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OPINIONBLOG

Virtual Playground Fight

June 12, 2005

Should parents control what their kids learn at every step, or step aside and let the teachers do their job? The Times' Opinion Manufacturing Division asked teachers, parents and education policymakers to participate in an online debate of this question June 5 and 6. Here are excerpts. To read the whole discussion and join the debate today, go to latimes.com/opinionblog.

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When parents from failing urban schools become involved ... it often leads to increased conflict and tension. This is because [they] question why music, art and even recess have been taken away from children at some schools, or why the curriculum has become little more than extended test preparation.... If they get too involved, these parents may begin to demand greater equity in resources and in the quality of education their children receive.

Pedro Noguera, sociology professor, New York University's Steinhardt School of Education

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Our modern, large urban school system could not be more unfriendly to parents. [One way to alleviate that would be] co-locating schools with libraries, health facilities and parks, as well as government offices, so our neighborhood schools become part of the community, not chained up at 3 p.m.

Bob Hertzberg, former Assembly speaker and Los Angeles mayoral candidate

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COMMENT:

Easy answer Bob ... Vouchers. But your CTA and AFT friends (meaning campaign donors) care more about their members than the children.

-- Flap

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All this works great, unless you live in a place where the school is older than your grandparents and hasn't had renovations ever.

-- Eric

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My community in New Jersey uses the schools as its own. The fields are filled year round ... [and] the school auditorium is a performance space. [What's required] is that schools have enough money to maintain the facilities and pay for utilities. Maybe Hertzberg can squeeze some money out of Sacramento [to do the same for L.A. communities].

-- Richard Lee Colvin, director of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media at Columbia University

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Just take a look at a map of "failing" schools in LAUSD. Then take a map of poverty concentrations. Excepting a few "resilient" schools, it is almost a perfect overlay. Yet somehow we talk about this at "education" conferences but not in the parent conferences that really matter.

-- Steve Zimmer, a teacher and counselor at Marshall High School, is family services director for Elysian Valley United community center

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Many [high school students] don't like to attend school or do homework. I can teach my best, summon all my enthusiasm, and if a student's still apathetic, I cannot MAKE him or her learn. Neither can I "punish" a student with anything more than an "F" in the class, and too many students regard their multiple fails with utter calmness. That's where parents should come in, with praise, bribes, threats, discipline -- whatever it takes.

-- Lori Elizabeth Pike, English teacher at San Fernando High

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COMMENT:

Schools shouldn't make having involved parents the criteria for students' success. They need to work directly with students [to motivate them] to do whatever it takes to go to college or community college or trade school on their own.

Richard Colvin

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The problem in most schools today is not that teachers or parents are the most able to help; it is that the problems in the classroom are so diverse and pervasive there is little time for teaching left.

Leigh

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I have been looking for the parent-engagement magic formula -- and have not given up but am somewhat disheartened when 2,000 mailers or 500 phone calls bring in 30 parents for an important school meeting.

Bob

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Urban parents still possess a phobia about mathematics and often feel they cannot "help" their children with their homework. My retort is always the story of my own parents, both teachers with master's degrees from prestigious institutions, who took one look at my high school course work (AP Math, AP Biology, Physics, AP Latin, etc.) and simply told me, "We cannot help you with these classes, but we still expect your best effort and performance."

-- Peter

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Students need support from their parents but most important they need attention.

Jose

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Some parents trust their kids too much, which is fine when they are doing their work, but it's not when they don't.

Anabel

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If a student's parents are involved not just in academics but also in extracurricular activities, the student feels more confident and becomes more disciplined in school work overall.

Karen

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I find it disturbing that more and more parents these days are expecting the school system to raise their children and not taking responsibility for raising their own children.

Samara

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