"A child's learning is the funtion more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Dana Goldstein Doesn't Know What She's Talking About

Here's a snippet from Dana Goldstein's reply to a reader's query about the lack attention paid to parental involvement:
It's true that it takes an extra level of engagement for a parent to enroll their child in a charter school lottery and then agree to keep them in the charter, despite some tough requirements; what about parents who can't or won't do all that? This is a real problem that limits lottery-based schools from reaching some of the neediest kids. But I actually think some high-performing charter (and non-traditional public) schools are not given enough credit for the work they do breaking down the traditional barriers between parents and schools. If you read Work Hard, Be Nice, Jay Matthews' history of the KIPP charter school network, you see lots of scenes of KIPP founders Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin visiting families at home where the parents are most comfortable; convincing one mom to limit her son's TV time, for example, or strategizing with another about how to best tackle a child's behavioral problems.
That's a nice and rosy description she gives of how charter schools engage parents - but the real BS is her bit about KIPP founders "convincing one mom to limit her son's TV time," as described in Jay Mathew's, My Love Letter to KIPP Work Hard, Be Nice. I haven't read Jay's book in a while, but there was only one TV-parent exchange that I remember, and it deserves a bit of attention given the way Goldstein is using this as an example of engaging parents.

I flipped to the index of Work Hard, Be Nice and found only one reference to anything related to parents and TVs: pages 188-191 (for those who want to see the full text). It's possible there's another reference in Jay's book to parents and TV, but the passage in the index is a full chapter with some extended details. Regardless, I've had discussions with a number of other people about this parent-TV issue, and Jay notes, "The story of Feinberg and the television set would be retold many times." (190) In other words, here's a little disclaimer: there may be another parent-TV incident in Work Hard, Be Nice, but the incident I'm interested in is a full (3 page) chapter, and the story of Feinberg and the TV is part of KIPP lore (here and here, for example).

The story Jay tells (and I believe Goldstein is referencing) is about a girl named Abby. She's a ten year old girl with an affinity, like many children, for television. Mike Feinberg visited her home and talked with the mother about limiting her child's viewing time to one hour per night (partly so she could get her homework done). Abby, mom, and Mike agreed to the one hour deal, but Abby still showed up to school without her homework completed. Accompanied by another teacher, Feinberg returned to the home that night and found Abby watching TV. The mom confessed she that she didn't know what to do. Feinberg replied that he'd take the TV; mom objected; Feinberg replied, "I don't want to do this, but you give me the TV, or your daughter is not in KIPP anymore" (189).

As a reminder, here's how Goldstein describes the situation:
If you read Work Hard, Be Nice, Jay Matthews' history of the KIPP charter school network, you see lots of scenes of KIPP founders Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin visiting families at home where the parents are most comfortable; convincing one mom to limit her son's TV time, for example...
Let's be clear: what Feinberg did wasn't to work with this mom and convince her to limit her daughter's TV time. He bullied this mother into giving over the TV (which solved the problem in the short term), but this "solution" to the problem probably didn't actually help the parent learn important parenting skills (like setting limits), and it didn't help the kid learn to turn off the TV. I'm confused as to how Goldstein could read this section of the book and come away with the idea that Feinberg convinced one mom to limit her child's TV time. If anything, "Do X or your kid is out of KIPP" sounds more like a threat than any kind of collaboration.

Note: I contacted Goldstein via e-mail to get some clarification here - and to let her know the interaction I described above (which I believe she referenced) involves a female student, not a male student. No reply.

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