Wednesday, April 4, 2012

If We're Going to Evaluate Teachers, How About Evaluating Parents Too!

Teachers have faced the brunt of public criticism as we address the failings of our public schools, but the inescapable fact is that too many parents have- no doubt for a variety of reasons-abdicated their responsibilities to their children and turned to teachers, the internet, and their peers to (in) effectively raise their kids. The problem is most acute in the inner city. It is a topic that few people want to confront for fear of being accused of being prejudiced against poor families, racist towards many of the minorities that populate the inner city, or insensitive to the difficulties and challenges many single parents encounter trying to maintain a job while finding adequate care for his or her children.

 But the problems of good parenting are not limited to the cities. Many suburban kids are being raised in homes with enabling parents, and while these parents are more than willing to provide the tangible resources their kids need to succeed, the kids all too often develop a sense of entitlement and privilege that leaves them ill-equipped to deal with challenges, challenges that may lead to failure, and engenders an ethos where cheating and taking “shortcuts” to getting good grades is acceptable behavior.

Admittedly, these “suburban” family problems pale in comparison to the powerful socioeconomic forces weighing on poor families, but that does not absolve parents in the inner city from their important responsibilities. Based on the abysmal graduation rates in our cities, and the relatively poor performance of inner city children on comparative assessment tools, it is fair to conclude that there is a crisis in parenting in the inner city, and that we will not be able to adequately help these parents until we can be open and honest in saying that parents must be held accountable for their child’s performance, and that government and non-profit organizations must provide the support and services they may need to improve their efforts.

So how do we evaluate parents? If we are willing and able to create metrics to evaluate teachers, can’t we do the same for parents? I’ve thought a lot about it, and have identified five ways in which we can measure the performance of parents in raising their children to be productive, independent, mature young adults that are properly equipped to succeed after high school.

1)     Health and welfare: Are the children eating properly, getting adequate sleep, proper exercise, and being regularly evaluated by medical professionals?

2)     Resource Acquisition: Are the parents providing the technological and educational resources a child needs to be a high functioning student?

3)     Oversight: Are the parents effectively advocating for their children at the school, making sure that they are being properly placed, being appropriately evaluated, and having their needs met by the school? Further, are they “keeping on top” of their kids, making sure that they are fulfilling their responsibilities as a student?

4)     Engagement: Are the parents getting involved in the school, attending school sponsored events designed for the parents, volunteering their time, and participating in parent organizations connected to education?

5)    Opportunities for Enrichment: Are the parents being proactive, finding opportunities- either those provided by the school, area educational or recreational groups, or businesses- for their children to enhance their experiences at school? A great deal of a child’s learning actually goes on in places beyond the school; to what extent are parents seeing out those learning experiences?

6)    Values and Advocacy: Are parents inculcating their kids with positive values, a work ethic, a sense of responsibility and accountability? And are parents teaching their kids how to self-advocate, to speak up for themselves at school to make sure their needs are being met?

Now obviously we cannot have our schools, or our government going door to door evaluating parents, but, to some extent, it would be great if we could find a way to maybe “reward” parents that are doing a stellar job, and while I don’t advocate “punishing” irresponsible parents, we should give real thought to designing neighborhood programs that teach parents how to do their job better. We should also give real thought to finding ways to support parents that are trying but struggling to help their kids.

We don’t live in the kind of country that takes kids away from dysfunctional parents, and that is a good thing. But then again, it is so frustrating and sad to see kids being raised by parents that quite frankly don’t seem to give a damn about “doing the right thing” for their children. We’re obviously here treading on scary issues. It is unfortunate but probably true that one day these children will be dependent on the State and its taxpayers for money and services. For those parents that receive assistance from the State, isn’t there some way that we can make “parenting classes” a condition for assistance? Shouldn’t we be doing something to encourage positive behavior by these parents? Can’t we incentivize the process for those receiving State aid, and can’t we find a way to reward exemplary parents, especially those with limited resources, so that they can provide even more for their kids?

Yes, teachers must be held accountable for the success of their students. If we are serious about the education of our children, then parents should not escape that same scrutiny.

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