BY ESTHER J. CEPEDA, Washington Post Writers Group
CHICAGO -- Turnabout is fair play, and in no arena as much as that of student academic achievement.
So after several years of hashing out policies focused on the quality of teacher education programs and teacher performance in the classroom, it’s only right that the gaze of accountability should turn to parents.
According to Education Week, a new tool to measure the quality of parent-school relationships is starting to make its way into several school districts.
Harvard University and SurveyMonkey, a web-based polling company, developed a 71-item parent questionnaire that includes inquiries such as "How often do you meet in person with the teachers at your child’s school?" and "How often do you have conversations with your child about what his or her class is learning at school?"
The purpose is to measure family and community engagement and to collect data that can determine what parents think about their school’s effectiveness. In some cases, the information will be used for meeting federal Race to the Top grant requirements.
How I wish that in these pilot districts, all parents would be required to take the survey (or the school risks losing federal funding) and then be issued a report card to be posted on the district’s website underneath their pictures.
I know I’d dreaming. But what if those parent report card scores were aggregated in such a way that they could be compared school to school and district to district? What if, as the government compares the academic performance of schools by way of their own report cards and then gives adequate progress or failing grades, school communities were given those designations as well?
It might do little more than shame some people into paying more attention to what’s going on at their kids’ schools. Or it might quantify what I believe is the most pervasive problem impacting the quality of public school education: Lack of student support at home.
As an ex-teacher, I’m always ready to criticize lazy teachers and inept administrators for the failings of the American education system. But I’m also eager to lay the blame for much of it where it rightly belongs: with parents.
My favorite statistic to counter the popular myth that the sole determinant of academic success is teacher quality comes from David C. Berliner’s 2009 research paper "Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success." In it, Berliner notes that "U.S. students spend about 1,150 waking hours a year in school versus about 4,700 more waking hours per year in their families and neighborhoods."
Slice those figures anyway you want, but parents are responsible for the quality of the time their children spend away from school and should understand that they have responsibility for at least a third of the academic hours, too (with both students and teachers making up the remainder).
I’ll leave it to those who like to use the ills of poverty to explain away why poor and minority children underperform in school to duke it out with those who demand that all teachers be brilliant educators, entertainers, life coaches and social workers.
But instead of finding the perfect place to lay blame for our country’s educational shortcomings, now -- as meaty reforms are actually taking root nationwide – is a great time to put parents in the spotlight.
One of my education reform heroes is Phillip Jackson, executive director of The Black Star Project, an organization working to eliminate the ethnic and racial achievement gap. He recently wrote in an email blast:
"Those who say ‘ ... a parent's income and educational level are the biggest predictors of school success’ are wrong. Here are the real and best predictors of school and students' success: 1) motivated, inspired, hardworking and minimally skilled students, 2) engaged parents who have a burning desire for their children to receive a good education and 3) excellent teachers with high student-achievement expectations."
Thank goodness that, so far, education reform efforts have addressed item No. 3 in order to cultivate item No. 1, but neither works without engaged parents who have that burning desire for their kids to excel academically.
So why not put parents on the spot?
If teachers have to be evaluated based on a "value-added" equation that includes their pupils’ standardized test performance, it’s only fair that they have the students’ parental engagement grades factored into their final score.
Esther Cepeda's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
(c) 2013, Washington Post Writers Group