Parent Involvement

27 Aug

There’s a huge push in Georgia and around the country relating to parent involvement, and right this minute there is one going on in the metro Atlanta area sponsored by WSB-TV and Bethere.org. And there is a lot of research that indicates that parent involvement is one of the key elements of a good education as well as well adjusted kids in general, that you can find at the BeThere website.

In my county, there are a couple of theme schools (elementary and middle) as well as a high school academy that have parental involvement as the central focus. Parents sign an agreement that they will volunteer for a number of hours as well as adhere to a list of rules and guidelines. In exchange, the school promises to deliver a better education and better outcomes based largely on the increased parent involvement.

I agree that parental involvement is a crucial element in education. In fact, I believe parent involvement is more important than the teacher, the principal or the school district in determining academic outcomes. If you could get rid of the entire educational apparatus and replace it with involved parents for every child, there wouldn’t be an educational crisis in this country.

I have a couple of family members who have been home schooling their children, and these kids are absolutely awesome and brilliant. Of course the parents are awesome and brilliant, too, but these kids are as socially adjusted, confident and creative as anyone you would ever meet anywhere else. A well-educated and motivated parent can do things that a school system simply can not do. And with the leaps in technology, the gap between what public schools can offer versus what someone educated at home can get is approaching zero. Throw in some community theater, music, sports and clubs and you’ve got everything pretty much covered. Homeschooling is the ultimate in parent involvement as it involves dedication and commitment far beyond what any of the local theme schools demand, which is why it isn’t for everyone.

We’ve kicked the home school idea around our house. Jane has been to some home school expos and has a number of friends who are homeschooling their kids. And my youngest would do really well with it, but he’ll do well no matter where he goes to school. But my oldest is a big question mark. Right now he’s getting OT and sppech/language services through the school system via his IEP. There’s a good resource on home schooling and special needs found at the Home Schooling Legal Defense Association. I may hit on that more later.

But I do want to speak concerning those of us who are not home schooling and are being asked to be involved. It’s difficult for responsible parents to NOT be involved, so this movement does strike me as a bit bothersome and condescending. We all do know parents who aren’t very involved, but it’s hard to imagine any ad campaign having much of an effect on people who are unable or unwilling to be involved. We do need to face a very real, if unpleasant to educators, fact: the public school system has as a primary function a custodial role; a safe, secure place to keep kids so that parents can go to work or just get a break. We are paid to babysit as much as educate.

There, I said it.

Public schools exist, in large part, because parents don’t want kids running amok all day. A few months off in the summer are about all most parents can stand. They love seeing the bus pull up in the fall! And while many kids won’t admit it, they like having a place to go. they get fed and looked after and if all goes well they might get an education. But in any case, they are in a relatively safe, clean, environmentally-controlled place. Parents can go about their business during the day without having to worry about their kids. And if they do worry, they have a myriad of people to blame and complain to including the school board, the superintendent, the principal and right down to the teacher. There are ample opportunities for parents to raise a fuss and be heard. Plenty of involvement there!

Which brings up another aspect of this parental involvement business. Fact is, schools want parents involved as long as it’s the system calling the shots. As long as parents volunteer to raise money, schools like parents. When parents start wanting a voice in how the money is spent, then there may some problems. In special education, the school system is negatively reinforced for having parents who are not involved. If a parent isn’t present, an IEP can be done in a much shorter amount of time. If a parent is involved and brings an advocate or attorney, then we’re looking at hours. Some parents are in the office a lot, advocating for their child or complaining about something or other. Some are calling their board representative all the time. They are already involved quite a bit! But this is not the sort of involvement the districts involved in the “Be There” campaign are looking for, I suspect.

They are looking for parents to be involved with helping their child comply and succeed with the requirements put forth by the state. They want parents who will help their child (as well as maybe others) with homework, teaching math and literacy and fundraising. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, but I am saying that any campaign seeking involvement from parents might want to consider all the ways parents are involved, including those who get involved by suing the school system! I think parent involvement is good when there is good communication and trust between a school and the parents. In such a system, though, a campaign like “Be There” wouldn’t be necessary.

I have a mix in my class. Just by the nature of severe and multiple disabilities, it demands heavy parental involvement. There’s just no getting around it when a student demands total care and supervision 24/7. I totally get that, which is why I try not to make a lot of demands on the parents. They are all doing the best they can. Most have been pretty supportive over the years, and I think I have a decent relationship with all of them. After several years, a body tends to develop a sort of trust relationship as my classroom becomes a second home of a sort. A very CROWDED home, at the moment, but we do the best we can with what we have.

What do you think? Are there some parents who are too involved? Are schools really that interested in a reciprocal partnership with parents?

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6 Responses to “Parent Involvement”

  1. Michelle August 27, 2009 at 6:32 pm #

    Interesting questions and good points. One point I believe you missed was the “involved parent who also donates or raises lots of money”. I found it very interesting that the very involved parents that raised lots of money for our charter school seemed to get anything on an IEP for their special ed kid that they requested. While I was just as involved, I was not a big $ contributor and had to fight tooth and nail for the simplest IEP requests.

    So to answer your question, I think schools want parents involved, but they want them involved on THEIR terms. I thought I was pretty involved when I’d sit in the office for hours asking why it had taken them 5 hours AFTER my son was involved in a fight to call me but they didn’t seem to like that kind of involvement. LOL!

    • Daniel Dage August 27, 2009 at 7:33 pm #

      You’re right, I did leave out a bias schools might have toward parents (and their students) who are able to contribute more time and money. Those who have to work and have less resources don’t get as favorable of treatment. I wonder if “Be There” is more of a campaign of guilt as much as anything to do with educating parents.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Michelle!

  2. Betsy August 28, 2009 at 4:04 pm #

    One question I have regarding the “Be There” campaign – does this apply to BOTH parents?

    Not to overstate the obvious – but when I tell my daughter to do something, she will.

    But when her dad tells her to do something (i.e. read a book every evening, which she does) – you’re looking at a whole other level of what’s important in her life.

    What’s important to dad becomes what’s important to her.

    • Daniel Dage August 28, 2009 at 6:34 pm #

      That’s a good point, Betsy, and there is a body of research that suggest that fathers can have a magnified effect on their child’s self-confidence and achievement (for good or ill) compared to the same statements made by a mother. But this campaign is not differentiating between parents and their roles but rather overall supportive parental involvement. And mostly, that means mothers. I’m not saying it’s right, but getting Dads involved is a bit more …er…involved. It’s difficult to give the topic any substantial treatment without sounding too sexist or too simplistic, so it’s easier to just try to target the largest audience. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  3. Betsy August 29, 2009 at 7:07 pm #

    I didn’t think of that. Sorry to go off-topic.
    But while I’m going off-topic, this is what we do with my 7 year-old daughter:
    She is required to read 1 book and 3 Bible stories a night…but we pay her extra, up to $.25/day, to read extra books.
    I figure…it’s worth it. I’m not sure how other families do it.
    I can’t speak for other families, though.

  4. mrchuckchuck September 15, 2009 at 10:38 pm #

    Thanks for this message about Parent Involvement Daniel. I know from behavior intervention research and my own classroom experience what an impact parents can make. The more we all work together, the more we can all help our students and children. – Daniel Gulchak

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