Thursday, February 01, 2007

Are parents who aren't involved at the school criminals? Texas State Representative Smith (R-Baytown) says YES!

From what I hear, I'm not a big fan of the actuality of No Child Left Behind. I appreciate the theory---ensure the same high-quality education for all children, all of whom will advance with complete achievement---but I disagree with the implementation.

The problem is: all things are not equal and never will be.

You simply can't control all the factors. No matter how much legislation you enact.

In fact, I'm concerned about the ongoing rush to legislate for personal preference and against pet peeves.

Most recently, Texas state Rep. Wayne Smith, R-Baytown, proposed that parents who miss a scheduled meeting with their child's teacher receive a Class C misdemeanor citation and a fine of up to $500:

House Bill 557 states that the parents of a student would receive a citation if they are summoned by the teacher by certified mail and fail to show up to any of three proposed meeting times.

The bill would not apply to the twice-a-year open houses organized by school districts, only to meetings set specifically by a teacher with a parent.

Money collected from the fines could be used only for teacher compensation or to buy school materials other than textbooks.

What is this, an Olympic Mommy tax?

Or a penalty for parents who, due to factors perhaps out of their control, are unable to attain the perceived "necessary" level of involvement in their children's education?

I fully believe and support the notion that children who have involved parents might accomplish more. In fact, personally, I think they are likely to achieve and succeed more with involved parents.

However, is this the way to encourage that? Does this accomplish President Bush's NCLB blueprint bullet point four to "empower parents" in accomplishing better education for children? Further, I don't think the only measure of parental involvement is meeting with the teacher.

Why---let me say this again more dramatically---WHY OH WHY do we so frequently resort to punitive measures to ensure desired behavior?

Smith states his motive in proposing the bill is to improve parental participation in education, "This bill is very teacher- friendly. We consulted with teachers including my daughter -- and superintendents when we were working on it. Its intent is not to raise money; it's solely to improve parental involvement."

Some parents---shall we call them Sanctimommies?---support the bill and hope it passes into law.

"I take pride in being involved in my children's education, and I wish more parents would do the same," said Patty Lopez, a Westsider with children in the Coronado area, "If we have to force parents to go talk to teachers, I think that's a good thing."

Is she serious? I'm afraid she is.

Does she---and Smith and other supporters---truly believe that by forcing parents with threats of criminal charges and expensive fines they will become more involved, or improve their participation, and ostensibly then their children's scholastic performance?

Do some parents think that a large number of uninvolved parents are just lazily sitting around, ignoring school, waiting for the right Class C misdemeanor motivation to become involved?

What will the ultimate cost of this legislation be? How many more criminal justice personnel will be needed to run through the paperwork and charges against fined parents? Who will process the fines, outgoing notices and incoming payments?

There are administrative and implementation practicalities to consider here, although I consider the underlying theme, message, and tactic a more important principle to consider.

As one opponent stated

"It's a shame that it's come to this. This is like legislating morality," said Glenda Haw thorne, the president of the Socorro Education Association. "I don't see this as a big problem. I don't really know why the representative felt it was necessary to put this legislation through."

Hawthorne, a teacher, said that she has never had a problem getting parents to show up for meetings and that she thinks the problem might be more pervasive in the Houston area, which Smith represents.

My mother has said---after teaching for more years than I've been alive, in a number of different school districts---that you always have the actively involved parents, the passively involved parents, and the uninvolved parents who fall into several categories.

One of these are working parents who are unable to get time off to come to meetings during the school day, during conference times. My mother has offered flexible meeting times and phone conferences. Ultimately, working around every parents' variable schedule---although it did increase some parent participation---became a huge burden on her and cut into her classroom preparation time.

What if the parent absolutely is unable to attend any of the three proposed times? What consideration of the parent's life and schedule does this bill consider? And what burden does it place upon the teacher to take this into account, considering the possible legal ramifications? What if the parents replies no, but offers alternative times that aren't convenient for the teacher? Does this go on and on, back and forth?

Or are those three proposed meeting times it...and any refusal makes the parent vulnerable to criminal charges and fines?

How in the world does this work, in the real world, not the Sanctimonious World?

What's more important: teaching or policing?

Although I understand this bill is probably intended as a "last ditch, frustrated effort," I believe it is out of line, and overburdens the very system it purports to help. A bill like this sets up teachers to police parents, adds workload to the teachers and schools, and also the system which would be required to enforce it.

Imagine, as the teacher, the power and position this puts you in: you must determine whether to report a parent who fails to appear. I can't imagine. Seriously, this would stress me out. What would happen to me if I didn't report the parent? What happens if the parent can't afford to pay the fine? What if I know the parent works two jobs to support the family and can't meet with me except possibly at a time that cuts into my personal life? Am I obligated to work even more hours and give up more time to my job? What if I liked the kid and parent, and understood the situation? Could I report? What if I didn't like them? Could I report? And how would I feel about it---would I worry about my motive?

What kind of relationship will it create if a teacher "rats out" an "MIA" parent? Then that teacher, parent, and student must work together the remainder of the year.

Maybe I'm shallow, but if I missed a teacher conference---for example, got a flat tire or had a sick baby and had to run to the doctor instead, or suffered a plumbing crisis and either called and couldn't make it or just plumb forgot due to a crazy life---and the teacher reported me, creating a legal and financial problem for me, I'd be pretty pissed off.

I'm pretty sure this wouldn't motivate me.

As I stated previously, I agree that parental participation would help support a more likely success for their child, and would also help the teacher. I strongly believe in parent participation, which is why I am very involved in the school.

I don't agree with mandating this. It's an oxymoron like "required volunteer."

I think parents who don't participate do so for strong reasons. These reasons very well might be out of their control.

Why don't we step up to the plate and help them overcome these reasons, if we can?

Why not support instead of punish? Why not understand instead of judge?

I'm tired of legislators treating citizens like errant children in need of a "head straightening" through legal punishment.

Don't support any effort that makes parental lack of participation a crime. It just isn't.

ADDED: Go to this site to read the entire bill.

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert

P.S. After this week, it is even harder for me to confess I am opting out of weigh-in. It has nothing to do with anything other than when I did weigh-in today, despite the two pounds I was down on Monday at my Weight Watchers meeting, I am AHEM retaining apparently because my weight is back up to the same as last week's weigh-in. So rather than looking at a ticker that says "NO CHANGE" I'm going to understand this is temporary, know that a plateau happens for many reasons and it has been a lot of so far so good anyway. I'll be back down next week, hopefully breaking through my next weight goal barrier. And I'll happily post my ticker then.

P.P.S. Good-bye, Molly Ivins. Thanks for your sharp wit, brilliant writing, and the laughs. I always enjoyed your observations.

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Christina said...

That is insane. Apparently that representative thinks any parent can drop what they're doing to meet with a teacher. Of course, not every parent is as priviliged as a state representative.

Growing up, my mom was little more than a myth to my school teachers. She was a single mom, working full time on a constantly rotating schedule (hospital), and barely made enough to keep us going early on. She rarely was able to take a sick day to stay home with me if I was sick - taking a day off for a teacher's meeting could have gotten her fired. She was involved in my education, but she rarely could make it to any meetings, unless given over a month's notice, as her schedule required.

If they really want parents to be more involved in their child's school, including going to meetings with teachers, then maybe they should try legislation to protect a parent from job reprimands if they have to take time off for it, instead of legislating punishments. And while they're at it, why not legislate mandatory sick time for employees, to allow them to stay home with their sick children?

I don't see how forcing parents to attend or face a fine will help parents be more involved. If anything, it will only make some of them resent it more. In an ideal world, all parents would be willing and able to actively work with teachers to improve their children's education. But this world is far from ideal.

Mad Hatter said...

Hi Julie,
I am part of a service profession--librarianship. In my profession there is a whole lot of consensus that professionals whose job it is to serve the public ought not be be required to poilce the behaviour of the public as well. It creates a conflict of interest that jeapordizes service. You are so right to explain this point thoroughly and passionately in this post.

Julie Pippert said...

Christina, your story and experience are exactly one of the POVs I had in mind. Thanks for sharing that!!

You are so right about comign at this from the other angle: supporting parents and protecting them so they can parent without risk of losing their job.

That is brilliant.

ITA with you about the ideal world, and how this motion will fall short of the intended target IMO.

Mad, and thank you too for replying. As the daughter of a teacher, I so know the POV you mean. ITA, the "public service" professionals ought not be required to police the public like this. I hope we can defeat this measure. I haven't actually run-across anyone who really wants it, although clearly they MUST be out there.

kim said...

You have hit a major nerve with me. I am a very involved parent and yet it never seems to be enough for the "sanctimommy's" (love this term). I also am able to be involved because I have the time. We like to judge but we never think about the realities of other's situations. Here's a radical idea, offer practical solutions instead of meaningless legislation.

A local middle school teacher stepped up and reached out to parents during conferences. Many of the parents did not have transportation to the school or could not come during the day. He asked the owner of a motel located just walking distance from the homes of many of his at risk students, to allow him to hold parent teacher conferences at the motel. The owner agreed and provided softdrinks. Other parents have volunteered to drive parents to conferences. Our principal pays for (out of her own money)a taxi to pick up parents of at risk kids to attend conferences.