Remember the days when your parents walked you to school? Sometimes they brought you inside and hand-delivered you to your teacher. Why did that stop?
Fast forward 20 years. Now you have students who live across the street from their schools and are consistently late. Many times older siblings have the responsibility of dropping off their younger siblings before they get themselves to school, and their attendance suffers, too.
But in New York you have to work, and work is scarce. Most people even with a college degree are struggling to find jobs. No longer do parents have the time to get involved with their children’s education — and in some cases they don’t see the need.
Even in the idealistic situation of a two-parent home, coordinating the family schedule can be a challenge. And in the area where I work, where a lot of students come from single-parent homes with more than one school-age child, seeing parents for other than an emergency or parent-teacher conferences is rare.
But parental involvement has become a very hot topic within education circles. There is constant comparison of the outstanding involvement of parents in suburban and private schools with the lack of involvement from parents in urban public schools. Someone is always talking, measuring, criticizing — but not solving.
We talk constantly about teacher accountability, publicizing teacher data reports and test scores, even though they are controversial.
Well, what about parent accountability? What carrot or stick are we using to encourage parent involvement? That seems to be the elephant in the room that no one is trying to move.
A large part of my job as a parent coordinator is finding ways to involve parents. Our success is measured through parent involvement. In some cases our jobs depend on this.
Why aren’t systems in place to not only support parents but to hold them accountable when they are not as active as they should be? The Us vs. Them mentality that exists between parents and schools needs to be broken down. Parents need to be an active voice, ask questions and take control of their child’s learning.
The Department of Education also needs to step up its role. After he was selected to lead the school system, Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott talked about hosting a parent university. The office of family engagement also has promised a parent coordinator tool kit. I know that parent coordinators all over the city would welcome these new tools and we eagerly await them.
New York also needs a flexible work law, like in other states, in which parents are allowed to take a few hours a month or year for their child’s school-related activities, without penalty from their employer.
And maybe we have to broaden our definition of parent involvement. Instead of measuring it only by the number of parents who are physically present, there needs to be recognition that there are other forms of interaction.
What about the parents with whom I talk on the phone, exchange e-mails or have conversations, sometimes even when I am on my way in to work or leaving work? On a few occasions I have even interacted with parents on the subway or out shopping. How are those connections measured?
When it comes to education in New York, there is definitely a need for improvement and change by all parties — teachers, administrators, staff and, of course, parents. We all need to take responsibility for the integral part we play in the lives of the students we serve.