up that young affluent kids get, which is to make sure these kids get an excellent preschool education, make sure these kids get tutoring, make sure these parents know at what time in the circuit they are supposed to prepare their kids for what. And that is taking on a much larger task than tinkering with a test.”

In other words, parents have to not only know about the program, the application process and the testing, but start helping their children prepare for it years in advance. As we often say at GCP: One of the keys to getting a good education for our children is having access to the information we need to help them be as prepared as possible. Experts resoundingly agree that the years of 0-3 are the most important formative years for a child’s brain development, and parents need to begin at birth thinking about how to make sure we are doing all we can during those years to engage and stimulate our children. If we start our focus that early, we are going to be better prepared to deal with what we need to do by the time we need to enroll our children in pre-school and kindergarten.

Getting access to this information in a timely fashion isn’t easy, especially since we don’t know what we don’t know. But we have got to try harder to find out. This is why GCP was established: to help parents have more and greater access to information about the education and development of their children, especially their sons. To encourage parents to think about these issues proactively, rather than wait until there is a problem to solve. GCP is a start. But more is needed.

This becomes even more apparent when you read one teacher’s comment from this article:

…[O]ne afternoon at the school, Ms. Lindner, the fifth-grade teacher, said she was “always surprised” when she saw more than two or three white children in her general education classes. As a parent herself, and a resident of Manhattan’s Upper East Side, she said, “there’s no way I’d put my kid in a general-education class here, no way, because it’s right next to the project and all the kids in general education come from the projects.” She said her experience was that many of the children in her general education classes were at grade level or below and did not get the same support from their parents that the children in the gifted classes got. “They’re tougher kids,” she said of the general education students in the school. “They’re very street-savvy. They don’t have the background; their parents are hard on them but don’t know what to do with them.”

OK, this is a teacher in this school. So when she stands in front of her general education classes on the first day of class, looks out over those young, mostly brown faces, and thinks about how to teach these boys and girls, by her own admission she is also thinking that every kid in the class is below average, doesn’t have the skills to succeed (never mind excel), has parents who are mean and clueless, and that there is no way she would have her own kids in this class, because the education is not good enough for them. What chance does a young boy or girl have to achieve in that classroom?

We can cringe all day when we read comments like this, and hope (and demand, even) that this teacher’s comments, coupled with her arrogance and stupidity in boldly making them to a NY Times reporter get her bounced out of that job tomorrow, but we also have to be realistic and analytical here. For every teacher that goes on the record with these comments there have got to be others who are thinking but not saying these things. But no hand wringing allowed; it is time to be savvy and strategic. In biased comments like these there may be kernels of truth, and one kernel here may be that all parents need to be more actively involved in their children’s education. In fact, these kinds of comments bolster the argument for getting and staying involved with your child’s teachers and school. By connecting with the teacher and the school regularly you are learning more about your child’s learning environment, and you have greater access to information (from teachers and other parents) which could help your son or daughter. You are demonstrating your interest in and support for your child’s schooling. You are giving teachers like this less ammunition to use against your child, and more importantly, giving teachers who really care (of which there are so many) the opportunity to work with you to help your child be the best he can be. And, if and when you run into teachers like Ms. Lindner, you will know with whom to work to make sure she no longer has that job.

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Parent Teacher Relationships: How Do You Manage Them?

A recent NY Times online article, “The Dicey Parent-Teacher Duet” provides thoughtful commentary from Sara Mosle, a parent who is also a teacher, about how parents and teachers both approach these relationships with trepidation. While everyone agrees that parent involvement is a critical component of a child’s success in school, overly involved parents risk interfering with their child’s maturation and growth, not to mention irritating a teacher to the point that it affects the teacher’s view of their child. Mosle offers guidelines in this article (found here) for parents and teachers to follow as they develop their relationship. Her suggestions, such as limiting the use of e-mail for routine scheduling matters and focusing on the student’s strengths early and often, will ease the stress both parents and teachers can experience during the school year. Worthwhile reading, as are the comments readers sent in response.

GCP strongly advocates parent engagement with teachers throughout the school year, and the suggested guidelines seem helpful. An additional stressor in the parent teacher relationship not mentioned in the article can be present if parents believe their son is being treated differently or judged unfairly, especially in a school where there are few children of color. In a previous GCP post which addressed this issue called “What To Do When the Road Gets Rocky (And It Will)”, guest posters Anne Williams-Isom and Jennifer Jones-Austin discussed this dilemma. They noted the concern a Black parent had upon hearing that a teacher had an issue with her son: “[W]as it a legitimate fear that her son was being treated unfairly? Or could her perspective be clouded by an unwillingness to face the possibility that an actual issue might need to be addressed? Many parents of color are constantly torn between wanting to trust their school administrators and feeling like trust may leave their sons unprotected.”

Establishing regular communication with teachers early in the school year will help strengthen the parent teacher bond and give parents a better and fuller understanding of the teacher’s perspective (for better or for worse) if troubles arise. (If they do, be sure to read the post mentioned above, which was posted February 28, 2012.) GCP readers, we would love to hear how you have handled or resolved dicey parent teacher relationships, as well as any tips for ensuring that they are good and productive. Any good stories and tips out there?

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Good Teachers Really Do Make A Difference

Good teaching matters, and good teachers can make the difference in how well students learn regardless of how the students performed in previous years. Parents know this instinctively, as we angle to get our children in the good teachers’ classrooms from pre-school days on. Our instinct has been recently confirmed by a study funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has concluded that effective teachers can produce student achievement in students who have struggled in the past with other instructors.

The Gates Foundation spent three years and $45 million on the MET (Measuring Effective Teachers) project. One of the most contentious issues in education reform is how to fairly and properly evaluate teachers. The current teacher retention model highly values seniority and experience, and places less emphasis upon the quality of a teacher’s classroom instruction. While all sides agree that this does not generally yield the best results for the students, debate rages as to how teachers should be properly evaluated. Some argue that a strong focus on students’ test scores in teacher evaluations is unfair, as it reflects student demographics more than teachers’ ability, and penalizes teachers of students who have more difficulty learning. Others argue that an evaluation system that doesn’t principally focus on how well the students are learning (as measured by their test scores) is not in the best interests of students, and sets a teaching standard that is mediocre at best.

Enter the Gates Foundation’s MET project, which teamed economists and education research analysts from top universities to tackle this issue. As the MET team explained in its initial report:

“An important step toward supporting teachers and ensuring that all students have access to high quality instruction is to develop fairer and more useful measures of teacher effectiveness. This is the goal of the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) project, which will support independent education researchers–in partnership with school districts, principals, teachers, and unions–to develop objective and reliable measures of effective teaching. Rather than relying solely on how well a teacher’s students do on assessments, the Measures of Effective Teaching project seeks to uncover and develop a set of measures that work together to form a more complete indicator of a teacher’s impact on student achievement.”

The MET project has just released its final report, which concludes that effective teaching can be measured by a combination of student surveys, student scores on tests, and classroom observation. These things, working together, can best determine how well a teacher is making an impact on his or her students. Using this multilayered evaluation system, and randomly assigning classes to teachers in consecutive years of the study, the MET project was able to determine that effective teachers can help struggling students improve. In a Wall Street Journal article about this study found here, Harvard University professor Thomas Kane, leader of the MET project, noted that the MET data indicates that teachers can “cause student achievement to happen, and this is a really big deal”.

A really big deal, indeed. Good to see that what parents know intuitively is supported by this research. A lot of useful information has been presented in this study, including the recommendation that multiple people observe teachers in classrooms (not just one busy principal), and the effectiveness of having teachers watch and analyze videotapes of themselves in the classroom. Let’s hope that schools use this information to help teachers best help our students.

Special thanks to GCP reader Sandra Johnson Harris for the heads up on this topic and the WSJ article!!

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Filed under Academics, Ages 0-5, Ages 13-15, Ages 16-18, Ages 5-7, Ages 8-12

Redskins’ Alfred Morris: Good Home Training

As I write, the Washington Redskins are battling the Seattle Seahawks in the wild card game to see who will play in the NFC divisional playoffs. All Redskins fans are hoping that the dynamic duo of their rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III and rookie running back Alfred Morris will lead their team to this important victory. Tens of thousands of these fans are in Washington D.C. Fedex field, soaking up the action. But according to the New York Times in a recent article found here, one of Morris’ biggest and most important fans is not in the stadium. His mom Yvonne Morris opted to watch the game from home in Florida, because she teaches reading to 9th and 10th graders at Pine Forest High School in Pensacola, Fla. and the game’s 4:30 p.m. start would force her to miss classes Monday. She couldn’t be happier for the Redskins and prouder of her son Alfred, but “I have an obligation to those kids,” she explains. “I really love teaching, and it is kind of difficult to part ways.”

As the Times notes, Mrs. Morris clearly has passed her strong work ethic on to her son Alfred, the fourth of the seven sons she has raised with her husband Ronald, a chef. Alfred had a team-record 1,613 rushing yards this year, which represents the third-highest total in league history for a rookie. Morris pushes himself so hard in practice, that the offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan finds it impossible to slow him down, even during practices when players are asked to just go through the motions. “We make fun of him because he won’t ever go walk-through tempo,” Shanahan said. “He’s always full speed.”

His meteoric rise this year is even more remarkable considering that he was not a heavily recruited college or professional athlete. In fact, his alma mater Florida Atlantic was the only N.C.A.A. Division I program to offer him a scholarship. In the professional draft he was passed over by all 32 N.F.L. teams until Washington chose him 173rd over all amid concerns about his size (5 feet 9 inches, 216 pounds) and speed (4.68 in the 40-yard dash). But these hurdles only made Morris more determined. “I’ve been an underdog my whole life,” Morris told the Times. “People underestimate you, but I’ve always believed in myself.”

Gotta love this story, and gotta admire his mom Yvonne for her strong sense of commitment and a passion for work, which has so influenced her son. (How many moms out there would miss being in the stands for this game so they could be at work the next day?) Regardless of what happens in tonight’s game, Morris is a winner.

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GCP in the News: The Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice

We were delighted to recently learn that a GCP post, “How Do We Talk to Our Children About Newtown?” has been featured on The Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School website, which can be found here. The Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice (CHHIRJ), established in 2005 by Harvard Law professor Charles Ogletree, is a hub for scholarship, strategy, socially concerned legal education, and open, engaging and original public forums on matters central to civil rights in the 21st century.

The Institute honors and continues the work of Charles Hamilton Houston, one of the great civil rights lawyers of the twentieth century. If you and your sons aren’t familiar with Houston, you should become so, as he is an important and inspirational figure in American history. Houston, whose father was a lawyer, started at Amherst College in 1911, was elected Phi Beta Kappa, and graduated as valedictorian in 1915. He returned to D.C. to teach at Howard University. As the U.S. entered World War I, Houston joined the then racially segregated U. S. Army as an officer and was sent to France. He returned to the U.S. in 1919, and attended Harvard Law School. He was a member of the Harvard Law Review and graduated cum laude.

Houston played a role in nearly every civil rights case before the Supreme Court between 1930 and Brown v. Board of Education (1954). Houston’s strategy to attack and defeat Jim Crow segregation by demonstrating the inequality in the “separate but equal” doctrine from the Supreme Court’s Plessy v. Ferguson decision as it pertained to public education in the United States was the masterstroke that brought about the landmark Brown decision. Houston trained Thurgood Marshall, who, as we know, argued Brown before the Supreme Court.

As the CHHIRJ website explains, “Charles Hamilton Houston dedicated his life to using the law as a tool to reverse the unjust consequences of racial discrimination. CHHIRJ is committed to marshalling the resources of Harvard and beyond to continue Houston’s unfinished work”. Please bookmark their website at http://www.charleshamiltonhouston.org/, and make it a part of your regular reading.

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The Power of Dreaming Big: NFL Player Predicts His Future in Fourth Grade

Let’s start the New Year off on an inspirational and positive note. For those of you who don’t follow football or missed this, it was recently discovered that Colin Kaepernick, starting quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, wrote a letter to himself when he was in the fourth grade detailing his plans for the future. (You can see a copy of the letter and his fourth grade picture here.) Young Kaepernick wrote:

I’m 5 ft 2 inches 91 pounds. Good athelet. I think in 7 years I will be between 6 ft- to 6 ft 4 inches 190 pounds. I hope I go to a good college in football then go to the pros and play on the niners or the packers even if they aren’t good in seven years. My friends are Jason, Kyler, Leo, Spencer, Mark and Jacob. Sincerly Colin

Not only did Kaepernick call his academic journey, profession and team, he even nailed his height (he is 6’4″). How cool is that? And considering the odds of this adorable biracial fourth grader making it to the NFL, never mind being the starting QB for the team of his dreams, how inspirational is that?

The moral of this story, which we should share with our boys, is not to be afraid to Dream Big. Let’s encourage our young boys to dream of their futures, write down those dreams, and keep them in a safe place (with our help) for future reflection. Many schools have this as an in-class assignment, and if they do, be sure to keep track of those letters or notes over the years. If your son’s school doesn’t assign this, you might want to make this a weekend project. No comments about or criticism of whatever he comes up with, just encourage the dreaming. The goal is not to have him predict a superstar career (or the career of your dreams), but to begin thinking and dreaming of his future, and imagining it to be wonderful.

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Filed under Ages 8-12, Sports

Happy New Year!

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year from Ground Control Parenting! Hope you have enjoyed good times with your families during the holidays.

At GCP we are looking forward to another year of keeping you posted on a variety of issues, tips and resources to help guide our sons through school and life. We have quite a few New Year’s Resolutions: more frequent posts, a Twitter and Instagram presence, more guest posts (especially from you GCP dads, hello?), and the establishment of regular columnists in 2013. It is so important for us to understand, harness and use the power of parenting to help our children, especially our sons, achieve and reach their full potential. Our mission at GCP continues to be to encourage, inspire and support parents in this effort. We are all in this together.

Stay tuned!

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