Q: You talk about parent involvement being the most important factor in a child’s education. But is there really any way to require it? How would it even be legislated?
If you Google how to ensure that parents are involved in their children’s education, you get a lot of articles about how to “promote,” “foster” “and “encourage” such involvement. I’d prefer to “mandate,” “require” and “ensure.”
Whenever I mention this to educational leaders, they patiently try to explain to me that it’s utterly impossible and we should just quietly go forward with our expensive and futile little educational game of “let’s pretend the thing that matters most doesn’t matter at all.”
In fact, there are plenty of schools that already mandate parent involvement in their children’s education. They’re called, most frequently, “charter schools” and they are often quite successful.
These schools require parents to sign pledges that sometimes mandate them to volunteer at the school for multiple hours per month or to attend regular meetings. That’s nice, and I’m sure it helps the students (the results prove it), but for “regular” schools, I don’t think things need to go that far.
As a teacher, all I really need to ensure the success of a child is that the child shows up, pays attention, does his work, and behaves. I’ve never seen an unsuccessful student who regularly did those four things. So all a school needs is for parents to pledge to support those critical areas. The question then becomes, “how do we ensure they actually do it?”
“Showing up” is the easiest of the four. All it involves is making sure the kid gets on the bus or gets out of the house on time. For some, that’s not as easy as it sounds. The proof here is in the pudding. We can verify parent support by examining the attendance record.
Making sure a child pays attention is mostly my job as a teacher. If a student doesn’t engage, I have ways of making him comply. All I ask of a parent is that he or she back me up when the detention or Saturday school comes.
A parent needs to ensure that a child does his homework. This can be streamlined for the parent by having the student write down his nightly work in an assignment book. All the parent has to do is make sure that the child works for an allotted period of time each night and that the homework is submitted. If a parent isn’t available, then the parent can pass the responsibility on to the caregiver. For verification we can use the homework completion grades themselves or a parent sign-off sheet that the homework was monitored.
Let’s discuss making a child behave. If the parent gets a note from the school that the child is acting out, then the parent should address the problem at home in addition to consequences at school. Parents of misbehaving students could be required to send a note back detailing how they are handling the problem at home. I don’t particularly care how they choose to handle it, but they need to handle it. Too many parents either do nothing or blame the school. The school should accept neither of those options.
In addition to all this, it would help to have parents sign a pledge to encourage the child and instill in him or her important values that we all can agree on. I would think hard work, perseverance and a positive attitude toward learning are a great start.
I can already hear the laughter in the air. “The parents of failing students aren’t going to do that. That’s why they’re failing.” So you’re telling me that parents can’t be expected to accomplish these meager daily tasks that are the basic responsibilities of any parent?
I believe you. And if that’s the case, we both know the child has only the slimmest shot of being a successful student. Since the educational system is not averse to labeling kids by all sorts of bizarre terms (like skin hue and how much money their parents make), I see no reason why students can’t be labeled “supported” or “unsupported.”
If the parent can’t be bothered to perform their most fundamental tasks, then the “unsupported” child’s test scores should not be counted against the school and teachers when state accountability reports are issued. The “supported” scores, on the other hand, would give us an apples-to-apples comparison between schools, districts, and teachers.
This wouldn’t hurt the student, of course. He would still get the same opportunity from the school that every other student has, probably more as schools with higher “unsupported” students may receive more funds. But it would make it a lot easier for everyone to see who is really failing when test scores are bad: is it the school? Or is it the parents?
I think I already know the answer.
Now I’m sure there will be lots of criticism of this plan and that’s fine. It’s just an idea. But I hope instead of merely shooting the messenger that you’ll join the race. Maybe then we can all stop running around in circles.
Jody Stallings has been an award-winning teacher in Charleston since 1992. He has served as Charleston County Teacher of the Year, Walmart Teacher of the Year, and CEA runner-up for National Educator of the Year. He currently teaches English at Moultrie Middle School and is director of the Charleston Teacher Alliance.To submit a question or receive notification when new columns are posted, please email him at JodyLStallings@gmail.com. For easy sharing and notifications, follow Teacher to Parent on Facebook: facebook.com/teachertoparent.