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.
Tags: Texas State Representative Wayne Smith, Republican-Baytown,House Bill 557,,Class C misdemeanor citation and a fine of up to $500 for missing teacher conference, uninvolved parents school, no child left behind, scholastic achievement parents involved school