In my last article, I attempted to poke holes in the claim that the purpose of all these terrible pieces of Koch Brothers-backed, ALEC-written education legislation is to increase parental involvement in their students’ education and to provide a “much needed” increase in public school transparency. That’s a load of malarky. Today, I want to shed more light on that parent involvement piece and hopefully give you an insider’s perspective on why demanding more of teachers does nothing to increase parent involvement. I recently sat in on a special education case conference for a student. I came out of that meeting pretty frustrated. I was frustrated at our legislators for continuing to put the blame and punishment on teachers for lack of parental involvement. I was frustrated that my pay is directly tied to the performance of parents in many cases. I came out of that meeting (and many others like it in my 21 years in the field) with this thought echoing around in my brain: Having a child doesn’t make you a parent.
In the interest of privacy and anonymity, let me issue this disclaimer before I continue. The story I’m about to tell is not about any one particular student or parent. What follows is a composite of different cases, often similar, sometimes nearly identical, I’ve been a part of over the last two decades. I have witnessed everything I’m about to relay in person, in the story’s entirety or in portions here and there, dozens of times in my career.
It was my turn to give up my prep period to sit in on a special ed case conference for one of my students. It doesn’t take long for general ed teachers to get used to this routine, we do it pretty frequently, it’s just part of the job. Sometimes these meetings are no sweat. Many special ed students have supportive parents and do their best with the supports put in place by their IEPs to perform at a high level in their classes. A lot of times, you could walk into a classroom of 25 kids and never be able to guess which students have IEPs and which don’t. The conferences with those kids are usually straight forward, positive, and simple. One or both parents are there, hearing about how their child is being supported and weighing in on any possible changes that might be beneficial moving forward.
And then, there are meetings like this one. While these meetings aren’t as common, they are far too common.
I walked into the room and greeted the student’s special education teacher of record, a special education person at the district level, and an administrator. The student’s updated IEP was distributed, but the student wasn’t present, and neither was any sort of parent or guardian. We were told that this was the norm for this student. Attempts to reach the parent by phone had failed. Again, we were told that this was the norm. In these cases, the only option is to go ahead and carry on the conference with only staff present. Again, this happens more than you might believe.
The special education teacher began reading some of the data on the student. This student has had a very dismal academic history. We are told that, at the ripe old age of 14, our student has bounced back and forth from school to school—at least 8 different schools in all. This year alone, the student had been absent for than half of the school days. Attendance issues have been a problem for the entirety of this kid’s schooling. Child Protective Services would be notified, we were told. It crosses my mind that this probably explains much about the frequent change of school venues, they are probably running from accountability.
The student’s discipline file is a long one. When they do show up to school, trouble often finds them. But all in all, his teachers speak of the student in pleasant terms. The student can be quite congenial, and they make friends quickly. When the student decides to give an effort on an assignment, the results are often satisfactory, but the data shows that they only submit about 15% of their assignments.
The student has missed so much of the testing that helps determine their academic strengths and weaknesses that there isn’t really enough data available to even know where to begin. After all, how can you help someone who isn’t there?
So, I walked out of that meeting pretty frustrated. Do you want to know why? Let me count the ways…
- Over half the states in our nation are currently trying to make things much harder on teachers by holding them more accountable to be transparent and to increase parent involvement.
- Schools lose funding for kids like the one in my story. Attendance matters. When parents don’t make sure their kids are attending school, that hurts all the students and staff who do show up in the form of lost money for their schools.
- Public schools are held accountable for the performance of students like the one in my story. Any large school will have dozens of kids like that. They all take the standardized tests too. Their predictably dismal scores negatively influence a school’s letter grade. That means those schools’ reputations take a hit. Public perception becomes negative. Parents begin to seek vouchers to send their students to other schools. Less students mean less money from the government. All of this impacts how much teachers, bus drivers, food service workers, custodians, and maintenance staff are paid.
- These schools then get much more pressure from the government to “improve.” This always takes the form of more time and responsibility put on teachers with no extra pay.
- It’s a vicious cycle that has eaten away at teacher morale for two decades.
- It’s led us to the critical place we find ourselves now.
When parents refused to be actively engaged in their students’ education, it is always teachers who end up paying the price.
That’s why there are so few of us left.
Starting to get the picture?
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