School District Eyes 'Parent Report Card'
Feb. 06, 2003
LEBANON, Pa. (AP) _ Come fall, Gino Vargas and other parents of schoolchildren in this city could be getting report cards of their own: The school system's superintendent is proposing that parents be graded on how involved they are in their children's education.
Vargas said he cares deeply about his 4-year-old son and has no problem with the proposal, believed to be one of the first of its kind.
``If you take care of your kids, it'll show in the report,'' Vargas said recently as little Dante waited in the car for the trip home from Harding Elementary. ``My dad was there for me. I need to be there for my son.''
Under the proposal, parents in the 4,200-student district about 80 miles west of Philadelphia would be evaluated in areas such as attendance at parent-teacher conferences, whether they return things they have to sign and whether their children come to school healthy and properly dressed. Teachers would check ``yes'' or ``no'' and send the forms home with student report cards.
Superintendent Marianne Bartley said the goal is to make sure parents are sending their kids to school ready to learn and keeping on top of their academic progress.
``We know that all types of research show that it's more likely that students who have parents who are involved are more successful in school,'' she said. ``We have a lot of parents who are involved and do a wonderful job, but we need to make sure that it's widespread.''
No other Pennsylvania school district conducts parental evaluations and it is a rare practice nationwide. The Chicago school system started a ``parental checklist'' program in 2000, but it was dropped a year later under a new administration.
Paul Vallas, the former Chicago schools chief who now heads the Philadelphia district, said the program was voluntary and each of Chicago's 600 schools was given discretion to develop its own format.
``They weren't report cards as much as they were parental advisories'' he said.
The idea drew some criticism. Some parents didn't like the prospect of being judged by their children's teachers.
``It came across to parents as being very demeaning and very insulting. It's inappropriate for a government agency to be critiquing and evaluating people's parenting skills,'' said Julie Woestehoff, head of a parents group.
Gregory Heist, who heads a parent-teacher organization at Harding Elementary in Lebanon, said he favors parental evaluations but knows some busy parents are anxious about how they will be carried out.
``Time is definitely short for some people,'' said Heist, whose three children attend Lebanon schools. ``I think some parents will take it as a rude gesture that they're not doing a good job.''
The school board is expected to decide on the evaluation proposal in the next few months.
Sue Ferguson, chairwoman of the National Coalition for Parent Involvement in Education, said schools would be better served by collaborating more with parents and getting to know them personally, rather than filling out evaluation forms that could alienate them.
``If teachers invest that time up front in getting to know the families, a lot of the other problems they have to deal with throughout the year will subside,'' she said.
The evaluation is not intended to punish parents who fall short of the mark, but to help them overcome obstacles that keep them from getting more involved, Bartley said. For example, a teacher could arrange a home visit to a parent too busy to make a parent-teacher conference at school.
A family's home life is not part of the evaluation.
``This is not about making value judgments about anyone's personal lifestyle,'' Bartley said.
However, parents who do not live up to any of their responsibilities would be contacted by an outreach worker who would try to help them become more involved. And parents who cannot or will not cooperate would have an ``adult mentor'' assigned to their child.
``If they're just really resistant, they say, `Get out of my home, go away,' we still have a responsibility for that child,'' Bartley said.
Yvonne Jones, president of Lebanon's teachers union and a chemistry teacher at Lebanon High, said her colleagues appear to support the evaluations.
``My hope is that (the parents) take it with a positive view, and realize that they need to be more involved with their children's education,'' Jones said. ``We are required to call parents whenever there's a problem with discipline or anything else in the classroom. This is just an added check.''
On the Net:
Lebanon School District: http://www.lebanon.k12.pa.us
National Coalition for Parent Involvement in Education: http://www.ncpie.org