Have you passed by local schools lately on your homeward journey from work? The old mind set that schools operate from 8 in the morning to 3 in the afternoon has drastically changed, and for several important reasons, many schools now operate from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. or later.
What has happened is that family life has changed over the past generation since both parents must work to make ends meet. Since after school child care is either non-existent or too costly , our public schools have slowly filled that void with programs to keep children in a safe, adult supervised after school environment so they don’t go home to an empty house.
First, schools partnered with cities to offer after school recreation programs. Next private, for a fee tutoring programs rented space in local schools. More recently Gov. Schwartzenegger’s state-wide after school program funding allowed schools to operate free activities until 6 p.m.. Most recently some schools have begun offering the No Child Left Behind mandated free tutoring programs.
With this plethora of after school programs, local parents have a lot of choices to make. The question is, on what basis should a parent base their decision when choosing after school programs for their children. Sadly, most often such a decision is based solely on “word of mouth” recommendations from friends.
What I would like to do is to provide parents some important questions to ask about these programs as they actually visit the programs to observe how they operate.
First, do all programs operate SAFELY? Are students under the watchful eye of an adult supervisor at all times? Are the personnel of trained in the required safety processes of public schools ? Secondly, in tutoring or teaching programs, what is the quality of that instruction? Are the adults doing the instruction trained to do so? Is there real teaching and learning going on in the classroom or is it just monitoring children while they do their homework? Finally, how do the programs interact with parents? Is there a “check in” process that ensures enrolled students attend? Does the program send timely and frequent updates on their program’s operation to parents?
As an example of why parent inquiry is so important, I point to the current requirement that some public school in the No Child Left Behind program, must use 20% of their Federal Title I moneys to provide parents Supplementary Educational Services – meaning free individual tutoring for their children. The state regulations controlling these programs require the private companies receiving these funds to provide evidence that children participating in their program “show progress” after receiving their services. The question is, what kind of progress? Nowhere in the regulations is it stated that the child must show progress on the California Standards Test (CST) – the instrument all state schools use to determine students’ educational growth. There has been a recent outcry to use the results of the CST to evaluate teachers – to see if their efforts have “added value” to their students’ learning. Why can’t a parent obtain the same sort of information – the effect of the tutoring on their child’s progress on state tests – when they seek to evaluate state sanctioned tutoring programs? Doesn’t a parent have the right to see if the millions of Federal dollars spent on these programs is being used wisely? What are your thoughts?