Those Conversations We are “AFRAID” of Having

In the time which I have been tutoring and working with parents on implementation of IEP’s, an interesting road block keeps arising and it is not specific to race although there is a preponderance for African Americans to be much less engaged in working on  the issue.   Parents/adults in the life of a child  need to be far more engaged including schooling, habits of mind,  behavior and nutrition of their child/student.

Here are some examples of what has happened and the conversation(s) I was afraid of having but ultimately needed to complete on behalf of the student and myself (quotataions are of myself):

“In reviewing the IEP, I notice that your child has been sent to the office multiple times in 5th Grade (16 in 5th Grade) and beyond for disruption, defiance, not following teacher directives, argumentative and disrespectful with teachers, work refusal, fighting and truancy.  Can you let me know how this has been handled by you and the school in the last four years?    I have no problem understanding a student with an IEP may be frustrated at times, I do need clarification when it is ongoing for four plus years at multiple schools, districts and with various teachers/administrators and well documented.  Please help me understand so I can best frame how to have the IEP well executed.” 

“As I tutor your child, it will be very important for you the parent to keep up on grades – initially daily and then weekly and then bi-weekly.  I realize this is overwhelming as your child is a junior in high school, however, without catching the train before it goes off the tracks this year, tutoring twice a week for a total of four hours will not make up for two years of poor academic success.”    Parent does not follow through until quarter grades come out and then it is to have me ‘regroup’ and get child back on point.

“I realize you have three children who need tutoring between 3-5 PM, M-F and sometimes Saturday.  It will help me to know the strengths and weaknesses of each child so I know how to focus my time and energy to best help each child. In addition, can you be sure to check their agenda books and homework/grades daily initially and then we will move to weekly.  I will put in where I assisted student and what we worked on so the teacher knows what was completed with tutor.”  Parent refused after four tumultuous weeks to follow through but managed to incessantly text message, call and e-mail up to five times a day to check in on children and change schedules around students activities. 

“I am pleased to do a Skype in for the annual IEP. Please let me know what you would like covered, what are issues to address and what your observations have been for your child to date this school year. ” Parents divorced with split custody: Student still does not turn in all homework and sometimes it is in bottom of backpack, yet complete.  Student does not know why they have not turned in assignment….. “Last year I asked each parent to daily check agenda book and grades and sign off that work was complete. I asked for teacher to sign off as work was received so teacher could ‘see’ work was complete and ask for it if not submitted.” There was no consistent follow through by either parent or teacher – we are revisiting this issue on Friday morning, again, approximately 10 months later.

There are four different scenarios involving six different kinds of families (not in the order of quotations presented):  Two African American families, Latino/Catholic, Caucasion/Jewish, Philipino/Catholic,, Native American-Caucasion/Agnostic.  Students are 60% male and 40% female. Some families have both parents, some divorced, some single parent. 

 In each situation I have had to have painfully difficult conversations as parents kept expecting tutoring and IEP implementation to be something I did rather than something I was involved in and overseeing.

In each case I have limited interaction with the child, do not live in the house and there are not enough hours in the day for me to follow all the students I tutor and review/implement IEP’s upon so I have to rely on parents.

These conversations are real and they are the same conversations teachers and administrators at schools around the country are AFRAID to have with parents as the implication might be…….I am not sure, but there is an implication as we are all afraid of the conversations.  In each case, I have had to revisit with parents and students the role I play in the educational relationship and what I am reasonably capable of doing which is why we are a team.  In each case I have had various outcomes over time. 

Poverty alone does not seem to explain the differences: poor white boys do just as well as African-American boys who do not live in poverty, measured by whether they qualify for subsidized school lunches.

The data was distilled from highly respected national math and reading tests, known as the National Assessment for Educational Progress, which are given to students in fourth and eighth grades, most recently in 2009. The report, “A Call for Change,” is to be released Tuesday by the Council of the Great City Schools, an advocacy group for urban public schools.

Although the outlines of the problem (specifically African American males) and many specifics have been previously reported, the group (Council of The Great City Schools) hopes that including so much of what it calls “jaw-dropping data” in one place will spark a new sense of national urgency.

As long as we are afraid of having these scary conversations and having expectations of parents, we will continue to obtain the same outcomes – or worse as the problem is self perpetuating. The conversations we fear the most, the ones which are most painful, the conversations which start to ask people to be accountable and take responsibility are the only conversations which can actually save us.

Update: 24 November 2010

Paragraph Five and the last paragraph.  I don’t need to make a comment – Mr. Friedman said it nicely!