Parent participation — or else

Parents who repeatedly miss teacher conferences could face fines or jail time under a proposed South Carolina law.

A parent who ignores the subpoena can be held in contempt and ordered to attend a parental responsibility program, shadow the student, pay a fine of up to $500 or go to jail for up to 30 days for each violation.

The bill also would raise the mandatory attendance age to 18. I don’t think either idea is realistic.

About Joanne


  1. You can lead a horse to water . . .
    The goal isn’t to get the parents there, it should be to get the parents to care.
    Like Joan, I’m pessimistic.

  2. I don’t think that the plan will ever be eneacted – or enforced if it is. I can already hear the sad stories about how it’s unreasonable to expect “busy folks” to break away for something that should be the school’s responsibility anyway.

    Still, I think it’s a logical step that just may scare some parents into taking at least some positive action.

  3. Or if they do get the parents to show up, it could backfire on the schools when many more parents discover that their kid’s schoolteacher is incapable of explaining what she’s doing in plain English (e.g., “Instructional Media Center” rather than “library”).

  4. Missing the point: A great money-making angle for the jurisdiction….

  5. If I followed my kid in to her h.s., she would walk out of class and not come back. Then what would they do, keep me for detention?

  6. When my daughter was in K, her teacher sent a letter home telling us that she was available for conferences and asked us to send the note back telling her what time was best for us. I scheduled the conference and at the conference she told me I was one of two parents that requested a conference. There were 22 children in her class. It really surprised me that so parents were uninterested.

  7. I think it varies by district. In my district, a lot of the parents went to the schools (they SAY they’re gonna leave, but they always come back…. ), so they’re very active and comfortable with the schools. As a high school teacher, I typically see at least one parent (sometimes three) for about half my students.

    There are ways of increasing parent participation. As a school, we called the parents of all our AA students who are bused to encourage them to come. Many did. Sometimes what it takes is an invitation and being made to feel welcome — not a law.

  8. This measure would represent clear class discrimination. For many people working at hourly jobs, it’s difficult and/or expensive to take time off..and remember, some people work shifts other than 9-5.

  9. Gosh. I never sign up for conferences. I guess I’m waiting to find out if there’s a problem that requires it. We always had mandatory conferences in elementary school, and they always went like “She’s doing fine….” Maybe I should. The kid’s in the eleventh grade now. Does she want her mommy to go to school and meet with her teachers? Probably not.

    There’ve been some problems here and there along the way, and we have taken care of them with notes back and forth.

  10. It doesn’t surprise me that this is the kind of thing that is proposed in the state where the big no-drugs-found-but-we-sure-scared-’em high school drug bust occurred.

    So they want the parents to come to meetings, and there’ll be subpoena power? Are the teachers going to be deputised? Will the notices be delivered by notarized school employees or court officials? Has anyone done even the slightest cost-benefit analysis here? Will a few bad parents attending a few meetings with their failing children’s teachers be worth this mess?

    I’m in the skeptical column.

  11. jef wright says:

    Without even addressing the mandatory parental conferences, although I seem to recall something called a Constitution and its corollary, abuse of police power, I am bemused that some people in South Carolina actually think 17-year-olds who don’t want to go to school can be compelled to do so. Good luck.

  12. This is a truely stupid idea. The schools not only get to seize the children, but they think they can subpoena parents whenever they feel like it? I bet it would cause a quick exit by anybody who could get out, should it become law.

  13. I wish those that are critical of the efforts of others would instead engage in creative attempts to suggest improvements instead of making destructive or derogatory comments. Teaching is not enough, there is also a responsibility to improve the system. Otherwise, it is time to get out of the kitchen or quit complaining about the heat!

  14. Doug Purdie says:

    I believe that most people, like myself, have great respect for teachers. Bad ideas, however, deserve derogatory comments no matter where they originate. It’s a good idea to encourage parents to get more involved. It’s a bad idea to require it. My childrens’ teachers encourage us, and I admit that I probably wouldn’t be as involved without their efforts. If they told me I had to get more involved, I’d probably resist.

  15. Ted,

    I agree with Doug, here. Yes, parents need to be involved. Yes, the best thing to do is to find a way to encourage involvement. But this is a really terrible idea. Not just a bad idea, but an amazingly ridiculously terrible idea that deserves harsh criticism. Hopefully with enough harsh criticism, this idea will die a quick death rather than becoming a real situation.

    Does anyone think the situation will get better by legally forcing parents into teacher conferences? It won’t. Period. And just because we’re bashing it in this comments section doesn’t mean that many of us are not continually suggesting creative solutions to help things get better in our schools.

  16. Wacky Hermit says:

    Re Ted’s call for new ideas: I have just two words for you.


  17. If we extrapolate this concept a bit, perhaps the next construct will be to have the students report the actions, thoughts, words of their parents that might in any way be disparaging of the school, teachers, school board, school administration, …. Then they could also set up a special police unit called Great Educational Supervision To Activate Parental Order (GESTAPO) to supervise and bring in for re-education any miscreant parents who dare to think independently or poorly of the Reich opps I mean Adminsistration.

  18. My experience with teacher conferences is to get a note from the teacher asking which 15 minute(!) block of time I want (that is convenient for the teacher) – once in the fall and once in the spring. My wife and I always try to come up with an excuse to schedule a time when we don’t have the next set of parents staring at us shortly after we have said hello. It’s not difficult to understand why parents don’t bother with a conference when only 15 minutes (or even 20 or 30 minutes)is scheduled. Little Johnnie is doing fine. See some of his work? OK, next! If there is a problem, I surely don’t want the teacher to wait until the next teacher conference to contact me about the problem. I want to be sent a note that day.

    When my son went from Kindergarten to first grade, we asked his Kindergarten teacher whether she talked to his first grade teacher about his unique abilities and needs. She told us that many teachers don’t like input and want to develop their own understanding about each child. She said we should give the first grade teacher a month or so(!) before we talked with her. The teacher conference at the end of October would be a good time!

    The problem is not the teacher conference, it is communication, and I don’t mean superficial communication. However, I think that certain discussions are discouraged or are “off-the-table”. I would love to talk to my son’s teachers about lots of things, like what exactly, do they do during the day. (I would love to be the proverbial fly on-the-wall.) With all of this individual and child-centered learning going on, I wonder if any kind of learning is going on. One year he had DEAR (drop everything and read) time with books below his level (until we finally forced the issue) but nobody asked him any questions about the books and he didn’t have to write book reports. Also, why does my son keep saying that he watched yet another movie during the science special time. How do parents raise these issues? I have had other parents (and teachers) tell me that you just have to make a pest of yourself. You will get a reputation, but perhaps little Johnnie will get the attention he needs. Then again, other parents communicate by putting their kids in private school.

    Actually, I get the feeling that schools want parent involvement, but only on their terms. Help the kids with their homework (no questions, please, like why is Johnnie doing yet another diorama?), join the PTO, help raise money, and support the school at budget time. Just no questions about why little Johnnie doesn’t really know the times table by 5th grade.

    The schools better watch out if they start demanding communication. Parents might start asking questions they don’t want to answer.

  19. Steve,

    On the flip side, some parents could stand a lesson in basic etiquette. I had a parent barge into my class today, *in the middle of a lesson*, and demand to know why his child earned a low grade on the report card.

    This, after several calls and a conference. I told him to make an appointment with an administrator, because – sheesh – I was *teaching*.

  20. “Re Ted’s call for new ideas: I have just two words for you.


    Posted by Wacky Hermit

    I’d reduce that to one word:


  21. SuzieQ – Your comment is not “the flip side” because I wasn’t talking about teacher rudeness. I have heard the rude stories on both sides and it sounds like you dealt with your problem as best you could. Rudeness aside, there is still a problem with communication. For my wife and I, it started in Kindergarten. Things were happening (philosophically and educationally) that we didn’t understand and either the school assumed that we knew about them or they didn’t want to discuss them. (i.e. What exactly do you mean by “balanced” reading and why do you act like there is something going on that I should know about?) After a few years now my belief is that the schools do not really want questions concerning their basic educational assumptions and curriculum decisions. There was and is a lot of Ed-Speak talk (which in some ways is used to keep parents from asking questions) about high standards and how all kids can learn, but not much interest in discussing exactly what those standards are and how all of this works on a day to day and year to year basis. (i.e. OK, you now have “full inclusion” and heterogeneous child-centered learning groups, but each child can progress at their own level? Exactly how does that work? Also … If a certain percentage of kids do not have to master the skills and knowledge in a particular grade level, then how do they catch up the next year? What are the other kids doing when that occurs?)

    Teacher conference fines is a silly, hot-button idea that won’t solve anything and it will waste a lot of time and energy. My comments deal with the underlying issue of communication and how I felt and feel stifled as a parent in trying to find answers without being labeled as rude or pushy – one of “those” parents. Do teachers realize how many negative “vibes” we parents receive? Maybe it’s a defensive mechanism to fend off any or all potentially rude parents. Actually, I think it is also used to fend off fundamental questions of teaching philosophy and curriculum. For example, my wife and I raised the issue of our son’s reading ability with his Kindergarten teacher when she immediately launched into a long spiel about how many kids can read anything at that age but comprehend very little. We both thought Oh oh! she thinks we are some of “those” parents! So much for an informative conversation about how the school deals with large differences in abilities. Teachers should not assume that parents are ignorant of educational development and philosophies. You also cannot use an extreme example of a rude parent to avoid dealing with these underlying issues of communication.

  22. Depending on the school, the teacher may or may not have any control over the fundamental curriculum — especially at the elementary school level. Most districts try to align what their teachers are doing through textbooks, curriculum plans, etc. If you want to change the curriclum, you should sit on a curriculum planning committee. These committees are usually a combination of teachers, parents, and administration around here. The mother of one of my current students sat on the committee that formulated ours (I was not on that committee, so she had more say in what I teach right now than I do).

    Standards are usually in the curriculum guide. Ours are aligned with the Show-Me Standards from MO DESE.

    Last year I had a parent who insisted (in emails, letters, etc.) that I do nothing but cooperative learning in a high school English class. What would your reaction have been if I had obeyed that parent and your child was in the class?

  23. Steve,

    Points taken. I was cranky and missed the gist of your post, and now, since I’m gearing up for a three day weekend and am feeling mighty fine, I’ll address some of your concerns.

    About educational philosophy. This is something that should be addressed by each teacher, and ideally each school, on Back to School night. And I’ll be honest about why teachers or schools don’t always respond or adapt to parent concerns about philosophy or practice: realistically, we can’t. If I changed curriculum or routines every time parents ( or kids ) complained (and the sad truth is that much of what teachers hear, ever, is complaints) my class would be a white-lined vortex of chaos.

    I’ve had parents say I give too much homework. Other parents say it’s not enough.

    I’ve had parents say I should do more cooperative learning. Others parents have complained that it’s too much.

    If I listened to the whims of parent preference, I’d go mad.

    You’re right that teachers shouldn’t make assumptions about parents. But parents come in with wildly varying agendas about what constitutes a good education, and one parent’s dream is another’s nightmare. Your child’s kindergarten teacher may have worked well for someone else.

    And the perhaps unfortunate truth is, teachers don’t have time to spend lengthy parent conferences discussing deep philosophical or pedagogical questions. Teachers should address them briefly on Back to School night, and that’s enough. Your school district’s website should have the district-mandated standards. You can take the initiative and contact your district’s curriculum coordinator if you’re interested in the school or district philosophy. Ask other parents. Volunteer to help in the class. Join the school’s site planning council.

    There are lots of things parents can do to participate in school life, but asking a teacher to change whole-classroom practices for *their* child is not one of them.

  24. jeff wright says:

    If a teacher has five classes per day, with 30 students in each class, 15 minutes spent on each parent would work out to something like 40 hours total, if one could stick rigorously to the schedule. More like 60 hours, I’d bet. And this is just routine, check the oil and water conferences. How about the time needed to deal with the parents of the kids who need a parental stick? Lots of them.

    I’m not sure if routine maintenance conferences are the most productive use of the teacher’s time, especially if they’re all crammed into a short period of time. To begin with, it’s uncompensated; it’s also inevitably chaotic and potentially confrontational. It will further eat into time that should be devoted to the primary function: teaching and preparing for same.

    What parents really want is assurance that there are no surprises. IMO, most parents really want to know where their kid stands on a pretty regular basis. Teachers, imagine how parents feel when the kid comes home with a D or an F after having heard nothing from the teacher or the school all term. Such practices—and they are unfortunately all too common—deny the parent any chance to nip problems in the bud and ultimately undermine faith in the individual teacher and the school.

    When my daughter was in middle and high school, we saw the homework before it left the house and after it came back. We also got marked-up tests from the teachers. As it turned out, she had good teachers—something we could monitor by the rigor of the homework and tests as well as by the grades assigned—and we didn’t feel the need to confer regularly with the teachers. We had, as it turned out, an honors kid who took AP classes and graduated from college with honors. The kid and the teachers deserve the lion’s share of the credit, but we did our part. This was a classic “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” situation.

    Teachers, I suggest you have as much “dialogue” with parents as possible. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be face-to-face. Send marked-up papers home. Make the kid get a parental signature on them. The telephone is a great time-saver, with the added benefit of being able to do it anywhere. How many of you use email? This is 2004. Most people have it. Companies save gobs of time by using email vice telephones and personal meetings. Why don’t schools? If you’re a technophobe, get over it. Communication.

    I agree that philosophy and overall approach should be outlined during opening night presentations, i.e., here’s what we’re going to teach and here’s how we’re going to do it. Parents, if you’ve got problems in those areas, haranguing the teacher does no good. You’ve got to elevate your concerns to somebody who can actually do something about it. Don’t expect a teacher dealing with 150 kids to individually tailor instruction for your kid. Arguments between teachers and parents in these areas is roughly akin to trying to teach a pig to dance. It just irritates the hell out of everybody.

    Finally, if I’d had a law requiring me to go to any conferences at school, it would have just raised my hackles. If the schools want confrontational parents, such laws will guarantee it. Better just to have an ongoing two-way dialogue. School people merely betray their ignorance of human nature if they think this sort of thing will help them any.

  25. SuzieQ said – “There are lots of things parents can do to participate in school life, but asking a teacher to change whole-classroom practices for *their* child is not one of them. ”

    Do you think that is what I said? Please reread my comments. I NEVER expect to go into a school or classroom and tell the teacher what he or she should or shouldn’t do. What I want is communication – open and honest information about what the school is doing philosophically and academically and how it directly affects my child. I don’t expect the teacher to spend hours getting me up to speed, but I have gone to all of the open houses and been a member of the “Improvement Team” and I still don’t understand many things and still have this feeling that things are happening and I don’t know what they are. There always seems to be this veil and I really want to find some teacher who will confide with me and tell me what is really going on.

    For example, in one meeting, we were discussing after-school parent pickup and someone suggested that perhaps the the teachers could bring the kids to a different location and wait 5 or 10 minutes after the busses leave for safety reasons. One teacher spoke up and said that that “won’t fly contracturally”. You should have seen the looks she got from the other teachers – Quiet! parents are around! Also, we never talked about curriculum – that group was disbanded and never reformed. It seems that certain topics are “off the table”. I could give you specific examples of parents wanting a voice in the curriculum and the school ignoring them and doing just what they wanted. Perhaps it is not like this in other school systems. I never said it was. I was only describing my own personal experience. Your feedback to me makes me feel like I always feel – like the teachers assume way too much about what I think and bombard me with all of the standard pat answers.

  26. *Shrug* I talk to parents all the time. Email is great. I’ve briefly explained my philosophies and how they affect my practice to parents.

    Steve — sometimes the “standard pat answers” really are the answers. I’m sorry you don’t like them; sometimes we don’t like them, either.

  27. “We also got marked-up tests from the teachers.”

    Boy, I would love that.

    My kid got a very poor grade on a chemistry test this semester. And this is the teacher who missed about 10 weeks in the fall due to heart surgery, so there was little or no continuity. I found out about the grade when the grade sheet came home to be signed. Okay, since she’s still at home I figure it’s my job to teach her how to problem-solve: look at the missed questions, look at the textbook and notes, figure out what should have been studied, and change the studying strategy for the next test. No blaming and no finger-pointing since I know she’s putting forth a good-faith effort and I assume the teacher is, too. Well, they never get to take their tests home, ever, so I asterisked the poor grade and wrote a note on the signed grade sheet. “* Would it be possible for you to send this test home so I can look at it? Thanks.” The test came home with this comment in red ink: “Frankie can ask for help after school, but she has never chosen to do so.” In other words, your lackadaisical child’s poor grades are all her fault. And she really didn’t need his help; it wasn’t a matter of her not understanding the material, it was a long chapter and she memorized the wrong things. Her next test grade was 100 and he actually asked her how she had managed that. “Did your mom help you?” Duh.

    Like I really, really want to have a conference with that teacher. But I feel for Rita and other teachers, because I know my reaction to criticism of my child isn’t rational. I think I was right to be a little irritated at his note, but not as irritated as I actually was. And that’s probably why I never sign up for those conferences. I’m afraid I would leave work and drive across town for my 15 minute conference and achieve nothing except elevating my blood pressure.

  28. I found parent-teacher conferences very useful in the school my kids went to in Michigan. The teachers were prepared and gave a good insight on what the kids were doing and I got a good feeling for the teacher. In Virginia, the few I’ve been to have been a waste of time. The school frankly doesn’t want the parents to be involved in education.

    An interesting sidebar on parental involvement. The mother of one kids in my daughters garage band teaches at, as she put it a “ghetto” school. She said the difference in this school and the “ghetto school” (her words) in another town was parental involvement. The kids in the current school have no social skills, no educational motivation, and most cannot read or write. She also has a 10-year old second-grader. This school has almost no parental involvement. In the previous school, significantly fewer students had these problems. The difference, parental involvement and concern about the child’s education. It’s tough to watch a dedicated educator almost cry when she describes her current students and school. Without any prompting she anecdotally confirmed my politically incorrect, obviously naive, right-wing view of the absolute importance of parental involvement in a child’s education.

    PS. She is a divorced African-American, whose daughter is in the top 5% of her class and is on schedule for early graduation from high school. She has all the reasons to use every excuse in the book, but they obviously arent’ acceptable in her household.