The Comer School Development Program is based upon the idea that there is tremendous value in the relationships that children form as they grow up, especially in the relationships that are formed with adults. The theoretical framework of the Comer Program expressly states, "Children need positive interactions with adults in order to develop adequately." (Comer, 1996, p. 28) In order to foster this type of interaction, the Comer School Development Program involves multiple members of the community in the educational process, beyond the usual teachers and administrators. This report will focus on the role of the parent in the Comer Program.
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The Comer Program forms three administrative teams within the school, each with different responsibilities. The teams are the School Planning and Management Team (SPMT), The Student and Staff Support Team (SSST), and the Parent Team (PT). The first team, the SPMT, is composed of the school principal along with representative teachers, parents, and support staff members. This team's primary purpose is to establish academic goals for the students, and determine the best methods of achieving those goals. In fact, "All school activities are coordinated by the SPMT." (Comer, 1996, 11)
The second team is the Student and Staff Support Team (SSST). This team is composed of people like the school nurse, guidance counselors, school psychologist, etc. This team is responsible for dealing with potential and real roadblocks to student development for both individual students and the student body as a whole. This team is the school's child development brain trust. The SSST should:
These responsibilities all rely upon the team members' solid background in child development and child psychology. Parents are welcome on this team. The third team is the Parent Team. (PT) The parent team is, of course, composed of parents. The PT recognizes three potential levels of parental involvement in the school, and encourages active participation by parents at all levels. The lowest level of involvement is expected of 50-100% of parents, and involves attendance at parent-teacher conferences, reinforcement of learning at home, and participation in school social programs. The second level is expected of 10-50% of parents, and involves presence on-site at the school. This presence takes the form of assistance with daily school activities as an aide, hall monitor, mentor, coach, or administrative support staff member. The highest level of parental involvement is as a member of the SPMT, helping to develop school goals and activities. (Comer, 1996, pp. 48-49)
This parental involvement is the key to the Comer Program. Principal Charles Warner said of the program, "When you get parents to design programs around your school, plan materials that your classrooms need, and teachers need, then it's something that they want to do - It's not what you want them to do." (Comer, 1994, p.49) By involving the parents in the total process, the perennial conflict between the school and the parent is eliminated, since the two are now working together.
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But why is all of this assistance necessary for education? Why does there need to be a "Parent Team," with the express purpose of promoting parental involvement in the schools? In his latest book, Waiting for a Miracle: Why Schools Can't Solve our Problems - and How We Can, Comer lists several myths about America. The most important of which is the myth of equal educational opportunity.
Comer argues that the lack of well-paying low-skill jobs creates a concentration of poverty, and a lack of social mobility. This is compounded by the fact that what low-skill jobs are available often prevent parents from spending time with their children. (Comer, 1997, 132) This time is valuable for the parent to develop their relationship with their children. Without sufficient role models, children are deprived of the positive interaction with adults that is so necessary for adequate development. (Comer, 1996, 28)
To remedy this problem, Comer suggests the establishment of a foundation that will help to fund local programs that provide assistance to families in the form of supplemental education, day care, community building, etc. Through these programs, families will be able to break out of their present economic level, and parents will be able to provide the role modeling so essential to their children's development. In the meantime, role modeling would be provided through these programs as day care providers and as tutors. (Comer, 1997, 164)
The Comer program has been found very successful in most schools, with praises of improved student social skills, improved attendance, and improved educational achievement. (Zimmerman, 1993) In the Milliken schools of Maryland, reports included improved educational achievement and school climate. (Haynes, 1986) The reviews go on, praising improvements in "self efficacy, relationships with adults, general mental health, achievement on standardized test, and classroom grades." (Squires, 1996) The reports even claim increased teacher enthusiasm. (Payne, 1998) Most importantly for this particular publication, the program was found to increase parent involvement and enthusiasm. (Turnbull, 1997)
The criticisms of the Comer Program come in the area of implementation. One problem discussed was a lack of social trust within the school staff (Payne 1998 and Neufeld 1994) A second major problem was a lack of School Development Program knowledge on the part of program implementers, which led to questionable decision-making. (Neufeld, 1994) However, the studies that reported problems with the Comer Program did not report diminished educational outcomes, only problems with implementation.
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The Comer Program can be very successful. However, its success relies on the enthusiasm and commitment of the people involved in the change. Teachers, administrators, and parents need to be committed to making it work, or else it will not work. Some schools even see staff turnover as a positive opportunity for new enthusiasm. (Noblit, 89) Comer processes. For all its successes, lack of enthusiasm and lack of support can eliminate the viability of this program. When it works, however, the Comer Program improves student performance, school climate, and the participation of teachers in the educational process. Most importantly for this report, it gets parents back into the schools, and back into their kids' education. For further information, be sure to visit the web page of The Comer School Development Program <http://info.med.yale.edu/comer/> at Yale University.
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