A 7 Keys to College Readiness meeting (part of the Parent Academy roll-out) was held in my cluster on Monday and so I decided to stop by. Of the 120 chairs set up in the school’s cafeteria, about half were filled. The audience was diverse, with a majority of African-Americans, a smattering of whites and a few Asians. Half a dozen or so Spanish-speaking attendees were receiving simultaneous translation via headphones.
Two MCPS officials gave the presentation and led off with one of those painful “warm-up” exercises where they 1) offer a statement like “Most parents want their children to have the opportunity to go to college,” 2) ask those gathered to raise their “Agree” or “Disagree” card–and then 3) have the participants share why they said what they did. Here are the questions that were asked:
- Most parents know the questions to ask teachers and principals to find out how their child is doing in school.
- Most parents know the classes children should take in elementary, middle and high school to be ready for college.
- Most parents talk with their children about expectations and dreams for the future
- Most parents know what supports are available to help their children do better in school.
“This is more than an information campaign,” the MCPS official intoned, “this is about advocacy.” Roll tape/DVD of the “Seven Keys to College Readiness” – “a pathway identified by MCPS that will increase the likelihood of students being ready for college and earning a degree.” (The video is on the Keys homepage.)
Next the presenter shared a cautionary tale from his own family, of a nephew who was getting A’s and B’s in elementary and middle school but got off track in high school. He should have tried AP classes but didn’t. He didn’t graduate on time with his class, so Uncle MCPS had him move in and he was now taking remedial classes at Montgomery College on his own dime. Tough stuff. But it went further. Uncle MCPS persuaded the kid to tell his story to the camera and to us directly. Roll tape again. “If there had been a better relationship between my parents and the school, I would have done better,” the student said. Ouch.
And this is where all the sobering statistics came in. The Seven Keys information, the audience was told, is all based on research, research, research. We know where kids need to be. These Keys aren’t set in stone (don’t despair, parents of middle and high schoolers!). They just give parents a framework for asking the right questions in order to stay on the path to college.
Then it was time to show off the mini-website, which is fully translated into several languages. (Question: Does MCPS have estimates on how many families in this campaign’s target audience actually have Internet access?) Again, as a communications professional, I had to marvel at the resources that must have gone into the planning and execution of all this. Months and months of meetings. Scores if not hundreds–and now thousands–of employees. (The presenters took pains, however, to tell us that the fancy brochures soon to be coming to every MCPS family are being paid for by Montgomery College and the University of Maryland, not MCPS.) No doubt, this new mini-site is a big improvement over the existing site in terms of accessibility of information that’s important to parents. Things like “What does level 6 reading look like?” Now you can actually get on the website and see. But a few clicks and you’re back into the MCPS website wilderness. Much work remains.
More sobering statistics. MCPS has tracked its graduates and found that one third need to take remedial classes in college. Of the 89% of MCPS students who go on to college, 49% graduate college after 6 years. Which is still better than the 27% nationally who graduate after 6 years. But not good enough.
The Seven Keys, the presenter told the audience, was “like the secret that some people knew and some didn’t. That if you’re not on the advanced track it’s hard to catch up.”
One parent asked, “If ‘advanced’ is required across the board, what happened to the ‘on-level’ benchmarks?” Good question! Not sure that there was a real answer. “We don’t know what it means down the road. This is introductory. We just discovered this. Should we wait until everything is perfect?” In other words, we’ll get back to you on that.
Some more questions and then a final dose of sobering: international competition. In some countries, for example, everyone takes algebra in 6th grade. “Here we hear ‘it’s too hard.’ We know that to compete globally we have to prepare. We need your help.” And to drive the point home, they brought out the big gun: Obama on the second to the last slide:
Teachers, no matter how dedicated or effective, cannot make sure your child leaves for school on time and does their homework when they get back at night. these are things only a parent can do. These are things that our parents must do.
– President Barack Obama
Yes we can!
My take away: MCPS isn’t just “putting race on the table,” they’re putting class there too. For many families, the Seven Keys is a no-brainer. They will continue to go about their middle class, high achieving business, largely oblivious to the Keys. But for many, many more parents–especially in the “red zone”–it isn’t a no brainer. This is “news’ and represents a massive attempt by MCPS to affect a cultural and attitudinal shift. They’re going to be hearing about the Keys a lot. Thing is, if you’re in the “red zone” and have always held onto the middle class, academic achievement values embodied in the 7 Keys, this perversely can sound and feel a lot like a message of lowered of standards on the one hand, and distasteful high pressure on the other. And mixed up in all of this the subtext that you are one of “them” who somehow have “kept the secret of the keys” from everyone else.
So message to MCPS. As you roll out the Seven Keys, don’t try to deflect your prior failure to communicate with parents and your failure to benchmark the on-grade level curriculum to international standards, onto the parents who have done nothing more than pay attention all along.
Read Full Post »