Parents and students clad in Monrovia and Duarte school colors erupted into approving yells and applause Tuesday as Bill Honig, state superintendent of public instruction, called for parents’ commitment to partnership with teachers in their children’s education.
A crowd of at least 2,300--including city and school officials, two bands and cheerleaders wielding pompons and flags--showed up for the Excellence in Education rally sponsored by the two school districts at Citrus Community College in Glendora.
The rally was spearheaded by the Quality Education Project, a nonprofit organization formed in 1982 to improve the academic performance of disadvantaged students in kindergarten through the eighth grade. Established by Honig’s wife, Nancy, and based in Menlo Park, QEP provides training and support services to help schools foster parental involvement in the classroom and at home.
Parents of 3,700 students--about half the 6,900 students in the two school districts--have signed QEP pledge cards, promising to provide a quiet place for their children to study, have them read for at least 15 minutes daily, and send them to bed early.
Parents also make a commitment to show up for back-to-school nights, parent-teacher conferences, open houses and other school events.
A key element of QEP’s method is regular parent-teacher communication. Every Wednesday the children take home a folder of graded assignments and notes from the teacher. Parents must sign the folders, and may write comments to teachers, who collect the folders the following day.
Debby Collins, principal of Plymouth Elementary School in Monrovia, said she is very happy with the program.
Requests for parent-teacher conferences have doubled, said Collins, adding that teachers appreciate the interest even though taking the time to put the folders together is “kind of a hassle.” Several teachers now send home monthly newsletters on test schedules, how the class is performing, and asking for parent volunteers and donations of materials for special projects.
As an offshoot of QEP, Collins now has teachers calling every parent at the beginning of the school year, “for initial contact and to help encourage them to participate.” Donna Kraus, a mother of two Plymouth students, said she is grateful that notices from school now come each week.
After receiving a letter from her first-grade son’s teacher urging her to read with him, she sets time aside every evening for that purpose.
“When you get all that stuff (in the folder) it kind of pushes you to do it,” she said.
Avoiding ‘Report Card Shock’
Plymouth PTA President Lynn Wysock said she looks forward to the folder for weekly progress reports that avoid what a QEP brochure labels “report card shock.” A note from her fifth-grade son’s teacher alerted her to his difficulty in reading, and she arranged to meet the teacher. As a result of that meeting, her son is now working on his reading with a special education instructor.
“The impression has developed that it’s the schools’ job to teach the children,” while the importance of family support is often overlooked, said Christine Goudy, vice president of the Monrovia school board. “QEP has helped us to be more specific in our presentation to parents. . . . There are simple things they can do that’ll make a big difference for the children.”
Eighth-grade social studies teacher Kathy Rapkin of Santa Fe Middle School in Monrovia said that parents have been eager to get involved.
“They want to know homework schedules so they can monitor assignments,” she said.
Colleague Malcolm Jeffords agreed. “Some students would be a little bit more on top of things because they know their parents will see their work” in the folders, he said.
QEP’s 12 full-time consultants, all former school principals, are involved in teacher and parent training in 18 school districts in California, covering more than 200 schools and about 200,000 students, Page said. Fifteen more districts are on a waiting list.
Four consultants are working in Southern California school districts, including Pomona and Bassett, which joined QEP last year along with the Monrovia and Duarte districts.
The Pomona and Bassett districts are planning “Education Sundays,” a QEP innovation where ministers let educators speak from the pulpit, for Nov. 6 and in early February. Pomona Assistant Supt. Leonard Duff said posters of enlarged pledge cards will be posted in fast-food restaurants and other areas where students congregate.
Included in QEP’s support services is foreign-language translation--including Hmong and Tagalog--for brochures and sample agendas for back-to-school nights, said Dan Roderiguez, regional manager of the four QEP consultants in Southern California. He added that 89% of parents in Monrovia elementary schools signed the pledge cards, the highest percentage in the state.
The program assists schools in designing surveys to ascertain family opinions on issues from how much homework should be given to how much contact from the school is desired. Seminars showing parents how to volunteer or help their children at home are also conducted by QEP staff.
As a result of QEP’s publicity and encouragement, parent attendance at back-to-school night at one school increased from about 70 people to more than 800.
QEP’s intention is to educate administrators so that they can continue the program after QEP withdraws its personnel at the end of 2 years, said Linda Page, executive director of the program statewide.
The organization “tries to put in place an infrastructure to wean (the schools) as soon as they’re strong. . . . We want it to become as natural for the school districts as any school activity,” she said.
Funded by businesses and foundations including the Carnegie Corp., the Seaver Institute and the Milken Family Foundation, QEP has been providing their services largely for free. But “down the road (district) superintendents will find the resources” to pay for the help, Honig said.
Nancy Honig said QEP has managed to reduce the cost per child for the program from $30 to $7, a worthwhile investment “considering we’re now spending $4,000 per child” annually, she said.
While state CAP scores have risen an average of five points this year, according to the education department, results in QEP schools are up an average of 11 to 12 points, Nancy Honig said.
“We believe there’s a correlation,” Page said.
Monrovia and Duarte school district superintendents Donald Montgomery and Robert Packer said it is too soon to tell how the program is affecting CAP scores, but Packer said he is confident “it will pay good dividends. . . . If nothing else it’s an early warning system” to parents.
Honig said: “The kid gets the idea that school and parents know what’s going on--there’s a strong emotional message there.”
QEP staff will help design a parental involvement unit for the state Department of Education’s administrative training centers, attended by 3,000 California principals every year, he said.
The project has attracted attention from educators outside California as well.
Page said New Jersey has launched a statewide awareness program based on QEP’s key elements, and wants the organization to help that state’s officials implement the program in their schools.
Massachusetts would like to know more, as well as the U.S. Department of Education, Page said.
“You can’t keep quiet about a good thing that works,” she said. “Most importantly, the kids win.”