Masharika Prejean Maddison (Bay Area Corps ’08) is the executive director of Parents for Public Schools—San Francisco.
It’s not glamorous, but it’s a critical piece of the education equation.
I’m talking about parent-school partnerships.
Decades of research has proved the connection between student academic outcomes and parental support. The new movie Won’t Back Down provides an entry point into the dialogue on the role of parents in schools, but it could do a better job of highlighting critical ways that this group can be a supporting force for positive change. Rather, the movie perpetuates an often-repeated non-truth: that parents, unions, and school and district administrators are in a constant state of disagreement and misalignment. It’s not productive, nor is it an accurate depiction of how our nation’s public school systems operate.
Photo by Walden Media via WBDToolKit
Becoming a teacher helped me understand the science, or pedagogy, of teaching. Becoming a mother afforded me a very personal lens to see that all parents should be equipped with the knowledge and language to engage with teachers on three core concepts:
- What is the grade-appropriate content that my child should be learning in a given timeframe?
- How will this knowledge—both content-based and critical-thinking-focused—bridge to the next period of learning my child is expected to master?
- What of this current content has been mastered under my child’s teacher’s watch?
Unfortunately, all too often, parents aren’t provided with the tools to access this academic language. Instead, we’re given neatly wrapped Hollywood depictions and sensationalist headlines of parents reacting to schools that have gone awry and appear to be past the point of no return.
As long as parents are only equipped to ask teachers if their child “is doing OK?” and legislation like the parent trigger is seen as a way to provide “a better education” without clearly defining these generic phrases, we’re missing out on valuable opportunities to form productive partnerships between our parent and school communities. Additionally, we must ensure cultural relevancy in the process for sharing information; language and cultural norms must be proactively taken into account.
Imagine if the paradigm were different, and the big scene in that Hollywood movie looked like this:
[Bombshell Actress walks into Teacher’s classroom with a concerned but calm expression on her face. She looks into the eyes of Teacher sitting at a desk seemingly consumed by paperwork.]
Bombshell Actress: Hello, Teacher. Thanks for agreeing to meet with me. I’ve got a few questions about your roadmap for my child’s learning path this year. When I asked her about her day yesterday, she seemed confused about your lesson on arrays.
[Teacher looks up approvingly, clearly understanding the intent behind Bombshell Actress’ line of questioning.]
Bombshell Actress (cont.): I recall from looking at the Grade 2 strand of Operations and Algebraic Expressions within the Common Core Standards, the class is building the foundational skills necessary to understand how to multiply numbers. Can we talk about the pre-skills my child should already have mastered to keep up with these current lessons?
Teacher [shifting papers on desk, gesturing to Bombshell Actress to take a seat]: Thanks for coming in. Let’s take a look at the standards together, and see what we can do to be sure your child is on the right academic path.
Hollywood would serve its audience well to include a similar scene in its next education-message movie, and we would all benefit exponentially if our media provided this level of context when covering the topic of schools and parents. In the meantime, making academic language accessible for parents—not as an afterthought, but as a precursor to how we educate students and their families—is the reality I’m working to actualize in my community.
Masharika Prejean Maddison (Bay Area Corps ’08) is the executive director of Parents for Public Schools—San Francisco. She is a former classroom educator in San Francisco Unified School District and an advocate for children in her community. She and her husband reside in the city with their young son. She enjoys running, music festivals, and has recently become obsessed with camping. Her life vision is to play an instrumental role in working to expand educational opportunity by ensuring all children receive a socially, culturally, emotionally, and academically rich and rigorous education. Masharika can be reached at Masharika@ppssf.org<mailto:Masharika@ppssf.org>.