Solving Schooling and Parenting Problems: |
How to Maximize Your Child's Educational Experience
California ASCD Educational
Book Seminar Selection for 2002-2003
Teach Them ALL to Read:
Catching the Kids Who Fall Through the Cracks
Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Press, 2002. Elaine K. McEwan
D2415-07619-4503-2 (Paper) 32.95
D2415-07619-4502-4 (Library Edition) 69.95
Ten Traits of Highly Successful Schools:
How You Can Know If Your School Is a Good One
Dear Dr. McEwan:
Harold Shaw Publishers, 1999.
ISBN 0-87788-840-X. Price $12.99
How can you tell if your school is a good one? Does a new school building make a difference?
High test scores? What about small class sizes? Does an eloquent, articulate, and
personable principal impress you? Would a winning football team tell you anything?
Do the presence of innovative programs indicate quality?
The task of evaluating the success or effectiveness of a school is a daunting one;
parents, administrators, and community activists frequently request my advice on just how
to proceed. Here's a letter I received recently from Karen, a parent in the Midwest:
Our school district is starting a new public school next fall. It is called the "school of
choice." It will put children in "neighborhoods" with other children from different age
ranges: preschool through second, third through fifth, and sixth through eighth.
Our district's report card came out recently and the school my children currently
attend ranked very near the bottom. The new school will feature an individualized
education plan for every student with emphasis on teaching to multiple intelligences
and learning styles. This sounds perfect for my son who hasn't been doing very well in
school at all. What do you think?
In 1992, when I wrote Schooling Options: Choosing the Best for You and Your Child,
parental choices were more limiteda specified public school in the attendance area where you
lived, a tuition-based private or parochial school, or a home school. Today, in many cities
and/or states, schooling options are more varied. Many districts have open enrollment
policies; magnet schools are offered to meet the specialized needs and interests of students;
charter schools have been established (AZ, MI, IL); and in some states, vouchers (WI) or
scholarships (AZ) are available to help parents underwrite the costs of a private school
education. To determine if a school is a good one isn't an easy task. My recommendation to
Karen was to proceed with great care. You'll understand why after reading Chapter 3.
Many families are faced with moving to new states or cities and are confused about
which communities have the "best" schools. Michelle and her family live in a
Great Lakes state and they wonder how best to approach a school search.
I heard you on the radio the other day and wondered if I could get some advice.
My husband and I have three daughters ages 4, 6 & 10. We plan to move closer to my husband's
job this summer. We would like to know how to go about checking out school districts before
we go house hunting. I have no idea how to find out if a school has a good curriculum or if it
has drug and violence problems. I don't want my children to end up in a school where there
is nothing to challenge them. How can I find out about districts or individual schools?
While individual communities or states may offer information and ratings for
public schools based on state assessments, SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Tests) scores,
and/or graduation rates, determining whether a specific school will offer the academic
challenge and/or safe environment that Michelle is seeking may be more difficult.
Parents can no longer assume that a parochial school will offer curriculum and teaching
methodologies that are distinctive or challenging. Many have become clones of the public
school, hiring teachers who have been trained in the same methodologies as public school
teachers and purchasing textbooks from the same publishers. Private schools have no obligation
to "tell all" to visiting parents and if they have a waiting list, parents are sometimes
not even permitted to visit the school until their child is actually accepted. Even buying an
expensive home in an exclusive community offers no assurance that the schools will offer the
kind of education they're seeking. In my recent book, Angry Parents, Failing Schools: What's
Wrong with the Public Schools and What You Can Do About It, I interviewed many parents
who were forced to find other schooling options because the highly-touted and well-funded
public school system wasn't meeting their child's needs.
Dear Dr. McEwan:
What's a parent to do? Your homework! I'm not promising this will be an easy task.
But, it's an essential one. Choosing a school for your child is infinitely more difficult
and important than purchasing a mutual fund for your IRA or buying a new car. There are
few consumers' guides to schools. Even schools in the same district, especially if it's a
large one, can completely differ in terms of what they teach and how they teach it. What
does make a school a good one? What characteristics, traits, or qualities are the most
important to consider? If you're confused, you're not alone.
Parents aren't the only ones who have questions and concerns about the success of a school.
Principals are under increasing pressure to "notch-up" the performance of the schools they lead.
John, an elementary school principal, is on the hot seat. His students are failing the
state assessment and he realizes that if he continues to do what he's always done, he'll
keep on getting the same results.
I attended your workshop on raising reading achievement recently and am wondering if
you could share some suggestions for changes that we might make in our school. I am a
new principal and thirty percent of our students are not passing the state assessment.
My faculty is dedicated, hard working, and willing to do things differently. What do you
advise I do?
Committed educators like John are desperately looking for ways to improve their schools and
are often just as baffled by how to make their school a "good one" as parents are about finding
the right school for their child. Administrators are often faced with poorly trained teachers,
bureaucratic regulations, and the wild pendulum swings of educational innovation. They,
like the parents of their students, are looking for benchmarks by which to measure their
schools, for without a clear picture of "what a good one looks like", the task of leading
their schools to excellence becomes a matter of wishful thinking and/or guesswork.
Fortunately, for John, there are many ways to increase student achievement in reading.
Dear Ms. McEwan:
In addition to parents like Michelle and Karen, and principals like John, I also
hear from community activists and groups of individuals unhappy with the current state of
public education. They are setting about to design a school/district from the beginning.
David is a member of one such committee in a metropolitan area. He writes:
I am part of a committee to investigate the possibility of breaking off from a larger
district to create a small district in our local community. We are of course looking at
all of the financial implications, but also want to consider the educational ramifications.
Would you consider addressing our committee to give us an understanding of the educational
process and where the research says we should be focusing?
Charter school committees, church task forces, small groups of home-schooling parents who
have banded together, and even entrepreneurs are all debating and discussing the question:
What do we want our "new" school to be like?
When I replied to Michelle, Karen, John, and David, I suggested three "big ideas" for them
In the pages ahead you'll be introduced to the ten traits of a successful school. These
traits fit into the three categories above and in the following chapters you'll find specific
guidelines for evaluating their presence in your school or determining how to implement
them as part of your current or newly designed school. The ten traits can be found in
successful schools of every type (e.g. charter, public, private, or parochial), of any
size (even in one-room schools), in varied school locations (e.g. rural, urban, or suburban),
and for any age level (e.g. preschool, elementary, middle school, or high school). These are
the qualities I developed in my elementary school when I was a principal. These are the
benchmarks by which I was evaluated when chosen as an Instructional Leader by the
Illinois Principals Association and the National Distinguished Principal from Illinois by
the National Association of Elementary School Principals. They include the criteria I used
to evaluate schools when I was a central office administrator. They describe the
characteristics I wanted to find in the schools to which I sent my children. They are
the recommendations I make to our children considering schooling options for our
- What do you want the people in your school to be like?
- What kind of learning do you want to take place in your school? and
- What kind of
climate or culture do you want to pervade the atmosphere and life of the school?
What qualifies Elaine McEwan to enumerate the traits of a highly successful school?
My personal experiences during thirty plus years as a teacher, principal, central
office administrator, and consultant have been invaluable. I've also made a lot of
educational mistakes from which I've learned some crucial lessons. I've been there and done
that. I know what works and what doesn't.
Educational research supports the selection of each trait. I've devoured and digested my
share of it to write a variety of books for parents: Angry Parents Failing Schools:
What's Wrong with the Public Schools and What You Can Do About It;
Solving School Problems: Kindergarten through Middle School, and
The ABC's of School Success (Harold Shaw Publishers). I've also written widely for
administrators: Leading Your Team to Excellence: How to Make Quality Decisions;
Seven Steps to Effective Instructional Leadership; The Principal's Guide to Raising Reading
Achievement; Managing Unmanageable Students: Positive Solutions for Administrators
(with Mary Damer); and The Principal's Guide to Raising Mathematics Achievement
(Corwin Press). I know what a good school looks like. I hope that when you've finished
reading this book, you will too.
Chapter 1 introduces you to the ten traits and briefly summarizes each one.
Chapter 2 examines the people that are part of a highly successful school: administrators,
teachers, students, and parents. You'll find the specific qualities of each category that
should be considered in your evaluation process.
Chapter 3 discusses the most important
focus of any school: What is being taught and how well are students learning it? You'll find
some ways to evaluate styles of, approaches to, and the content of the curricula found in
today's schools. We'll also consider how to evaluate test scores to determine if a school
is maximizing learning for every student.
Chapter 4 examines the climate of a school: its mission, communication channels, and
discipline and safety.
In Chapter 5 we'll specifically examine the school's reading program and give you some
ideas about how you can rate your school's reading quotient. Both educators and parents
can use the instrument in this chapter to determine if their school is doing an exceptional,
adequate, or sub-standard job of teaching reading.
Chapter 6 looks at mathematics instruction in your school (K-12) and includes a
questionnaire to help you determine if your school's math program adds up to the right answer.
Finally, you'll find a variety of resources that can help you "grade" the schools in the
nation, your community, and your neighborhood: web sites, books, reports, and services.
Read a review of this title at
The ABC's of School Success
(A Guide for Parents and
Educators Series Book)
Harold Shaw Publishers,
1995. ISBN 0-87788-635-0.
Early childhood educators and parents of children from birth to age 5 will
find activities to develop pre-academic skills, dozens of early learning
tips, and a checklist to help you determine if your child will be ready for
Here are some answers to commonly asked questions about
Solving School Problems: Kindergarten through Middle School
for Parents and Educators Series).
Harold Shaw Publishers. ISBN 0-87788-640-7.
If your child has a problem at school, this book will help you find answers.
Learn about school structure, the learning process, and your child's needs
as you work confidently toward the best solutions for your child.
Read about the advantages and disadvantages of home schooling.
- motivating underachievers
- understanding learning disabilities
- taking fear out of tests
- maximizing learning styles
Angry Parents, Failing Schools: What's Wrong with the Public Schools and What You Can Do About It
Harold Shaw Publishers, 1998. ISBN 0-87788-019-0
From the introduction:
Public schools are in my blood and I have always been a cheerleader for
them. The news that I am writing a book detailing the failures of those
schools will probably come as a shock to those who know me. Over a career
that has spanned three decades, I've been a teacher, librarian, elementary
school principal, and assistant superintendent for instruction. I've
written nearly a dozen books about the public schools for both parents and
educators as well as authored a weekly newspaper column on educational
issues. I've answered hundreds of questions for parents on radio call-in
shows and spoken to a variety of parent groups. All the while I've walked
the high road, certain from my own personal experiences that when parents
and educators worked together, problems could be solved and positive things
would happen for students. I believed that unresponsive school boards,
stonewalling administrators, fuzzy curricula, abysmal test scores,
ineffective instruction, and sagging standards were the exception, but I'm
afraid I was rather naive and very sheltered. My retirement from public
education has afforded me both the time and perspective from which to view
what is happening in classrooms across America and the big picture is both
disheartening and frightening. Here's a brief snapshot of what I've found:
Educators and parents alike need to refocus schools on "education" and
regain control from the professors, professional organizations, publishing
companies, and politicians who have used the schools for their own agendas.
The book contains dozens of practical suggestions for making a difference in the
- parents who are angry, troubled, and even afraid about what they see
happening in public schools (both urban and suburban);
- children who can't read, write, or do math;
- test scores which are in decline;
- parents, current or former public school educators included, who are
abandoning the public schools and choosing other schooling options for
their own children;
- educators who are deliberately ignoring, frustrating, and circumventing
concerned parents by arrogantly "circling the wagons";
- national literacy rates which are a disgrace;
- costly bandwagon innovations which are not validated by research; and
- activist groups, parental web sites, and charter schools which are
growing in number and impact."
Read a review of this title at Amazon.com.
Read a review of this title at Mathematically Correct.
When Kids Say NO to School: Helping
Children at Risk of Failure, Refusal, or Dropping Out
Guide for Parents and Educators Series Book)
Harold Shaw Publishers, 1998. ISBN
Practical and timely solutions to help parents and teachers intervene
before school stress becomes school failure. Included are sample plans for
"kindergarten no-shows," "middle-school malingerers," true "school phonics," and "terrible
"I didn't do it": Dealing with Dishonesty
(Practical Tools for Parents Series)
Harold Shaw Publishers, 1996. ISBN 0-87788-177-4.
Every parent faces the issue of dishonesty and needs to be ready with
healthy solutions. Is dishonesty normal? Whey do kids lie, cheat, or steal?
How can parents best respond? Also includes thirty activities for teaching
honesty at home.
¡Yo no fui!: Cómo lidiar con la
DESHONESTIDAD de sus hijos
This title is available from Panorama Editorial,
S.a. de C.V.
Manuel Ma. Contreras 45-B
Col. San Rafael 06470-Mexico, D.F.
Tels: 535-93-48, 592-20-19
Fax: 535-92-02, 535-12-17
"Mom, he hit me": What to Do About Sibling
(Practical Tools for Parents Series)
Publishers, 1996. ISBN 0-87788-556-7.
Sibling rivalry begins when the new baby comes home from the hospital.
¡Mamá, mi hermano me
pegó!: Qué hacer respecto a la RIVALIDAD entre hermanos
This title is available from Panorama Editorial
S.a. de C.V., Manuel Ma. Contreras 45-B
Col. San Rafael 06470-Mexico, D.F.
Tels: 535-93-48, 592-20-19
Fax: 535-92-02, 535-12-17
"The dog ate it": Conquering Homework Hassles
(Practical Tools for Parents Series)
Shaw Publishers, 1996. ISBN 0-87788-389-0.
Seven steps for preventing homework problems before they start. Seven ways
to solve homework problems after they occur. The eight most common homework
hassles and their solutions. Plus study skills, test-taking strategies and
help for motivational difficulties.
Read about the habits of highly successful students.
Read about what every student can do to get the school year off to a
good start. Remember, however, no matter what the time of year, you can always
make a new beginning.
To help the students at your house complete their homework with ease, head
to www.homeworkcentral.com or
"Nobody likes me": Helping Your Child Make
(Practical Tools for Parents Series)
Shaw Publishers, 1996. ISBN 0-87788-590-7.
It's heartbreaking to have a child who has trouble making friends. What can
you do? This book contains dozens of practical ways you can help your child
develop friendship skills. Also includes fifty activities for practicing
friendship in your home.
Read some advice for kids who have problems being teased at school.
Helping Contemporary Kids Solve
Through Wholesome Fiction
(A Josh McIntire Book) Book One ISBN 1-55513-357-6
"We'll go down in Jefferson School history." That's what Ben Anderson
promises when he gets Josh to agree to his plan. And turning loose a horde
of cockroaches in Mrs. Bannister's desk drawer does sound impressive. Josh
knows what Wendell, his peculiar next-door neighbor and classmate would
say, but what would you expect from a kid who actually goes to the library
in the summertime?
Josh's mom wants him to be a good student and stay out of trouble. His
long-distance dad back in Woodview wants him to "have a good year." Josh
just wants to make a few friends and fit into his new world...even if it
means taking a risk or two.
This title is available for purchase from God's World Book Club.
(A Josh McIntire Book) Book Two ISBN 1-55513-358-4
Josh has lived in Grandville barely two months, and already he's met the
paramedics, the police, some teen-aged would-be-thugs and a long haired
leather worker named Sonny. No wonder his mom gets a little anxious from
time to time.
Josh thinks karate lessons would take care of some of his worries, but
aren't likely to help his relationship with Samantha Sullivan, the bossiest
kid in the fifth grade. And they won't make his dad call more often.
This title is available from God's World Book Club and Amazon.com.
(A Josh McIntire Book)
Book Three ISBN 0-7814-0113-5
Hasn't Josh learned yet not to listen to Ben Anderson's bright ideas? He
wanted to explore the old Klum placehis teacher said it was once a stop
on the Underground Railroadbut he hadn't meant to go inside. Josh is even
more unsure about this adventure when he and Ben find evidence that the
Klum house isn't as deserted as people think.
Josh wants to be a herobut by whose standards? Trevor's, the
special-needs classmate who wants to be his friend? The persistent Ben's?
And what about the standards of Dad, who's a 300-mile-long bus trip away?
This title is available from Amazon.com.
(A Josh McIntire Book) Book Four ISBN 0-7814-0121-6
"Accountability" is Josh's new word. According to his fifth-grade
Mrs. Bannister, it means doing what you're supposed to do, and Josh is
ready to try. In the classroom things are going pretty well. Josh is
actually excited about his toxic waste report for "Operation Garbage" and
is an enthusiastic leader of his cooperative group.
But while things are looking good at school, at home everything is
topsy-turvy. Mom has announced that she was asked out on a date...by Josh's
employer, Sonny Studebaker. "You can't go out on dates! You're my mom."
Josh says. "And especially not with Sonny. He's my friend."
This book is available from God's World Book Club and Amazon.com.
(A Josh McIntire Book) ISBN 0-7814-0160-7
"What makes this project different is your hypothesis." Huh? Josh may
need a translator to get through the year in Mr. Shonkwiler's sixth grade class.
A hypothesis, he learns, is not some kind of disease, but an idea to be
proved or disproved. Josh's official hypothesis concerns the falling-down
Murphy mansion and its mysterious owner. But while he's hard at work on the
project, he discovers that some of his other ideas may need revising too.
Like his feeling about Mom going out with his grown-up friend Sonny. Or his
opinion of Candy, the new girl, who may have more to her than her wild
outfits and grouchy expression suggest.
This book is available from Amazon.com.
For a complete list of all of Elaine's books visit The