The D.C. public school system will soon have a new leader. Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews urges the new chancellor to protect a successful program that supports teacher visits to the homes of their students to talk with parents.

Almost no other school districts do this. The vast majority fear that teachers don’t have time for it and that it would cost too much and be too risky.

Let’s put aside for a moment the appalling and untested assumption that teachers aren’t safe in students’ neighborhoods. What’s important is that D.C. schools have been doing this for five years. Struggling urban school systems rarely get credit for their successes. Home visits in the District are a prime example of that.

ednext-oct2016-blog-ototn-home-visits-dcJune Kronholz wrote about the program for Ed Next.

The concept of having teachers visit their students’ homes isn’t particularly new. Montessori pioneered the idea to smooth first-day-of-school jitters for toddlers, and Head Start has long used home visits to teach parenting skills to young mothers. Some charters require home visits as part of their admissions process. The Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP), with 183 schools, visits newly enrolled students. “It’s not mandated, but it’s in our culture,” says Steve Mancini, director of public affairs, adding that KIPP has “decoupled” home visits from acceptance.

But the notion of formalizing home visits—that is, training and paying teachers, and including once- or twice-yearly visits as part of a school’s outreach and turnaround efforts—got its unlikely start only in the late 1990s. As she tells it, Yesenia Gonzalez, a Mexican immigrant mother who left school to work in the fields of California’s Central Valley, became angry that her 5th grader couldn’t read and that her Sacramento school wouldn’t talk to her about its failure.

Gonzalez eventually contacted a church-based community-action group that, in turn, began interviewing teachers who were seen as “successful” in Sacramento’s inner-city neighborhoods. The idea was “to find out what they were doing different,” Gonzalez told me, “and the one thing they were doing different was they were visiting the families.”

The community group launched a pilot home-visit program with six elementary and two middle schools and, in 2002, spun off the Parent/Teacher Home Visit Project as an independent nonprofit. The project says it now has 432 participating schools in 17 states and the District of Columbia. Flamboyan, which is the Parent/Teacher project’s D.C. partner, says the project has trained teachers in 122 of D.C.’s 300 traditional and charter schools.

– Education Next

Last updated October 16, 2016