The Legislative Assembly shall provide by law for the establishment of a uniform, and general system of Common schools. -- Constitution of Oregon, Article VIII, Section 3

Saturday, August 28, 2010

your child's education is none of your business

No, I haven't heard any teacher, principal, or administrator actually say those words.

But many policies, at the local school, seem to imply this.

Before going further, let's back up a bit.  A common refrain in the political debates around education, is the importance of parental involvement.  There are numerous examples of entire school districts, or schools within a larger district, where one finds a large portion of children whose parents Just Don't Seem To Care.  In some cases, there's only one parent in the home, who has to balance a job (or two), the care of younger children, homemaking, etc.--and paying attention to Johnny's schoolwork is something there isn't time for.  In some cases, the parents are alcoholics, junkies, or otherwise unfit.  In some cases, Mom and Dad are too busy with careers, hobbies and lifestyle, or simply view education as the School's Problem.  In some cases, children are in foster care, living with other friends or relatives.  In some cases, children are hungry, homeless, abused, neglected, etc.

None of these things are conducive to a good education.  I agree 100%.

But my wife and I are not those parents; and our children are not those children.  We want to be involved.  We read to our kids, encourage them to participate in activities, and regularly discuss matters with our children's teachers.

But sometimes, it seems, the school doesn't want to listen.

the right kind of involvement

The local school district does actively solicit parental involvement in many ways.  Parents who can volunteer at school are welcome to do so.  Fundraising, of course, is a major area where parents are asked to help out.

But when the involvement consists of negative feedback--or suggestions on what ought to be taught and how--it suddenly seems less welcome.

My oldest has been attending public school for four years now.  He has many friends whose parents my wife and I have also become friends or acquaintances of.  And we compare notes.  Now that the younger kids are starting kindergarten--we've let the school know which teachers we like and which teachers we don't.  (And at our school--like most schools--you have a few burnouts, counting down the days to retirement; a few teachers who are happy to let the smarter kids coast; and a few teachers who are lots of fun, but seem to forget about the "teaching" part.  Per blog policy, no names shall be named).

And the school--tends to act a bit insulted by the suggestion.  Parental feedback on teachers?  Preposterous.  The teachers at X Elementary are credentialed professionals, the lot of 'em--the suggestion that one or more of them might not be effective at their jobs--intolerable.  If you make enough noise (and an important part of dealing with school bureaucracy is to make lots of noise, demand to talk to decision-makers, not office staff, if you have a dispute, and threaten to escalate matters if you don't get satisfaction), your wishes will probably, eventually be granted--but the wheel has to squeak quite a bit to get lubricated.  And even though your wishes are granted, is your feedback likely to be considered for teacher evaluation purposes? 

'Course not.

(And how are students assigned to teachers?  For the most part, randomly).

There are quite a few other examples of suggestions we've made that were not well received, or resulted in the runaround.  Suggestions concerning the specific needs of our kids (more challenging work, etc.).  Suggestions as to where they ought to be placed.  I am not an educational professional, and neither is my wife--if schools can come up with a good reason for why a particular decision was made, I'm happy to defer to the judgment of the people who are educational professionals.  (And I realize that schools are subject to lots of legal requirements from numerous levels of government, severe funding constraints, and an army of lawsuit-averse lawyers).  But I'm the expert when it comes to my kids, and I get annoyed when "policy" or other content-free excuses are cited as justification for decisions that from my point of view, look to be poorly made.

In short:  Parental involvement is important.  Many parents can't or won't provide it, but many of us can and will.  But when we do get involved, especially in ways which are not designed to benefit the school district, please--take us seriously.


  1. Food for thought.

    I think technology is going to change public education radically, not least by more public recognition of "good" teachers and "bad" ones. I put good and bad in quotes as they are subjective, but that won't stop the assignment of ratings. Schools will have no choice but to accept greater parental involvement.

    Consider parents in LA. What will those parents do who find out their child will likely drop 10+ percentile points ranked against their peers because they were assigned a "bad" teacher? I see either a more collaborative relationship between administrators and parents, or torches and pitchforks.

  2. There's already numerous "rate your kids teacher" websites on the internet--like yelp (and others) for public schools. Many of these sites aren't significant yet; and an uncontrolled forum is probably not a good way of evaluating teachers--but the parent grapevine does exist already.