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Grading Parents

Over the past two years, 10 states have given letter grades to schools in a process that reformers believe is long overdue ("Schools Get Taste of Own Medicine," The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 10). The justification is to give parents more useful information about educational quality.

I say what's good for the goose is good for the gander: What about handing out letter grades about parents? Do they make sure their children do their homework? Do they attend open house at school? Do they respond promptly to teacher requests for a conference? The list goes on and on. The point is that educating the young should be a partnership between school and home. So far, however, it's only the former that is graded.

That's unfortunate because studies and common sense show that parents who are deeply involved in their children's education can make a significant difference in learning. Let's not forget that even the best schools have students for only a small part of the waking day. The bulk of the time is spent at home and in the neighborhood. I realize that many parents are overwhelmed with their responsibilities, particularly during the protracted recession. But their No. 1 responsibility should be their children.

When I was teaching, my high school held open house twice during the school year from 5:00 to 8:00. It was totally predictable which parents would show up. It was always those whose children were doing quite well. The parents I was hoping would appear never did, despite phone calls and certified letters. When I asked the students why, they offered a variety of explanations.

Lest I leave the impression that only parents who are detached from the education of their children deserve a low grade, I hasten to point out that helicopter parents also deserve one. I include parents who bombard teachers with complaints before attempting to get all the facts about an assignment ("The Parent-Teacher Trap," The New York Times, Jan. 13). Students sometimes will lie about what takes place in class in order to avoid responsibility. But the parents who bypass the teacher and go directly to the principal are the worst offenders because they immediately put teachers on the defensive. I was fortunate to have two principals whose firm policy was to insist that parents first talk to the teacher before coming to their office. It sent a clear message to parents that teachers were to be respected.

I doubt that my proposal to grade parents will ever become a reality because it's much easier to blame teachers for everything. Nevertheless, I think it's worth a try.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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