“Accountability” has been a hot buzz word in education policy for years now. In several states across the country, teachers have had to contend with legislation that ties their salaries and advancement to student performance. And administrators too have had to answer for student test scores and graduation rates. Now, in Florida at least, parents may have to face the a-word, too!
Florida state Representative Kelli Stargel has proposed a bill that would require teachers to grade parents. The teacher assessment would be a part of students’ progress reports. Parents would receive either satisfactory or unsatisfactory marks, and this grade would be based on three criteria. In Rep. Stargel’s words:
1. A child should be at school on time, prepared to learn after a good night's sleep, and have eaten a meal;
2. A child should have the homework done and be prepared for examinations; and
3. There should be regular communication between the parent and teacher.
Stargel says her goal is not to tell parents how to raise their kids, but instead to complete the accountability circle. "We have student accountability, we have teacher accountability, and we have administration accountability," CNN.com quotes Stargel as saying, "This was the missing link, which was, look at the parent and making sure the parents are held accountable."
A long time ago, early in my parenting career, I encountered a reference to the “learning triangle.” I do not remember from whom this originated, but I have always loved it and have used it ever since. The learning triangle reasoning goes like this: A child’s education is optimized when the learning triangle -- parent, teacher and child -- is firmly in place and each point of the triangle is equally committed to success. In that triangle, everyone is connected to the other. Not only do the teacher and parent have to work with the child, but they must also work with each other.
Stargel’s legislation focuses on holding parents to their end of the bargain -- the parenting angle or point of the triangle, if you will. And they should be so held. Parents have to know that their involvement is vital to their children’s success at school. Studies consistently show that parental involvement can have an enormous impact on academic achievement. This is true for all ages, all races and ethnicities. As one teacher pointed out on CNN Live, teachers “only have so much time with children.” It’s unfair to make them responsible for outcomes that can be and are the fault of negligent parents.
Interestingly, some studies show that certain kinds of involvement matters more than others. A Harvard review of parenting involvement studies found that parenting styles and expectations and a parent’s commitment to talking with and reading with his or her child brought about greater impacts than a parent’s participation or presence at school functions. Thus, if a parent has high expectations for his or her children and interacts with them by talking and reading with them regularly, but is absent from the parent-teacher conference, is this parent unsatisfactorily involved? Since some of the more important parenting factors cannot be measured by a teacher, how can such a grade be meaningful?
As the learning triangle implies, any policy involving parental involvement in education must embrace the notion of cooperation. And a bill that gives teachers the obligation to grade parents on their parenting is not cooperative thinking. As Steve Perry, CNN Education Contributor points out: there is
nothing in any teacher’s training that would put them in a position to effectively judge the parenting of one of their students’ parents.
This may be why a number of teachers have already voiced concern about the prospect of a new grading requirement. One teacher quoted in the CNN article said she didn’t think parents who are not involved would be fazed by an unsatisfactory mark. Another teacher who left a comment about the bill on TheLedger.com said:
Speaking as a teacher, rest assured it is not our goal or desire to grade parents; in fact our goal is not to test and grade students every waking hour, our focus is to teach.
Several comments expressed doubt about the effectiveness of the bill.
And speaking of qualifications, can we really fit parents into the education model this way? In every other situation where a participant in the educational process is being assessed, they are first given instruction and standards by which they agree to be held. This is certainly not the case with parents. The three prong grading assessment contemplated by Stargel perhaps seems obvious and intuitive to many of us -- make breakfast and be on time, dress 'em warmly, go to parent-teacher conference -- yet there are many members of the parenting population who may, for many reasons, not be prepared to meet them. Immigrant families who bring with them different school experiences and expectations come immediately to mind. Is parent education a part of this bill, too? It is only fair to grade a person on information you know they have received.
Stargel says her bill is an effort to foster communication between schools and teachers. Granted, however necessary, schools approaching parents about parenting is tricky. Parent-teacher communication about parental behavior cannot be taken lightly and will not be successful if a school’s approach is condemnatory and/or condescending. And what is the goal -- to elicit cooperation and collaboration or the pass down judgment and shame? Steve Perry states this point well on CNN live:
…If this legislator had the least bit of interest in engaging parents, what she would do is form an opportunity for parents and teachers to come together.
Grading parents, he says, does not do that.
Rep. Stargel, like me, is a mother of five. So I know that she knows better. She must surely know that creating an environment where teachers are assessing parents is divisive and therefore, counter-productive. She must know that there are cultural and socio-economic barriers that make such a system of assessment unfair and ineffective. And surely she knows that putting a parenting grade on a child’s report card with no enforceable remedy or consequence is ultimately meaningless.
In light of what I know she must know, I’m going to gather that Rep. Stargel is trying to make a point. I’m going to venture to say that perhaps she wants to encourage us all talk about parenting involvement issues (as all of the news outlets are now doing) and write about them (as I and many others are doing). And perhaps she endeavors to start a real dialog about how we can all fill-in the gaps and connect the points in each student’s learning triangle. There is, admittedly, a profound need for that.
Gina Carroll, author of 24 Things You Can Do with Social Media to Help Get Into College, also blogs at Think Act Parent; and Tortured By Teenagers
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