Parents want to know

Most parents of students at low-performing high schools say they want more information about their child’s academic progress, reports a Civic Enterprises report, One Dream, Two Realities. From the Christian Science Monitor:

In schools considered high performing, 83 percent of parents say the school did a fairly good or very good job communicating about their child’s academic progress. Just 43 percent say the same of low-performing schools. Only 51 percent of parents in low-performing schools say they’ve had good conversations with half of their child’s teachers (versus 70 percent in high-performers).

. . . (The report) shows broad support for a number of steps that schools could take, including a single point of contact for parents and a way to check grades on the Internet. Six of 10 parents in low-performing schools say it would be extremely helpful to be notified when a student is cutting classes or having academic problems.

Parents want their children to go to college but may not know what they should be doing to get them there.

In Our School, I write about Pedro’s parents, who complained that nobody at his comprehensive high school called to tell them he was cutting class. They didn’t realize what was going on till it was too late. I’ve heard that again and again from immigrant parents: Why didn’t they tell us when it was early enough to do something? Why did we have to find out when he flunked all his classes?

About Joanne


  1. Homeschooling Granny says:

    Yes, yes, yes! Parents are teachers’ natural allies and key to children’s educational success. Efforts to involve them, help them find constructive ways to support learning will pay off. Parents who weren’t successful in school themselves and didn’t have good relationships with their own teachers need special help. Their children need them to have that help most of all.

    My grandfather was an teacher, principal, superintendent, from 1898 to 1942 and he always believed parents were key. From his writings I learn that there was a study in which: “Pairs of children with comparable I.Q.s and environments were selected in two different areas. The parents in one area were not notified of the experiment. The parents in the experimental area were asked to come to the school one hour each month for consultation with the teachers. At that time the teachers outlined the course of study for the ensuing month and asked the parents to encourage the children to study, to discuss their assignments with them, but not to do any of the work for them. They were asked to show the children the value of what they were studying by applying it to their every day lives.

    “At the end of the term identical tests were given the two groups. The children in the experimental group showed approximately twenty per cent increase in achievement over the children in the group whose parents were not asked to cooperate.”

  2. My wife and I frequently initiate contact with our children’s teachers, for exactly the reason that we want to solve any problem as soon as possible. It’s our belief that parents have to take some responsibility for the relationship with teachers. I understand that this can be challenging for immigrant parents who don’t speak english well, but often schools will have resources to help parents if those parents take the initiative.

    I’ve heard many parents are really liking the capability to check their children’s school records online. The speed of access to information may encourage parents to check up on their children more often as well. Of course this poses the problem of access to computers, but local libraries can assist with this challenge.

    Also, the excerpt from the report doesn’t say that parents at the high performing schools are actually receiving more information than parents at the low performing schools. It just states that the parents at the high performing schools are happier with whatever they are getting. And when things are going well people are generally happier with less information. So we have a chicken and egg question here.

  3. This falls under the “DUH!” category, so the question is why there’s such a problem with actually implementing the communication everyone knows is important.

  4. pm:

    My experience has been in an urban district with high minority and low-income populations. There is also a wide disparity among schools, and I have experienced everything from lowest to highest performing. I would confirm that in the higher performing schools, which not coincidentally have been the ones with higher percentages of non-poor and non-minority students, more information and respect was typically forthcoming. Many of the lower performing schools operate on an assumption that parents are disinterested in their child’s education or only out to make trouble of some kind.

    I suspect that there is a combination of factors at work. At the schools with a higher percentage of non-poor parents there are more parents with a greater expectation of being heard and paid attention to. It is easier to walk over people who have a life experience of being walked on–which is frequently the case with more parents in schools with high minority and high poverty. Even though I am white, middle class, pretty highly educated, I would say that the typical reception that I get at a school is highly dependent on the school’s perception of the parent population. This perception is presented by many staff before one even gets to a teacher. People like bus drivers, secretaries and security people are often the “front line” greeters. In some schools they communicate that parents are a burden, ask stupid questions, don’t follow procedures, have bad kids, live in bad neighborhoods and are generally bad people. This is far more difficult to overcome than a language barrier.

    Amongst the professional staff, some may communicate similar opinions through their willingness to respond to phone calls, spend time problem-solving or explain the curriculum. Some don’t engage in good practice (like communicating about a problem in time to be able to solve it–or suggesting a solution) because they believe that most of their parents don’t care anyway (or would already know if they were “good” parents). Even a minority of such teachers can seriously impair the relationship between the school and the community.

    I haven’t had a chance to peruse the document at length, but their information seems to be consistent with what I have experienced. I will be very interested to see their recommendations for change.

  5. Homeschooling Granny says:

    Like Margo/Mom, I too have run into the assumption that parents don’t care. With rare exceptions, I don’t buy that. Parents love their children and have a great deal at stake in their outcomes. Parents look as if they don’t care when they don’t know what to do. Maybe they didn’t have involved parents as models to follow. Maybe they are intimidated by people they perceive as more official or better educated than they. Maybe their own school experiences were awful and they dread anything to do with school. Even so, reaching out respectfully to them and helping them support their children’s education would have great payoff.

  6. Our inner city school has PowerSchool so that parents can check on grades and attendance online. Few of our parents have access to the Internet. The secretary of our SLC calls each of our students’ parents with updates on grades and attendance only to find that numbers have been disconnected, or the kids gave the wrong number when filling out the paperwork. Many parents are appreciative of the information, but we have had parents tell the secretary not to bother them any more. They cannot figure out how to help their student do better so they have given up.

  7. Mrs. Davis says:

    My rural school has PowerSchool and I love it. It’s one of the few things they do right.

  8. Margo/Mom,

    It seems as if initiative and persistence is needed on the parts of parents, teachers, principals, and superintendents. I suspect that any of these participants in public education can make a difference if they put forth an effort.

  9. Downtowner says:

    When I taught in a low income school, I gave grade reports to the students every two weeks. I mailed the same reports home to parents on my own dime. When a student was struggling, I called once in the morning before school, once on my release the next day, and again in the evening from my cell. If no one answered, or if there was a machine and the parent did not respond by calling back to schedule a meeting, I escalated my attempts to reach the parents by calling on a Saturday night and finally on a Sunday morning. If I still did not hear from the parents, I sent the grade notice by registered mail at my own expense. I used every means I could to reach the parents short of making a house call. If a translator was needed, I requested a call from our school translator. Even with all of these attempts to reach the parents, there were still about half of the parents of kids with difficulties who did not return my call and avoided a parent /teacher conference.

    The latest turn of events is that we are to avoid “harassing” families by trying to repeatedly call them for conferences. Just two years ago, we were to call repeatedly until someone responded.

    At some point, I wish people would recognize that some parents simply do not regard education as important and will actively avoid talking to the teacher. I have been told to mind my own business, I have heard parents say they could care less how the child is doing, I have had parents curse at me for contacting them, and I have had parents who told me bluntly that they have “washed their hands of the kid”.

    You don’t tend to see this side of things in the press, but that is how it is.

  10. Downtowner,

    Did you have any way of knowing if what you did produced better results than other teachers got?

  11. Margo/Mom says:


    I can appreciate the time and effort that you put into your attempts to contact parents. I wonder if you are aware that they sound a bit like those of a collection agency? I can understand that teachers don’t expect to make “house calls,” but in my years as a social worker, home visits were expected and often the best way to build relationships with parents. Even those that were nothing more than a short conversation on the front step provided an opportunity to see each other as human beings with a set of common concerns about their children.

    Clearly, a teacher with 120 students cannot make 120 visits a week. But you have been putting a great effort into doing the things that you have been doing–that haven’t yielded good results. As a parent I don’t think that there has been a school my children attended that didn’t see my face within the first week of each school year. This was especially important in the case of my son, who was always having difficulties. I am not saying that you should expect this of all parents, but as an example of what I have learned from my end–that it is vitally important that school personnel see and know me as soon as possible. I believe that the reverse is true as well. It is important to build a relationship that is based on adult-to-adult contact BEFORE something bad happens that one of you expects the other one to fix.

  12. Downtowner says:

    Believe me, it felt like working for a collection agency. Our administration insisted that we assume the burden of trying to reach the parent at all costs. Leaving a message on an answering machine was not enough, nor was mailing a grade notice to the house address given for the student. We were held responsible for “proof” that contact had been made. Everything had to be documented.

    As noted earlier, I sent grade notices out every two weeks beginning two weeks into the school year. On these, I requested parent meetings if the student had a C minus or below. In comparison to my peers at the school, I did hear back from more parents than they did. You also need to understand that on Back to School night, we would have 20 or so of the 120 parents come to school. Open House was even worse.

    We tried to reach parents as soon as possible if a student was having trouble with a subject, was avoiding homework, or was disruptive in class. A few parents were responsive, which was great. Unfortunately, many more did not respond or plainly indicated they did NOT want to meet to discuss their child’s grades.

    I wish I could believe it when there are articles saying parents in low performing or low income schools want more teacher contact. It was not my experience, nor was it the experience of my colleagues.

  13. Downtowner:

    I am a parent in an urban (generally low-income) district. I have worked as a social worker in the same general community. I do believe that parents want more contact with teachers. But the problem with the bill collector approach is that–well bill collectors are not the people you want to emulate. They are the final step in a pretty ugly process. The don’t always have good information about the folks that they are persuing (ever had a disputed bill turned over to collection?) and the are dealing with clients that no one wants back–they don’t care if people get royally ticked off. Their job is to threaten, cajole, scare, etc.

    You are a teacher, not a bill collector. But if you are primarily chasing parents whose kids are in trouble, you have taken your first step in that direction. If the thrust of your conferences is to tell parents that they should be doing something more than what they are doing, this feels like blame, rather than problem solving. I have sat through some pretty grim conferences. Sometimes I ask, “what is it that you think that I can do that I am not doing?” I very seldom get an answer, which bothers me–because either the teacher doesn’t know, or they are unwilling to say (as in this kid needs a whuppin’ but I’m not allowed to say that). Or they fall back on those old: give him a regular place to study, turn off the TV, etc, that we are already hip to. They never know what I can do to see to it that the assignments that I don’t know about get finished, or how to make sure that the assignments that get finished get turned in, or how to help with the assignments that I can’t understand.

    I have received envelopes with literally six weeks untouched assignments in them–with an expectation that I am supposed to see that they are finished and turned in. Never mind that I can list six ways that each one has NOT been accommodated according to the IEP. I have gotten phone calls about classroom problems that I cannot begin to resolve from work, but that need resolution, but the teacher cannot stay on the line after dropping the bomb about my kid’s behavior. It always feels like a hit and run.

    I have received notices of back to school night on the evening of the back to school night (when I get home from work). When I called the school their response was “well SOME parents were able to get there.” When at all possible (which is about 95% of the time over about a decade and a half), I have been there for those open houses and parent nights and back to school nights. I can tell you though that the time is seldom well-spent. I pay my dues to whatever parent organization takes my name and money, and that I will never again hear from. We are not supposed to talk about my kid individually, so I try not to. But we also don’t talk about what the kids will be learning, or what the school will be doing this year to help kids improve (or admitting that there is any need to do so). Sometimes it feels like it is nothing more than a test–to see which are the good parents who will show up. There are frequent back-handed compliments–congratulations for showing up, most parents don’t care. No one is ever there to LISTEN to parents concerns. Have you tried asking “what do you need from me, this year, so that we can work together?”