A Reform Movement to Hold Parents Accountable? Pt. One

Back To School

Returning to school is a bittersweet time in the American educational landscape. It marks the end of fun and freedom and the return or beginning of responsibility for both parents and their children.
Several years ago the movie, Waiting for Superman was released during the return to school season to promote the Charter School Move Agenda inspired by educational reformers. It put the spotlight on poor and minority children trapped in failing schools. It portrayed parents as desperate to enroll their children charters that were succeeding according to test scores. Correctly or incorrectly, it promoted charter schools as the audacity of hope. It created a national conversation.

Last year, the movie Won’t Back Down also opened during the back to school season with a big Hollywood style premiere. Brand name movies stars (Maggie Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Helen Hunt) lots of spotlights, and hoopla were designed to ignite a mass awareness of Parent Effectiveness Laws, which give parents a pass to make changes in failing schools. It was another movie that portrayed public schools as a failed status quo. However, the Hollywood hoopla failed to make up for a failed message . It failed to create a vision the masses could believe in or follow.
A Movie that FAILED to ignite a Vision

Yes, we need parent effectiveness laws but not for the reasons invoked in the movie. As a retired educator and as a parent whose child attended public schools, I have experience on both sides of the desk.
As we attempt to create instruments and tools to hold teachers accountable, where are the tools and instruments for parents? Let’s begin with a review of the movie.

Weapons of Mass Destruction
Get rid of teacher unions! Get rid of teacher seniority! Get rid of teacher tenure! Get rid of the bureaucracy!
They are the weapons of mass destruction in public education that we have only to eliminate to begin to solve the schooling crisis in America.

Won’t Back Down portrayed a sea of white children trapped in failing schools and not being effectively educated by a large corps of white female and male teachers. The weapons of mass destruction have crushed their spirit, causing them to give up on trying to teach, to make a difference. Is this the image we really want to portray across the globe about our educational system?

Parent-Trigger Laws
The movie pays homage to the Parent-Trigger Laws being implemented in states across the country. Basically, the law gives parents a pass to make changes in failing schools: a new curriculum, longer school days, different personnel. Or they can take over entirely and turn the school into a charter.
You see it’s the union that keeps the teachers in the movie from staying after school to work with children, or rearranging the seats in their classrooms for collaborative learning, or assigning projects, or giving homework. Gee, I taught for a lot of years in a union town (Detroit) and I don’t remember once receiving a letter, phone call, or an message from the union preventing me from providing such experiences that we offered in our school. Our principal encouraged and supported them, and so teachers agreed.
In the movie, the principal appears to be an impediment to a positive school culture, but no one organizes to get rid of him.

The Blame Game
Blaming teachers for the educational challenges in the United States is a lot like blaming assembly line workers at a factory for turning out a poor product or lagging sales instead of blaming the CEO. If the school reformers want to follow a business model; they should do so. In private industry if LEADERS don’t perform, they are FIRED. In private industry, corporate managers who supervise 50, 100, 150 personalities daily earn far more than the $40,000 to $70,000 earned by teachers and they don’t run out of the supplies they need to perform their jobs. However, because of the imploding economy and the high jobless rate, there is no more taxpayer elixir to keep the system going. And, thus, we need to find fault.

No Parental Responsibility
In Won’t Back Down, parents bear no fault, nor responsibility. The lead-parent organizer played by Maggie Gyllenhaal doesn’t have a clue about parenting. Her only responsibility is to send her child to school (late) with an overpriced book bag ($59.00) which indirectly causes a fight ending with the bag being destroyed . Though the child is dyslexic, her mother provides video games instead of books to keep her occupied. (See my blog post on “Reading: The Road Ahead”: on this site) The child doesn’t appear to practice reading at home, nor is her mother seen modeling reading. She doesn’t seem to bother taking her to the library, community center, or anyplace else that’s educational. Oh that’s right; she works two jobs. However, in her spare time, she spends it hanging out with her new boyfriend, a teacher, from her daughter’s school. He is allowed to babysit her female daughter ALONE while she runs off to organize a school takeover of which her new man wants no part. Hello single mama, have you heard the words: safety, security, stability?
Of course she permits the child to idly channel surf as much as she likes while her new man babysits her. After all she has a parent take-over to get going. Mommy provides her child with lots of hugs and kisses though. Love is enough, right? It’s all she needs from her poor mama to take part in the new boundaries of prosperity redrawn by globalization and technological change.

Why doesn’t Mommy spend the time organizing a Parent-Teacher Association so she can work collectively WITH the teachers in the school? Spend all of that energy and firepower building bridges; let her child see first hand what collaboration, cooperation, and communication are all about- skills needed in the new economy.
Parent Report Cards?
We give students grades; we give schools grades. The new Educator-Effective Laws being implemented across the country advance parents and the public being provided clear information about teacher effectiveness. When will we start giving parents grades on parenting effectiveness? Perhaps instead of writing the child’s name on the report card; we should replace it with the parent’s. In addition, there should be a special checklist on the report card for parents.



Next Time:Part Two
A Report Card for Parents