Fixing the Schools? Parenting Is Paramount

By Colbert I. King
Saturday, February 10, 2007

Following last week's column, a number of readers weighed in on the D.C. school-takeover debate. Two in particular provided valuable insights, strengthening my conviction that city leaders, by drawing swords over school governance, have understated the challenge. Left unaddressed: parental governance.

Here's Tracy Zorpette, a parent of a seventh-grade student at a charter school and two fifth-graders at Murch Elementary School:

"Our school crawls with parents. Parents at Murch partner with teachers and administration -- as fundraisers, cheerleaders, classroom helpers, coaches -- whatever is needed to support the children."

The involvement is generally positive, Zorpette said. "But if things start to get off track, parents will notice and not let it slide." Because of this parental involvement, she said, low-performing teachers interested in coasting until pension time are not likely to come to Murch. "It's just too much trouble for them."

Zorpette offered another key factor in Murch's success. "Our [Home and School Association] raises over $150,000 every year." The funds are used to supplement the school system's resources.

"Money does matter," Zorpette said, adding that "the District has it. But it doesn't go where it should."

Murch has a dynamic principal, Carolyne Albert-Garvey, "who succeeds despite the system," she acknowledged, But she added, "Murch can't always escape its ill effects."

Now let's turn to another reader: Brenda Miller, the executive director of the D.C. Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. She said that in the 1980s and 1990s, the District had triple-digit teen pregnancy rates and teen births in the thousands. "Washington, D.C., now has close to 900 teen births every year, with about 25 percent being repeat births to teens."

"Numbers like that," she explained, "present a double whammy. Teen mothers seldom finish high school themselves and the little ones they eventually send off to kindergarten aren't prepared to learn."

She noted that "children of low-income teen mothers suffer more vocabulary deficits (they don't know as many words as other children) more learning disabilities, abuse and neglect, just for starters."

Miller said teen mothers are "a stark reminder that in a city where children are raising themselves and each other, fixing the schools must go way beyond academics."

Back to Zorpette: "Parents shouldn't have to raise $150,000 a year to make up for improper funding." She asked: "How can single parents or parents living at or near the poverty line pull this rabbit out of a hat?"

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