Without involved parents

It’s much easier to educate the children of involved parents. But is it essential? Reform K12 says no.

“If parents were more involved,” the belief goes, “kids would be motivated, do homework nightly, and would come to school ready to learn, without disrupting class or causing trouble.”

Unfortunately, this is yet another excuse. “We need more parental involvement” is a red herring . . .

Let’s turn “parent involvement” on its head by considering this: How many times do parents call the school to complain that Johnny hits his sister, won’t clean his room and refuses to do his chores?

Actually, I think parents play a very important role in preparing their children to be learners, even if Mom and Dad can’t teach academic skills at home. But it’s also true that good schools engage parents, while bad schools blame them.

About Joanne


  1. Bill Leonard says:

    Joanne, I think you’re absolutely right.

    I do think parental involvement and example can make a difference; I have noticed throughout my life that, regardless of generation, kids from families without books in the home seem far less likely to read for recreation, or much of anything else that isn’t absolutely necessary, than do those from homes where one or both parents are readers.

  2. I’m reminded of the phrase ‘boil the ocean project’. A ‘boil the ocean project’ is one whose completion would be desirable, but is so immense that it is analogous to boiling the entire ocean–and, hence, will never actually get done. The planning of BTOPs is often used as a substitute for doing real, actionable things.

    There’s no imaginable way of *causing* more parental environment, across the entire society, in a reasonable time frame. To say we can’t improve the schools until this goal is achieved is tantamount to accepting failure.

  3. Bruce Cleaver says:

    Hat-Tip to David Foster for reminding me of that phrase (Boil the Ocean Project), which I once knew but had forgotten. He is correct, of course.

  4. A great way to increase parental involvement would be to have teachers and principals show up at the homes of parents whose children are constant problems and whose parents are clearly not interested.

    Also, start failing kids who deserve to fail. That’ll get the parents attention. When little Johnny doesn’t pass sixth grade, the parents will suddenly become interested.

  5. Well, there are two potential problems with that, one, the parents simply won’t care if Johnny passes the 6th grade, or two, they’ll get the ACLU and other liberal organizations to file a lawsuit stating that Johnny should be promoted cause it might hurt his self-esteem (as if a employer actually cared about someone’s self-esteem in the real world, which K-12 education isn’t).


  6. Get parents and students to sign papers at the beginning of the year explicitly stating that students who fail to live up to their responsibilities (explain what those responsibilities are) in school can and will be failed. Get teachers to keep records of student effort and behavior in the classroom, attempts to contact parents, etc. If they knew beforehand what the repercussions would be, they can’t reasonably sue because they agreed to the terms.

    I’m reminded of that post Joanne linked earlier about the speaker who was laughed at during a speech on cheating. Make sure people know beforehand what the repercussions are and get them to sign that they’ve read them. For instance, if a student is found to have cheated, a notation will be placed in their file to be sent to colleges, they will receive a zero for the assignment, 6 weeks after school detention, etc. For every inappropriate action (violence, lying, cheating, etc), there will be repercussions.

    Granted, If the parents don’t care, you can only do so much, but it’s possible you can make the child care. I suspect a student failing will get the parent’s attention though. Especially if visited by state/local officials which I think would be a nice wake-up call.

  7. Also, it might be a good idea to attempt to devise laws that would refer all school issues to arbitration boards instead of courts to cut down on the time and money involved in lawsuits.

  8. Jim Thomason says:

    If involved parents are the essential ingredients to educating children, what are schools for?

  9. Involved parents are an essential ingredient. But I certainly don’t want my father teaching me calculus – he tried once and it was awful. I need my math teacher to teach me the calculus. But I need my dad to make me do my math homework.

  10. Big F’s on report cards do not wake up the parents who need to be woken up. Sometimes I wonder if they even look at the report cards. I try to call, but often the phone numbers on record are disconnected.

    Parent contact logs and discipline records are de rigeur.

  11. Rita, when I was in high school, it wasn’t a big thing to brag about getting Big Fat F’s on your report card, these days, some kids wear it like a badge of honor (look at me, i’m the class ****up).

    A lot of states now have minimal credit requirements, and my state (Nevada) is now placing students according to how many credits said student has earned (thus, you could have an 18 year old listed as being in 10th grade due to not enough earned credits).

    Also, when you failed a semester or whole year of a course, you were generally parking your rear end in summer school and paying for it while every one else was enjoying summer vacation, these days, a lot of students who fall way behind simply drop out.

  12. Bill, there always have been quite a few students dropping out. It’s the consequences of dropping out that have changed. E.g., my dad has told me of going to school in a 2 room schoolhouse (for grades 1-8), where some of the 5th and 6th graders were 15 year old boys. Once they hit their birthday, they went into their chosen careers of subsistence farming or laborer. Or someone who met the 8th grade graduation requirements could quit right then, no matter how young – and would be able to read contracts, write business letters, keep account books, and in general be reasonably successful in farming or small business. The smart ones, like Dad, had a quite good basis from this school to go on to high school in the county seat.

    I also once knew an 8th grade dropout who was a quite successful businessman, owner of a chain of TV stations, an apparently a competent electrical engineer.

    Nowadays, jobs that require only the old 8th grade skills are scarce and don’t pay a living wage, but a modern 8th grade graduate does not necessarily know how to read, write, or to do any calculations beyond counting on his fingers. Apparently the high school is supposed to help these kids catch up. And the colleges have classes to attempt to catch freshmen up to what high school should have taught…

    A few days ago, there was some discussion of turning HS grads out to work for a year before college. It gives the colleges time to consider senior-year grades in their admissions, and IMHO it would make many kids take college more seriously. I’m now thinking that 18 is a little late – 14 year olds that aren’t paying attention in class might benefit from a year or two of flipping burgers…

  13. Parents can make a difference in teaching their children basic skills (letter recognition, basic reading, numbers, etc.) but more so with behavior.
    A well disciplined child is a joy to have in the classroom.
    A child who is polite thrills teachers to no end.
    A misbehaving child whose parents are supportive of the teacher is tolerable.
    A child whose parents excuse their behavior, or worse, blame the teacher, is horendous.

  14. Geoff: Amen, brother. Couldn’t have said it better.

  15. We’re all credit based. If you don’t have the credits, you don’t advance. And next year’s incoming freshmen will need more credits than students currently do.

    There will always be dropouts. Some kids just aren’t meant for high school. The smart ones realize that, get their GED, and get on with their lives.

  16. Geoff- I heartily agree that parents should send well-disciplined children to school, but the parents should be sending their children off to be taught by well-disciplined teachers who are being overseen by other responsible adults. To expect parents to spend time helping their kids after they have been in school for eight to nine hours and spent a couple of hours on homework is not always a reasonable request.

    I have reported teachers in our school district over the last four years for surfing the internet during class, shopping on-line during class time, not grading papers, not returning papers, not doing any stand-up classroom teaching, showing too many movies and my complaints have been dismissed as though I was out of line.

    I finally pulled my child out of the public school to be homeschooled because I never had any idea as to how he was doing (in specific terms, always a bunch of general banter). This is the ultimate form of parental involvement and it is working out beautifully. In half the time my child was gone during the day, we have completed his daily school schedule and trust me, he will not be left behind. We finally have our lives back after years of being expected to do someone else’s job after hours while they’re still getting paid for not doing it.

  17. In the Dallas Independent School District, the teachers sent home a survey with the kids. They asked the parents what race their children were, their average yearly income, and all that other information that was necessary to determine a child’s socio-economic status. Then they had several other questions: “Do you know how much time your child spends on homework every night?” “If so, how much?” “Do you punish your children for not performing as well as you know they are capable of?” “Do you attend parent-teacher conferences or meet your child’s teachers if a problem develops?” Stuff like that. Apparently, when they analyzed all this data, parent participation BY FAR outranked race and income as a determinant of a child’s GPA. A child whose parents cared was (roughly) 3 times more likely to get good grades than one whose parents never paid attention to his schoolwork.

  18. I know that discipline not learned at home, cannot be learned at school, especially from a teacher who doesn’t know how to teach. The teachers in my school district (in N.E. Florida) tell me they spend all their time trying to control the classroom. My children tell me they are discouraged from asking questions. They tell me the teachers do not explain the “how’s” of the Math assignments (homework), then they collect the results, don’t give them back to the students to see what they’re doing wrong, then make the resulting homework grades 50% of the course grade. I’m ready to pull my hair out with going around in circles. Complaints to the school board go nowhere. Oh yeah, then they take two weeks from real academics to prepare for the FCAT exam (read “teach the test”). aarrgh

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