64 posts categorized "Parent Involvement"

January 19, 2013

Tutors, tutors everywhere

Fifth grade3

By Jessica Kelmon, Associate Editor

One of my favorite pastimes is picking up on telltale signs of an era or a generation. Like ironically nerdy glasses on hipsters. Or "mom jeans" on young baby boomers.

And I enjoy the generational tics you can’t see, too, like millennials’ need for praise that my friends (yes, we’re Gen X’ers – and we wear our bad-idea tattoos like a badge of honor) like to joke about.

Last month, the New York Times pointed out a new hallmark of Gen Z (aka "Gen Me") that I think is going to stick: tutors as a mainstay of a normal education. When I was in school, I had a tutor to help me learn French – but only because it wasn’t offered at my school and we were moving to Montreal. Otherwise, tutoring wasn’t a common affair. When a kid was failing – or at least falling behind – that’s when tutors were called to the rescue.

Does every child have a tutor now?

Now, though, tutors are much more ubiquitous: every kid seems to have one. And their parents are grateful that the tutors help keep the kids on track and their grades up. I didn’t recognize this as a trend, and then…

Thwap! I read Abby Ellin’s article “Some Tutors Are Shouldering a Wider Load.” 

The article begins with a compelling anecdote about a college freshman at NYU struggling to juggle life in the city, register for classes, get books, and the like. There’s no doubt that period of life is hectic and difficult – and more so for this girl because she’s a student athlete. But her mom’s reaction surprised me: worried that her daughter was foundering, she hired a tutor.

"Ms. Borbridge [the tutor] spent about 30 hours helping Ms. Barnes [the freshman] manage her schedule, pick classes and generally feel more comfortable in her new life," Ellin writes.

But that’s not all; the tutoring persists. "They are in touch daily by phone or e-mail, and work together in person anywhere from 15 to 22 hours a week."

Tutor, or life coach?

In this case – and in many cases, it seems – the tutor isn’t just helping with homework or a specific subject. Instead, it’s ongoing support in all subjects and, "also a source of general life support," Ellin writes.

Ellin quotes Dr. Sandi Ayaz, executive director of the Florida-based National Tutoring Association, who describes the phenomenon a different way: today’s tutors are, "more academic coaches," she says. And these academic coaches start – and may never stop – working with the kids on schoolwork and other things – like life skills.

One mom said it transferred the role of homework nag to an outsider, so she could focus on a more nurturing role for her child. One tutor said he’s like an unofficial counselor.   

In some ways this trend shouldn’t come as a surprise; this generation of kids has become accustomed to helpfully hovering helicopter parents since day one. Still, isn’t a little angst and confusion when you leave home for college a normal part of growing up? Should "Gen Me" be spared even that slight discomfort?

The director of a Manhattan-based tutoring company said that any stigma with tutoring has all but disappeared. That’s wonderful, but should we be worried about the flip side: the prevalence of tutoring as an ongoing practice? Does it make for yet another haves versus have-nots divide in education?

A 19-year-old student quoted in Ellin’s story said she, "never hid the fact that she had a tutor, partly because 'you were lucky if you had one.'"

Is your child lucky enough to have a tutor? Is this a trend you embrace? 

October 31, 2012

New study finds unexpected key to helping bullied girls

By Jessica Kelmon, Associate Editor

One of the many heartbreaking moments in the documentary Bully was when Alex – after enduring endless torment on the bus and in the halls at school – comes home to his parents (who I’m sure wanted to help but didn’t know how) almost mocking him for being bullied.

Middle childhood (think 10 years old) is a critical stage in a child’s identity development. On the downside, mental disorders and psychological issues often emerge around this age. On the upside, research has identified “protective factors” that can boost a 10-year-old's emotional well-being and healthy development – including your child’s relationship with… you!

So reports a new study published this month in the Journal of Happiness Studies. Researchers set out to better understand the effects of bullying in 10-year-olds. Building on previous research that shows bullying can lead to increased anxiety and symptoms of depression, this study found a four-way interaction between bullying, gender (girls), relationships with adults, and friendship with peers: “victimization [is] particularly strongly associated with low life satisfaction, low self-esteem, and high depressive symptoms for girls with low self-reports of peer and adult connectedness,” write the five co-authors of the article “A Population Study of Victimization, Relationships, and Well-Being in Middle Childhood.”

Bullying rates among 10-year-olds

The researchers found that about half the kids reported at least one instance of bullying in the past year. About 1 in 7 girls and about 1 in 6 boys – all 10-year-olds – report being bullied several times per week. For girls, bullying primarily took the form of social victimization, followed closely by verbal abuse, then physical abuse, with far fewer instances of cyberbullying. For boys, social and verbal victimization were the most prevalent, followed by physical abuse, with far fewer reports of cyberbullying. These findings are concerning for many reasons – not the least of which is the association between being bullied and developing low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and low levels of life satisfaction.

However, this study – featured in a journal devoted to Happiness Studies breaks ground by finding an association between “protective factors” and mitigating the effects of bullying. “Some of the most powerful factors are of social nature:  Positive social relationships with adults and peers are strongly associated with children’s resilience, well-being, health, and competence,” the researchers write. They warn that protective factors don’t necessarily counteract the negative effects of being bullied, but the evidence shows that – especially for girls – social support from adults and peers may buffer them. Unfortunately, this moderating effect wasn’t found for boys, so further research is needed to determine what may have a buffering affect for boys.

How you can buffer the effects of bullying

So what’s in this secret sauce to create a connection between you and your 10-year-old? Among the questions the 10-year-olds answered: “Does a parent or some other grown-up at home listen when you have something to say?” “Does a parent or some other grown-up at home believe that you can do a good job?” “Does a parent or some other grown-up at home want you to do your best?” Even if the study doesn’t prove these parental efforts are equally effective for boys, I can’t help but think that Alex would have benefitted, in a large or small way, if he'd been able to answer, Yes, Yes, and Yes. 

October 11, 2012

Electioneering at your kitchen table: what are you teaching the kids?

By Jessica Kelmon, Associate Editor

Raise your hand if you can explain the electoral college to your curious 7-year-old.

We tried this at our GreatSchools laboratory (aka on our own children at home) and quickly figured out how tough it was.  

How do you teach your kids about something you don’t understand all that well yourself? That’s where we aimed to help. Keeping in mind that we want kids to be engaged, not glazed, we envision great fun and election education all wrapped up in a series of activities that would work for a range of kids (and might even teach us grown ups a thing or two.)

A virtual scavenger hunt!

Back at the drawing board, we mapped a plan to create something fun and useful.  Entertaining and educational.

Here’s what we did:

  • Because kids think paperwork is fascinating and fun, we let them register to vote.
  • Because there really are words your child needs to learn, we made a fill-in-the-blanks story.
  • Because we think all kids should think about being president if that’s their dream, we have silly speech-writing, creative poster-making, and inspirational White House design activities.

And because the best way to understand something is to do it yourself, we include a ballot so your child can vote.

How you use these materials is up to you. But try the activities with your child, share them with your child’s teacher, and tell us whether you think we helped turn your curious grade schooler into a well-informed, thoughtful, future voter. 

Download the election booklet here or see it here.


August 30, 2012

Confession of a crammer

By Jessica Kelmon, Associate Editor

Cramming was the secret to my school success, the bread and butter of my academic career, one of the few things I did really well from a young age. I would study and do my homework, of course, but the lion’s share of my effort was always the night before. Was sleep sacrificed? Oh, yes. But I was a firm believer in the power of sleep banking: I always made up for my lost zzz’s on the weekends.

So there's a bit of payback in the news released by my alma mater this week: research findings that show my study methods were total hooey based on rationalization, not reason. In fact, if I’m anything like the kids in a new study called “To Study or to Sleep? The Academic Costs of Extra Studying at the Expense of Sleep” by UCLA researchers (published in Child Development), then my last minute, stay-up-all-night approach to studying probably created more academic problems than it solved.

For the study, researchers asked 9th, 10th, and 12th graders to complete daily diaries for two weeks documenting their study time, sleep time, and academic functioning, and the results were clear: sacrificing sleep for study time takes a toll on learning and academic performance.

But if you’re raising a hard-working, college-bound student, it can be hard to get her to close the books and go to sleep. (Just ask my mom.) The struggle over sleep goes on in households across America – and a new school year is the perfect time to instill new habits. So here’s a little wisdom to back you up next time you want your tween or teen to turn out the lights (all quotes are from the UCLA study).

Study time is likely controlling your child’s sleep time

“Study time is one of the most significant determinants of high school students’ sleep time, more so than time spent with friends or family or time spent using media.” Sharing this info may backfire when you’re trying to limit screen time, but I’ll bet this nugget sticks with your child.

Staying up to study may be hurting, not helping

“Thus, our results suggest that regardless of whether or not students had a test, study time became increasingly associated with academic problems such that, by 10th grade, nights with longer than average study times tended to be followed by days with more academic problems.”

The 8 hour a night myth (Hint: 8 hours isn't enough)

“In high school, sacrificing sleep to study may be especially problematic because, in general, high school age adolescents are chronically sleep deprived… the vast majority of high school students (62%) get insufficient sleep… In 9th grade, the average adolescent sleeps for 7.6 hr per night, and this time decreases to 7.3 hr in 10th grade, 7.0 hr in 11th grade, and 6.9 hr in 12th grade” So it’s building over time – and wreaking havoc on your child’s learning abilities. Part of the problem is the amount of sleep kids need is constantly misstated (check out the chart below). According to the National Sleep Foundation, 8 hours may not even be enough for adults – and it’s definitely not enough for a school-aged child.


As for my sleep banking theory, the researchers make it clear that it doesn't work:, “other studies have demonstrated that even beyond total amounts of sleep, irregular sleep schedules are associated with lower academic performance.”

Time management to the rescue

So what’s the answer?  If there are too many demands on your high schoolers' time, don’t let it affect their sleep, researchers say. Instead, encourage your child find ways to use school time more effectively, watch less TV, and take a hard look at extracurriculars.

And when it comes to studying for a test, students should do a consistent, manageable amount of studying every night and then go to bed at a reasonable hour. “In and of itself, this is a generally effective study strategy—experimental research has demonstrated that spacing study time evenly across a number of days results in better academic performance than studying in one massed session, even if the total amount of study time is the same.”  

In other words: no cramming!

June 17, 2012

Just in time for Father’s Day: why dad’s love matters so much

By Jessica Kelmon, Associate Editor

Fatherly love is critical to a child's development. In fact, it’s one of the single greatest influences. What’s more, a father's love sometimes outweighs a mother's in terms of child development. These are just a few of the findings from a September 2011 study published last month in Personality and Social Psychology Review.

“It’s not that mothers aren’t important – they are – no one would ever argue that they aren’t,” study co-author Professor Ronald P. Rohner is quick to point out, but in his long-term research on acceptance-rejection theory across 13 nations, he’s uncovered some interesting news about a father's parenting role.

For one, when fathers act as nurturing (primary or secondary) caregivers, their kids benefit in terms of social-emotional and cognitive development, according to Rohner. Does this seem obvious? It’s not, he insists.

For about 300 years now in the U.S. and the western world, we’ve collectively assumed that kids mainly need a loving mom for positive child development. In just the past 10 years, though, we’ve learned that mindset is fundamentally wrong, Rohner says. “Dads have as great or greater influence in a variety of contexts,” he says, “so we need to encourage dads to get involved in caring for their kids in a loving way. …  And we need to encourage moms to let dads play that role.”

What’s more, young adults who remember feeling accepted by their dads show a greater sense of well-being, and a greater sense of satisfaction and happiness than those who remember acceptance by their mothers, Rohner says.

Rohner’s research centers mainly on parental acceptance-rejection theory – and hinges on a child’s perception of each parent’s actions in four areas: warmth and affection, hostility and aggression, indifference and neglect, and the child’s general sense of being loved.

Across cultures, national boundaries, and families, these four areas have proven important in children’s perception of their parents’ affection, he says, and translates to a cluster of seven personality and behavior traits – either positive or negative – in the kids. If a child rates his parent positively, then he’s likely to show low hostility and aggression; independence; positive self-esteem; positive self-adequacy; emotional stability; emotional responsiveness; and a positive worldview. If that child rates his parent as cold, aggressive, indifferent, and generally unloving, though, then the opposite of those seven traits tend to surface, with the child exhibiting increased anxiety, insecurity, hostility, and anger; less emotional stability; poor self-esteem; and dependence issues.

“Everywhere in the world, kids who feel rejected by their parents tend to have mental health problems,” Rohner says. “Fathers show up more than mothers in these situations: if kids feel rejected by dad, they’re more likely to have behavior problems, delinquencies, depression and depressed affect, and substance abuse [problems].”

Results from more than 500 studies have established that, in many cases, a father’s perceived love (or lack thereof) can have greater impact than a mother's. The enduring question for Rohner has been: why? Rohner’s work with the International Father Acceptance Rejection Project, which has conducted research in 13 nations, has allowed Rohner and his colleagues to proffer an explanation. It has to do with the child’s perceived interpersonal power and prestige of each parent. Basically, if a child perceives Dad to have more interpersonal power and prestige than Mom, then Dad’s level of acceptance (or rejection) will have more sway over the child’s development. And vice-versa – Mom may be the one with higher perceived interpersonal power and prestige, and then the child’s perceived acceptance (or rejection) from Mom will have more influence. Could other factors play a part as well? Absolutely, says Rohner. His research continues.

But armed with this info, Rohner says there are a few important takeaways for parents. First, a child’s misbehavior shouldn't automatically be attributed to the mother's parenting, he says, warning that there’s way too much “mother bashing” in the world today. In many cases, a second look at the father's parenting may be in order.

Second, if parents notice the cluster of seven negative traits in their child, it’s worth investigating. “If parents see that in their kids,” he says, “the odds are that their kids are experiencing some significant rejection in some context. … And kids can very often tell you about it if you ask in the right way.”

But most important is the good news: that dad’s love matters. “Bottom line,” he says: “Dads, get involved. Get involved in a loving way in caregiving for your kids if you want to maximize the likelihood of healthy social-emotional and cognitive development of your children.”

June 16, 2012

Making Father's Day resolutions


In honor of Father's Day, we've asked one of our favorite dads, GreatSchools' Product Manager Chris Kiuchi, to share why this Hallmark holiday resonates.

By Chris Kiuchi, guest blogger

Dear August and Ellis,

As your mom knows, I’ve never been one to make or stick with New Year’s resolutions – they just seem silly. But not so with being a good father – that is something significant, something I want to constantly improve. So I'm taking this Father's Day to make a parenting resolution.

Here's why: You have both filled my life with energy, laughter, creativity, and happiness. Thanks to you, I have a deeper (and consequently more conflicted) understanding of myself. Thank you for keeping me on my toes. Since your arrival, my life – and your mother’s life – is so much more complicated and tiring, but infinitely more meaningful. We are both out-of-control-in-love with you guys. In our eyes, you are the smartest, funniest, most beautiful boys in the world. Actually, I only hedged out of faux-humility: I’m pretty sure it’s true.

August - At four years old, it is obvious you are a storyteller. I promise to hang on your every word. Indulge in your curiousness. There is perfection in your process. You have a brilliant mind that is already full of interesting stuff. I can’t wait to see what you create.

Ellis - our darling baby. You have completed our family and fulfilled our dreams. Your verve for life is infectious. It makes me want to live forever. Your kindness and sense of empathy at two years of age surprises me every day. I can’t wait till you can tell me everything that is on your mind.

I’m looking forward to this Sunday. I hope I get a very traditional Father’s Day gift like a #1 Dad mug or a tie. I will parade it around at work on Monday boasting to anyone who asks how special you made me feel.

But I know Father’s Day isn’t just for me, and I have a something for you as well: a promise. I vow to make Father’s Day resolutions to work on my fathering every year. Being your dad means that my life is no longer just mine. I am yours. My happiness is your happiness, and my health is your health. This year, I promise to take care of my happiness and health in order to better preserve yours. This is my Father’s Day resolution.


To all the dads out there:  Do you have any Father's Day resolutions? We'd love to hear them.


June 07, 2012

Should schools share the wealth?

By Jessica Kelmon, Associate Editor

Last week the New York Times reported on the “public privates” – schools where parent groups like the PTA or PTO raise around $1M per year for their public schools. These schools, which are typically in higher-income neighborhoods and tend to yield top marks on state tests, have found shelter from the budget-cutting storm with parent fundraising shielding them from many of the painful cuts other public schools have been forced to make.

But it’s not just happening in Manhattan’s best neighborhoods. Parent fundraising groups are a force to be reckoned with in schools across the country. Last year, I wrote about three heavy-hitting parent groups in California: Orinda (where the Educational Foundation contributes $1M a year), Piedmont (where the Parent Club not only provides PE, but makes it an adventurer’s dream with lessons in rock climbing and bay kayaking), and Long Beach (where the Longfellow Legacy Foundation goes after deep pockets to keep tutoring and music programs alive).

It’s hard to argue with parents raising funds for their kids' education. Private-school educational consultant Emily Glickman was quoted in the New York Times article saying: “Many now have amenities that can compete with private school offerings.” Who doesn’t want that?

The rich-poor divide

The trouble is that while these more affluent public schools flourish, other public schools are enduring terrible cuts. In a column titled “Why Does Family Wealth Affect Learning?” published in American Educator (Spring 2012), Daniel T. Willingham does a nice job of sorting through the relevant research to determine why kids from lower socio-economic status (SES) families tend to do worse in school than middle class and affluent kids

“Research shows it’s not all about the money,” Willingham writes, but it is almost all indirectly related. He points out that SES kids live in a state of chronic stress that can be cognitively crippling as a result of issues like food insecurity, financial worries, high-crime neighborhoods, more crowded living conditions, and healthcare concerns. Willingham makes a case for countering the stress SES kids face with the creation of a "serene, joyful classroom," – which is exactly what the parent fundraisers at more prosperous public schools are trying to do for their kids. So it may not be all about the money, but certainly more money would help.

Should schools share the wealth?

Which raises the question: should these more affluent schools share the wealth? The Times article goes on to cite some of the pros and cons of forced sharing, such as not wanting to interfere with parents contributing to their own kids’ schools, it being harder to raise funds without control over how they’re spent, and creating government-funding formulas to remedy the inequities. The article does, however, mention that schools in Portland, OR, are required to share some of their bounty. (A share-the-wealth structure works for the NFL, too.)

How much does your school’s parent organization ask for each year? Would you give more, the same, or less if you knew that, say, 25 percent of the funds raised would go to a suffering school? If you child goes to a hard-hit school, would you welcome the funds from mandatory sharing?

May 27, 2012

Oh please….graduating from kindergarten?!

By Leslie Crawford, Senior Editor

How do I feel about my child's kindergarten "graduation"? (Hint: the ironic quotation marks are a signal that you might want to brace yourself for a rant and here it comes.)

People, this is kindergarten! When I was a kid, we didn’t have graduations. We were delirious if, as was the fabled tradition at Teller Elementary, no one beat us up on the last day of school when we trekked a mile home… in the snow. (OK, it was June and a four block walk. Details.) Putting on all that pomp and circumstance as if they were graduating from medical school is just one more example of how our "You did it!" ribbon-fetishizing society now rewards kids if they succeed in putting their shoes on in time for school.

The Grinch who stole kindergarten graduation

This pretty much sums up my Grinchy outlook this time last week when I it dawned on me that along with my son's eighth-grade graduation in two weeks, I was going to have to take off yet another day of work that – along with so many furlough days – chips away at precious family vacations. The kindergarten graduation ceremony is at 11:30 a.m., there is a picnic lunch afterwards, and then parents are told, "You're welcome to take your child home." Geesh.

Before someone hands me the Mommy Dearest 2012 Award, I'll come clean and confess that my heart grew three times that day when I stepped into the school auditorium that was filled to standing capacity by family members clutching video cameras and bouquets of flowers. The giant rainbow arc of balloons festooning the stage had transformed our dilapidated, plain Jane public school auditorium into a beautiful Broadway showgirl.

Mini-me college graduates

The kindergartners, sitting in the front two rows, looked like mini-me college grads: boys in jacket and tie and girls in Sunday best dresses - with plenty of light-up sneakers… and why don’t they make those for grown-ups?

I looked at my daughter who had been such a nervous wreck the night before because they were going to have to sing in public – terrifying for her – and she was beaming. “I’m so proud of you,” said one kindergarten teacher, before handing out diplomas as each young graduate marched saucily up on stage. “Now you’re first graders.”

Talk about a doh moment. Between the time I went to elementary school and now, some wise educators figured out that making a big deal of finishing the first year of real school sends a message to students that what they’ve done is important. It acknowledges that the effort they’ve put in to work and play with others, to read and write, add and subtract, is something to celebrate.

This rite-of-passage also gives them a chance, as any significant ceremony does, to take stock of their life and look forward to the next chapter. "I'm so excited to go into a number grade,” my friend Vicki’s son told her when he graduated from kindergarten. Figuratively, and literally, if they weren’t before, the kids are counting on school now.

May 18, 2012

Hey mom and dad: how’s your GPA?

By Jessica Kelmon, Associate Editor

You teach your kids to work hard in school and respect the teacher – but what if the tables were turned and that highly revered educator started grading you?

Welcome to parent report cards, a proposed pilot program at two struggling schools in Tennessee. It’s a novel idea, and I’m guessing a small part of teachers the world over consider it long overdue. In fact, it probably is.

Tennessee wants parents to grade themselves

But it’s not just an innovative school program, it’s the subject of a state bill that just passed the Tennessee State Legislature and the state’s governor is reportedly inclined to sign. If passed, parents would get a report card to evaluate themselves when they get their child’s report card. So teachers wouldn’t actually grade parents – but parents would grade themselves on how they’re supporting their children’s education at home (stuff like reviewing homework, communicating with the teacher, and attending school conferences) on an E to U (E=excellent, S=satisfactory, N=needs improvement, U=unsatisfactory) basis.

This is the state’s second major attempt to increase parental involvement in public education. Tennessee has already passed a parental contract which will go into effect next year. It allows schools to give parents contracts specifying how they should support their children's education. 

Schools can’t do it alone

If it passes and succeeds, the four-year pilot report card program could be expanded to more (maybe all) schools. Both the contract and the report card programs are more about raising awareness than censuring parents – there’s no real bite. Signing the contract is voluntary and there’s no penalty for failing to uphold it. Even if parents give themselves straight U’s, such “failure” has no external repercussions.

The point, however, is important – and one the legislature is trying to drive home: when parents get involved, kids are more successful at school – with better grades, better staying power, and a better chance of attending college. 

If your school sent home such a contract, would you sign it? If you had to grade yourself right now on reviewing your child’s homework each night and attending school meetings, would you get an E or U? You can tell me – I won’t judge. In fact, no one should; the point is to get us thinking.

May 02, 2012

Would you borrow money for private school?

By Jessica Kelmon, Associate Editor

Last month I wrote about the student loan crisis contributing to a higher education bubble. While college and graduate school loans have been making headlines, there’s a much less talked about trend in student loans: parents borrowing money to send their kids to private school - starting in preschool.

In her Washington Post column titled “Kindergarten Loans” last week, Michelle Singletary cites a Smartmoney.com article about the rising rates of families – some with six-figure incomes – borrowing money to cover tuition way before college. The trend is disturbing because families are sacrificing financial stability to ensure a quality education (which, ideally, would be free if they felt their children’s needs could be met at public school), but not surprising, given that many families are still recovering (and hurting) from the recession but unwilling to sacrifice their children’s education and future. So perhaps families decide to borrow for a year or two – or four – just till things get a little easier. Sounds reasonable enough.

But there’s another risk to consider, as the New York Times reported this week: once you’ve committed to private school, you’re on the hook for tuition – even if your financial circumstances change. As Jenny Anderson reported, at least five tony private schools in Manhattan have sued families for tuition even if, for example, the parents withdrew their kids before school started, or have been an active part of the school’s community for years, or if the school could still fill that child’s spot.

Since 2008, I’ve read no end of blogs, comments, and community posts about borrowing to make ends meet – some sentiments that stood out spoke of the preschool years being particularly expensive, pay cuts being temporary, and college being a necessity (not a luxury) – and many made compelling arguments for borrowing shrewdly in the name of education. I, too, have borrowed in the name of education, and full disclosure: despite the fact that I find the trend disturbing, I think a stimulating, social, and positive early learning environment in preschool is valuable for kids and if need be, I’ll borrow to pay for preschool, too.

My question for you, GreatSchools parents who value education, is this: Would you borrow for private school?


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