I have parents. I am a parent. I love parents. So, don’t get me wrong, but what’s up with the rash of stupid ideas on parent involvement in education?
When I was teaching in Utah, one legislator, one of our friends, one of our champions, someone who had fought beside teachers for class size reduction, school computers and reimbursements for supplies that teachers bought out of their own pockets, this guy I adored and respected developed a idea for a state law that would fine parents $5 for missing a parent-teacher conference.
He was surprised at my reaction. He thought I’d be high-fiving him. He said, “Well, every time I talk to a teacher, they complain about how few parents show to parent-teacher conferences. We need to hold parents accountable. This will give them an incentive to show up and get involved, and we’ll empower teachers if they can fine parents.”
That I know of, this man does not take drugs or drink heavily. So, let’s assume he’s serious and not delusional. I did talk him out of having a bill produced, but just barely.
I wish I had had a chance to speak to the elected officials in Idaho. That I know of, they were not on drugs or drinking heavily when in answer to state legislation requiring incentives for teacher performance, some Idaho school districts came up with this head smacker:
A teacher’s pay will be based on how many parents show up to parent-teacher conferences.
I LOVED having a full-house at Back to School Night! I LOVED talking to parents about their child’s progress at our parent-teacher conferences. I LOVED parents being involved in their children’s education. But.
First, too many politicians are still seduced by the simple answer to a complex issue. Second, they need someone to blame if things are troubling. These days, teachers have become the serial victims of this type of drive-by politics.
My friend, Idaho teacher Penni Cyr, tried, in a respectful way, to explain why this was stupid.
“Idaho teachers know that parents are very, very important in the education of their child, but there also factors that are outside of a teacher’s control. Is it reasonable for holding teachers responsible for getting parents to a conference or to withhold pay because parents can’t attend conferences for whatever reason?”
Idaho parents aren’t any different from other states’ parents. Some of them are working two jobs in a bad economy or are single parents juggling increasing family commitments, or don’t speak English and are afraid they might not understand what is being said, or have health issues.
This law is part of that “Corporate School Reform” crowd. Set your desired “number” and bribe or punish your way to excellence.
Most of the time it’s a test score number they’ve set, thinking the test score means something that research says it doesn’t. Or in this case, assume if a certain number of parents show up, it means something that research says it doesn’t.
What research does say is that schools that have high parent involvement have kids who do well in school. So folks who haven’t actually thought this through think the most simple thought possible: Oh! So just get more parents to walk through the door on Back-to-School Night and the test scores got up! Simple.
And simply wrong. It’s not that the parents showed up. It’s why the parents showed up.
The parents that show up are concerned. They have questions. They want answers about how to follow through at home. They have expectations and plans and understand they are partners with the school in the success of their student.
This is the goal: To have parents so excited about their kid’s education that they want to show up. We can punish or bribe a quota of parents into walking through the door, but to what end? The purpose of parent involvement is to harness the power of parents as partners.
If we plan elaborate ways to force or trick parents to physically show up just to get a bigger headcount and we haven’t thought about what we’re going to do with them when they come, it won’t make one lick of difference in the quality of the educational experience for students.
Here’s an idea. Why not make parent involvement something that’s systemic and aligned to other goals of the school so that everyone understands why we need parents to be involved and in what ways it makes sense to get them involved.
Teachers, principals and support staff are professionals who care deeply about children. Of course, we want parent involvement. We also want people who don’t know what they’re doing to stop turning what we do into a phony number to hit. Parent involvement is more than a bonus for a headcount. It’s more than a fine for not showing up.
Parent involvement is too important to turn it into a numbers’ game.