TERRE HAUTE —
The message wasn’t frivolous.
This week, all over Indiana, school districts urged parents to make sure their kids got a full night’s sleep and a healthy breakfast. Why?
Young minds in grades 3 through 8 are being tested on their knowledge of English, math, science and social studies through the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress — or, as it’s more fondly known, ISTEP. In the words of Will Ferrell’s “Anchorman” character Ron Burgundy, ISTEP “is kind of a big deal.” It prominently factors into controversial proposed legislation which could determine the future of certain public schools, teacher evaluations and compensation, and requirements for private or charter schools to get taxpayer funds.
So, the callout for parental help during ISTEP was significant.
The need for increased parental involvement in public education is the 600-pound gorilla in the room, as the school reform laws are being crafted.
It, too, is kind of a big deal. Bigger, even, than standardized tests. A report by the Michigan Department of Education in 2001 concluded that 86 percent of the general public believes that support from parents is the most important way to improve schools. Likewise, the lack of parental involvement, the report said, “is the biggest problem facing public schools.”
A 12-year-long study released in 2007 by the independent Center for Education Policy found little difference in the performance of students in private schools versus those in public schools. The study suggested that forcing public and private schools to compete through tax-funded vouchers is simply a “diversion” from the larger dilemma (that 600-pound gorilla). The primary determinants of a kid’s academic success, according to the CEP study — family income, the level of involvement by parents in their child’s day-to-day school work, and the parents’ long-range expectations for their children. (And, it’s worth noting that the Michigan DOE report said that family participation was “twice as predictive” of a student’s success as family income.)
“There may be ways to improve schools, but we have to be very conscious of what parents bring to schools,” CEP president Jack Jennings told USA Today in 2007.
So, as the debate rages inside the Indiana Statehouse over aggressive changes favored by Gov. Mitch Daniels and fellow Republicans in the Legislature, it’s quite possible that all of this upheaval won’t move the meter much. As the nation has seen the academic standing of its young people drop in the worldwide rankings (we’re now 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in math, according to International Student Assessment figures), maybe schools have gradually inherited a proportional amount of the educational responsibilities once handled at home.
“I really think parents need to be involved in their child’s education,” said Tina Hartman, president of the Indiana Parent-Teacher Association (PTA).
That organization, with 27,000 members across the state, opposes House Bill 1003, which would create taxpayer-funded tuition tax credits and vouchers to help families send a child to a private school. The Indiana PTA disagrees with the use of public money — limited as it is in post-recession Indiana — to subsidize private school tuition, questions the state’s readiness to hold private schools accountable, and objects to tax support of private schools that “aren’t expected to take all children, [while] public schools are,” Hartman said.
Republicans contend the bill is a crucial component of their educational reform package, which also includes limiting collective bargaining by teachers unions, expanding the number of charter schools, and instituting a merit-pay structure for teachers linked to student performance.
If the decisive factor in upgrading American education is indeed parental involvement, then Republicans in the Indiana Legislature are basically guilty of a tactic their party traditionally criticizes — trying to fix society with legislation. In this case, they’re focusing on the components they can change, while the main issue lingers.
“That’s the problem — you want to hold parents accountable for their child’s education, but how do you do that?” Hartman said.
Now, to be clear, talented teachers make a tremendous impact on children’s learning and help pave their life’s path, leaving a lasting influence. And millions of parents complement the work of those teachers by doing the best they can to help their kids with homework, racing to the store to buy materials for a technology project, following their progress beyond report-card day, encouraging them, and enforcing bedtimes and cooking scrambled eggs during ISTEP. But, what if the percentage of kids getting that level of interest at home is declining in Indiana and in the nation?
In the current economy, balancing a child’s school needs with a job that may now require longer hours for less pay is not easy for many parents. (It’s also crucial for schools to explain how parents can help their kids learn and to support their contributions.) But, Hartman emphasizes that it is possible for parents to find ways to actively assist in their child’s schooling.
She’s in her second year as Indiana PTA president, which is a volunteer job. “I’m also a single mom and work full-time,” she explained. “Plus, I’m going to school to get my bachelor’s degree.” By day, Hartman works as an office administrator for a financial services company in Fort Wayne. She has three kids, ages 22, 15 and 4. She believes in the power of parents.
“I know what they’re going through,” she said, “and it’s hard sometimes, but it can be done. You have to make your children a priority.”
Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
TERRE HAUTE —
The message wasn’t frivolous.
- Mark Bennett B-Sides
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Demolition machinery chipped away at the buildings on the 500 block of Wabash Avenue. I stood and watched awhile, last week. By July 2015, a new $18.7-million structure will replace those relics.
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William Tanoos and Paul Fleschner cast their hometown in a starring role in their debut effort as filmmakers.
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The best views of the Wabash come with wet, muddy feet.
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Most people count the Wabash River as an economic asset for Terre Haute. Of course, economic development officials in the Land of Lincoln beg to differ.
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“That is illogical,” he’d say.
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Imagine an alternate ending to the old Life cereal commercial.
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Terre Haute grew fond of Eugene Debs.
The process took time.
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Set in Terre Haute, based loosely on the legacy of a Terre Haute icon, the movie “The Drunk” has one appropriate place for its premiere.
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In a way, Dave Frey walked in the footsteps of Charles Schulz.
Both men worked hard to let Linus Van Pelt explain the “true meaning of Christmas.”
MARK BENNETT: ‘Longest Night Service’ a time to reflect, remember
Holiday images rarely depict hurt or struggle.
Raising the bar
Around coffeeshops, kitchen tables and office watercoolers, Hoosiers have cussed and discussed the federal health care law.
John bypassed by Hall of Fame again
Baseball Hall of Fame electors have bypassed Tommy John again. The Terre Haute-born pitcher, who won 288 games in 26 big-league seasons, didn’t receive enough votes from the Veterans Committee as it cast ballots on Sunday in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., at the Major League Baseball Winter Meetings.
Tim Meadows: SNL cast member knew he was prime time
If you watched the first broadcast of “Saturday Night Live” on Oct. 11, 1975, raise your hand.
That gives you something in common with Tim Meadows.
MARK BENNETT: Walk of Fame inductee would stand tall in any era
Unlike most of us, Amory Kinney didn’t let the wall around his comfort zone grow taller as time passed.
MARK BENNETT: Words, and what they mean, is what we remember
I remember scanning the granite wall at the grave of President John F. Kennedy in Arlington National Cemetery, looking for those words.
MARK BENNETT: Tommy John getting another shot at Baseball Hall of Fame
Go ahead, circle Dec. 9 on your calendar.
Filling our void: Terre Haute artist Bill Wolfe poured his heart and soul into the project of a lifetime
Bill Wolfe thumbed through a series of photographs documenting his sculpture of basketball legend Larry Bird.
MARK BENNETT: Keeping Terre Haute a vibrant city ‘worth doing’
The past, present and future had just converged at the Crossroads of America.
The moment was made possible by the gutsy spirit of 1920s Terre Haute. Without it, the city would look starkly different.
MARK BENNETT: Tommy John’s Field of Dreams
A kid pedals a bicycle, a ball glove looped over the handlebar, headed to a sandlot game.
It didn’t get much better than that for a 10-year-old in summertime.
MARK BENNETT: Indiana’s Donnelly part of ‘The Middle’ that got deal done
Hanging out in the middle isn’t cool.
Its occupants don’t attract a captivated circle of listeners at parties, their comments don’t inspire hell-yeahs on Facebook, and they don’t pretend to always be right.
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Somewhere, Winston Churchill is lighting a celebratory cigar in Michael Shelden’s honor.
MARK BENNETT: Restoration improves courthouse top’s standing in skyline
Terre Haute has a skyline.
From some angles, it consists of billboards, restaurant marquees and convenience-store signs. From other spots, the outlines of historic buildings, church steeples, college dorms and old industries jut into the horizon.
MARK BENNETT: Inspiring project connects Blues Festival, B&G Club members with music
Think a decade into the future. You’re relaxing amid a sea of fellow lawn-chair sitters at Seventh and Wabash, watching the 23rd annual Blues at the Crossroads Festival. Suddenly, the guy on stage starts playing your old Fender guitar. He sounds like the next B.B. King. Then, the guitarist dedicates a song to the person who donated that worn Telecaster to the youth music program in which he learned to play it.
MARK BENNETT: Even Marty McFly wouldn’t want to go back to those paydays
Reliving the 1980s may sound tempting.
Ah, simpler times. Then again … hair styles as big as mushroom clouds, “Miami Vice” jackets, the trickle-down theory, New Coke, Yugos.
OK, “Back to the Future”-style nostalgia obviously has its limits.
MARK BENNETT: Hoops film focuses on life of ‘Slick’ Leonard
Many Americans connect basketball with Indiana.
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Four months, 500 miles and 18 towns.
In the course of compiling the “500 Miles of Wabash” series, which concludes this Sunday, Tribune-Star photographer Jim Avelis and I heard valuable insights from dozens of people who live, work and recreate along Indiana’s state river. One comment seems particularly relevant to Terre Haute, especially as the ongoing 2013 Year of the River celebration stirs ideas. The quotation affirms the potential of a stellar proposal this community ought to consider.
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Baseball has gotten too athletic.
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