Requiring parents to 'volunteer'

An East San Jose K-8 district is talking about requiring parents to volunteer 30 hours a year in the classroom, reports the San Jose Mercury News.

In Alum Rock, where 88 percent of the students are poor and 54 percent are language-learners, most of its 28 schools don’t even have a PTA. But even as some critics warn working parents don’t have extra time, trustee Gustavo Gonzalez is pushing volunteerism, citing studies showing that students do better when their parents are involved.

Many Alum Rock parents are immigrants from Mexico, Central America, Vietnam and dozens of other countries. They don’t have the education or the English skills to be classroom tutors, if they had the time, which they don’t. They can be involved with their children at home.

This is a trial balloon that will deflate quickly. It’s got to be illegal to require parent work time at all public schools as a condition of enrollment.

About Joanne


  1. If enough of those parents go into the classrooms and begin to speak their minds about things that they think need to be corrected, they will be quickly relieved of their “duty” to volunteer.

  2. Richard Nieporent says:

    I guess we can add a new phrase into the Newspeak dictionary: mandatory volunteerism. The state of Maryland already does it for high school students, but not for the parents, as yet. When was the 13th Amendment repealed?

  3. As with most programs, there is a good and bad way to implement. Setting a culture of parental engagement can be quite positive: whether a planning/executing field trip/school-wide community program or getting teachers/PTA to think in terms of engaging the family. As a work detail to replace janitors, it’s likely to fail. Consider the differences between an Earth Day to plant greenery at the school and a requirement to cut the lawn every week.

    Establishing the culture is critical, but pays dividends when the parents are part of the school community. Participation as a norm (with awareness of need for exceptions) is ffar different from mandatory volunteerism.

  4. Sigivald says:

    I suspect children do better “when parents are involved” because the parents who’d choose to be involved are the same ones who really care about education outcomes.

    Forcing all parents to “be involved” almost certainly won’t magically improve outcomes; there seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding about how the causation works.

  5. So, parents simply can’t find three or so hours in a month to spend on their child’s education? The ones that “can’t possibly be tutors” would benefit their children greatly by taking such an interest and at least trying. Besides, how much “education” is required to drill math facts with the kids or go over spelling words or listen to kids read – if that’s something they don’t know, give ’em a cheat sheet for crying out loud.

    If they aren’t of any use in the classroom, how useful do you think they are at home when they’re at home with the kid and don’t know the answer – and there is no “professional” educator there to help them.

    “It’s got to be illegal to require parent work time at all public schools as a condition of enrollment.” On what grounds? It’s not an undue burden to require parents to put in a little bit of time at the school in exchange for their child receiving an education.

  6. Cynical says:

    It is if they’re working during school hours.

    Also, “… involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Thirteenth Amendment. It’s not just stupid, it’s literally un-Constitutional.

  7. Alum Rock continues to be one heck of a goofy school district.

  8. Bill Leonard says:

    With the exceptions of Mr. Wright, and of course, Ms. Jacobs, it seems clear that the responders thus far don’t live anywhere close to the San jose, CA, area, and have no remote clue what the realities are in the Alum Rock Union School District.

    Go back and pay attention to what Joanne wrote: most of the 28 schools in the district can’t even muster a PTA, and haven’t been able to for a long time. A whopping 88 percent of the students are poor. People, this is a district where most of the fathers and older brothers of the students are the guys you see lined up in the hardware store parking lot, waiting to catch day work. Constitutionality aside, you really think you’re going to require parents to volunteer for much of anything?

    Worse yet, this is an area where, with a requirement like that, the first thing that would happen is the local La Raza crowd would generate a lawsuit that the district, literally very nearly financially bankrupt, can in no way afford to fight.


  9. Why can’t they? Charters do it. Aren’t public schools supposed to be watching the charters and adopting their successful strategies? Isn’t that the model?

  10. Richard Aubrey says:

    1. Review Bill Leonard’s post
    2. Review the Thirteenth Amendment
    3. Think practically

    Mia. Is there anything you can think of where your “few hours in return for” wouldn’t require mandatory volunteering.
    Recall a description of corvee labor, “Not exactly slaves, not exactly self-employed.”

    And what happens if the parent–which is probably going to be pretty broadly defined–fails to show?

  11. I think Sigivald is right: parent involvement correlates with student achievement, but does not cause it. We’re barking up the wrong tree here. Leave the overworked parents alone; hauling them into the classroom is not the most effective use of their time. Focus energies instead on meaningful reforms such as bolstering discipline or implementing a meaty curriculum (e.g. Singapore math).

  12. Richard: Oh no. This has nothing to do with the 13th amendment or else the charters wouldn’t be able to do it, would they? The so-called purpose of charters is to give schools the freedom to find what works so that the free market will force the now competing public schools to adopt those practice, thus causing all boats to rise. If that’s what the charters do to get results, then that is what the public schools need to emulate. We’re not being hypocritical are we?

  13. Richard Aubrey says:

    What are you gonna do to the kid if the parent fails to show?
    Forget your nonsense about charters being laboratories. This isn’t going to work.
    If you have a contract going in that the parent is required to show up, you have to have something for him to do.
    What if he or she happens to be educated and, in the classroom, corrects the teacher? Or teaches the kid whom he or she is tutoring something useful, like phonics, in a whole-language school?
    Janitor unions object to volunteers doing clean-up work, even if the paid guys never get to it. Bread from the mouths of the working man, you know.
    What categories of legit excuses are there going to be for a parent who doesn’t show?
    This is going to be a slow-motion Chinese fire drill (can you still say that?)with, given good luck, only a modest negative impact on the process of education.
    Who supervises these folks? More admin personnel hired with TARP money?
    All because adults who should know better, and probably do, think that dragging an unwilling, time-stressed, possibly illiterate in English, possibly undocumented, person who is already not involved into school under the term “mandatory volunteer” is going to fix both the parent–choose one or another degree of relative–and the kids.
    Gonna background check these folks? Sex offender registry?
    What’s the cost and could it be done better another way for the money.
    It gets kind of Obama-ish when you talk about forcing people to do something and dare them to object to “volunteering”.

  14. Forget your nonsense about charters being laboratories.

    Oh, but that’s how they’ve been touted to everyone.

    Why don’t you answer the question? If charters can do it then why can’t public schools?

  15. Richard Aubrey says:

    “can’t” has several meanings.
    One is “illegal”. Another is “so stupid it won’t work”.
    Public schools are not voluntary. That means the parents of public school students are those who didn’t try to get their kids into charters. Perhaps they tried but there were not enough slots.

    I never touted charters as laboratories. Public school admins would prefer a broken-glass enema to doing things a charter found to be useful. The lab thing is useless. I saw charters as an escape from a lousy public school.
    In this case, “can’t” means so stupid it won’t work combined with a subset, which is that you won’t get enough–practically any–parents to show up.
    As another commenter mentioned, the charter kids’ parents are already involved with their kids and their kids’ education, which is where the difference in performance comes from. This mandatory volunteering is going to haul in the other kind of parent–or some degree of relative or guardian or somebody. This idea has the cause and effect bassackwards. Is this going to convince the folks all of a bright sudden that getting active in their kids’ educatio nis a good idea? And what about the time they’re “volunteering”, which is to say standing around the classroom? Couldn’t that be better used dealing with their own kids?
    Nope. This is a hot idea by people who know better but get a thrill out of bossing others around.

  16. I doubt one can actually force charter parents to volunteer, although some charters are perhaps using enrollment forms that seem to commit parents to do so. But, irrespective of the legal situation for charters, one simply cannot do it for regular public schools. Attending charters is voluntarily selected by the parents. Attending a regular public school is a state mandate. If it is a mandate, mandating “volunteerism” is equivalent to involuntary servitude. Unconstitutional.

  17. Richard Aubrey says:

    You are right as to forced volunteering. However, something like that was part of Obama’s platform during his campaign.

  18. >Why don’t you answer the question? If charters can do it
    >then why can’t public schools?

    Uh, because participation in a charter school is VOLUNTARY?

    >So, parents simply can’t find three or so hours in a
    >month to spend on their child’s education?

    That’s not what is at issue here. The question is, should parents be forced to find time to educate EVERYONE’S children?

    This is the most frankly stupid idea I’ve seen this week. If the parents have standard 8 to 5 jobs, just how are they going to afford to take 30 hours a year off to work in the classroom? What about the parents who are themselves uneducated and in no position to be teaching anyone else (possibly, they don’t even speak English)? What does it say about the quality of these teaching professionals that they would desire to have a different, non-teaching-professional underfoot every day in the classroom? If this is a good idea, why not just require the parents to home-school their kids? That would save us all a lot of bother.

  19. When my daughter was in public school in South Pasadena, my babysitter’s kid used our address and went to another school in the same district. She was a immigrant from Guatemala, her English was improving and yet, she did all the same volunteer stuff as did the Volvo-driving soccer moms–and did a great job! (Having a big extended family and supportive church to buy gift-wrap really helps.) I wasn’t paying $150 an hour, either.
    So, I think prodding people–even those with shaky English–to become part of a larger community is a good thing. Every private school I’ve been involved with had mandatory parental work hours (and I was paying for the privilege.)
    Surely the school can find a way to involve parents that makes good use of the skills they have–you’d be amazed at how much those “uneducated” parents know.

  20. LS: I think the point is that it’s unconstitutional for charters as well. However, since they’re opt-in, they tend to get the involved parents/students anyway, who don’t complain about it.

    People honor privileges (opting in to a charter school); they take rights (defaulting to the regular public school) for granted.

  21. We have this program at our school. On the whole, it works well. Volunteer hours can be earned in a wide variety of ways, such as coming to open house, participating in back to school night, or being a chaperon for a field trip, dance, or other event. Such options are unlikely to impose on the work schedule of most parents. Families can also earn hours by donating materials to the school. We also have a sort of internal government in our school, and parent volunteers can participate and help shape school policy directly while earning hours. If a parents does not earn their full 30 hours, their child can lose priority enrollment the next year. People who say that such a policy cannot work do not have an informed opinion.


  22. Richard Aubrey says:

    I gather you are talking about something other than a public school?
    I don’t doubt volunteering would be useful. I’ve done it a lot myself. Dance chaperone. Chaperone for trips abroad. Athletic boosters. Various other things.
    Point is, I volunteered.
    Marco’s example is not volunteering. It’s an in-kind fee (lose priority enrollment).
    And we still have the “all of them” implication.
    What if some don’t show up?
    Again: Background check. Sexual offender registry check. Supervision–more work for current employees or new hires to supervise.
    I might volunteer to help out in a history class.
    WW II. Pearl Harbor. Holocaust (but we interned Japanese-Americans!!!) Hiroshima. ———Lemme see. Who invaded Poland in 39. Russia, that’s right. Oh, Germany, too. Rape of Nanking. Bataan Death March. Operation Keelhaul. maybe they’d find something else for me to do.
    I volunteered to clean up the tennis courts, pick weeds. Between the janitor union and concern for the environment, I had better never pick a single weed, nor spray one. Have to think of something else. Sweep the halls. Nope. Tutor in reading–no credentials.
    If you can convince a parent–defined broadly–to come to school to do makework, you ought to be able to convince him to pay more attention to his kid’s schooling.

  23. Bill Leonard says:

    Mr. Aubrey has been spot-on in every reply.

    Beyond that, go back and take a look at Joanne’s initial post.

    Eighty-eight percent poor people. And all the problems that come from that, especially when it’s a district heavily populated frankly, by illegal aliens.

    People, I attended schools in that elementary and inclusive high school distric — admittedly back in the days when it was principally poor and working-class, though far better in terms of demographics and performance than it is now.

    I still have ties to that district, and I have a number of friends who are retired teachers from within that district.

    Frankly, folks, beyobnd Mr. Aubrey, most of the comments here, as in any way applicable to this district in question, range from irrelevant to horseshit based on nothing but personal opinion.

    And let the flames begin…


  24. Richard Aubrey says:

    Mr. Leonard.
    And I haven’t been in California but about four or five days altogether.
    Thing is, it’s simple.
    If it weren’t simple, I wouldn’t be able to grasp it.
    Won’t work.