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Tennessee's 'Parent Involvement Contract' Draws Skepticism

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A voluntary "Parent Involvement Contract" for schools is now the law of the land in Tennessee. But Karen Davis, president of the Tennessee PTA, finds it interesting that her organization, with more than 90,000 parent and educator members, was never asked to weigh in on the bill, and she doesn't believe the final law will have a big impact.

The contract—which districts are encouraged, but not mandated, to implement in the 2012-13 school year—will ask parents to promise to sign their children's report cards and monitor their children's school attendance, while agreeing to attend school functions and parent-teacher conferences themselves.

Davis, just back from the Tennessee PTA convention, said the contract was one topic in a "Front Porch" discussion that included some of the state's top educators.

"We agreed it's nice that this issue is on the front burner," she said. "Everyone's figured out that parent engagement/involvement is crucial to educational reform. ... While it's not the right step, at least it's a step to change the playing field."

That said, there's some wariness about the law itself and whether it will accomplish much.

"You can't legislate involvement like this," said Davis, who expects the contract to be implemented by some schools, but not by others.

"As a parent with children who went through the Tennessee Public School system, I'd say they're not looking at it from our side of the fence. Unless you're an elementary parent, schools are not necessarily welcoming of parent [on-site] involvement. You can come in, and they don't know what to do with you," she said.

"In middle school, the attitude is often, 'Your child doesn't really want you here,' and [educators] may even say that," Davis told K-12 Parents & the Public.

Davis believes a better solution would be to ensure that schools are implementing the parent engagement standards adopted by Tennessee in 2010, which are patterned after the six PTA National Standards for Family-School Partnerships.

"Every district and every school has to have a family engagement policy. The rub is how effective is your policy? Do you have someone assigned to it? Some schools absolutely do, and some do not," she said.

The most difficult standard is the fifth—"Sharing Power." It states; "Families and school staff are equal partners in decisions that affect children and families, and together inform, influence, and create policies, practices, and programs."

Although that's not mentioned in the contract for holding individual parents accountable, it's a legislative mandate that Davis would like to see honored by every school in Tennessee.

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