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Parental Involvement: How Much is Too Much?

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Education Week's Bess Keller has written a really interesting story about parental involvement. As we've talked about many, many times before, having parents involved in their childrens' schools can greatly boost motivation levels and keep them on track. However, in some cases, overly demanding parents can become more of a nuisance than a help. Bess' story explains why this is becoming more and more common.

"Parents are approaching schools with much more of a contract mentality," said [Bill Simmer, a parent-relations consultant for Independent School Management]. "Expecting results [from schools, for instance] has come well within the realm of parenting."

The shift may be more pronounced in parents who are paying tuition, but is present in the public sector, too, he said, especially when parents go to such lengths as moving to get their child in a certain school or district.

Mr. Simmer said the trick for educators is to make sure the "contract" that the parents envision has two sides: not only what the parents can expect of the school, but also what the school can expect of the parents.

Still, educators and administrators agree--having too much parental involvement is way better than having none at all. And it's hard to fault parents who want to be included in their child's education, especially if their child needs special attention that they may not be receiving from the school system, as one commenter notes. Like most things, I'm sure a healthy balance would be most effective for parents, teachers, and students.

Is this a problem you've encountered in your school? As a teacher, have you ever encountered an overly demanding parent? Or as a parent, have you discovered a breakdown of communication between the teacher and yourself?

1 Comment

As a parent in a large urban district I don't know if I would describe my experience as so much a "break-down" of communications as a near total absence. This increases at the upper grade levels. There are certainly many factors, such as the low priority placed on parent involvement, stereotypical images of who parents are and what they want, fear of the neighborhood/community and the people who live within it.

Frequently my experience is that the schools do a lot of shooting themselves in the foot (not publicizing events, making decisions without parental/community involvement, maintaining schools like fortresses, etc) and believing that the results are the best that can be expected "from their community."

Contracts, as mentioned, may be a good vehicle--in fact they are mentioned, if not required, in Title I. What I have seen, however, is contracts either written by the school, or downloaded from some website, and presented for parents to sign. They specify lovely things like limiting TV time and supervising homework. On the school side they have things like "provide a quality education to all students." What could be a beneficial exercise--hashing out what parents want/need (how to contact a teacher, what timeline to expect a response, hearing positives as well as negatives on a regular basis, hearing about problems before they have become a crisis) as well as what teachers expect/need--is reduced to an insulting check off.

Parents can be significant resources for schools--regardless of their income level. I have done grassroots community work for years and have found some incredibly politically savvy folks, some wonderful organizers, great motivators, helpers, teachers (in the most generic sense), disciplinarians. Schools, by and large, do not see these resources, because they do not see themselves (individually as teachers, or institutionally) as a part of their community. They see a positive goal as helping their students "get out."

As I have spent more time in my children's schools I find this lack of relationship to be less surprising when I realize how limited the within school relationships are. Teachers know very little about how the phone is answered, or how other classes are taught, or what the bus-ride home is like. Teachers with special education certification are particularly isolated from other teachers. Travelling service providers (OT, Social Work, etc) are almost complete strangers--no one knows who they are, what they do, or where they are when the are not in the building (or if they are in the building).

This is what school looks like from the parent side. Maybe I expect too much. I don't think so.

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