Charter schools’ volunteer demands may HELP needy students

1.7.15 LA Times LogoThe following is a response I wrote to an L. A. Times op. ed. piece.  Whenever I write the words, ‘you’ or ‘your’ I am referring to the Times editorial board.  I don’t know if they published my response or not. 

I am not a fan of the current charter school movement but there are some aspects of it that may have merit.  Your 1/7/15 opinion piece on charter schools ‘Charter schools’ volunteer demands may discourage needy students’ ignores a dangerous assumption while it fails to point out many important advantages of requiring parent involvement.

Your piece reads as if you assume that parents have no responsibility for their child’s education.  This is dangerous.  Are you saying that parents have no responsibility to spend time showing an interest in their children’s education?  How little time can they spend before it becomes neglect?  When does empathy for the poor become enabling?

I’ve spent 25 years teaching the ‘disadvantaged’ and the ‘at risk’  students of LAUSD.  I have noticed that when parents spend real time communicating with their kids and showing a regular and involved interest in their child’s education, those children have a much better chance of breaking the cycle of poverty and becoming fully functional members of society than those children (and there have been many) whose parents say to me, “I had them.  I put food on the table.  It’s your job to teach them.”

Aside from the benefits of higher graduation rates and better test scores, which you mentioned, parental involvement has other advantages which you failed to mention.  I’ll only mention a few below.

First, by having some schools which require parental involvement and and some that don’t, it offers the benefit of having real differences in school choice (if all schools are structured the same, what’s the advantage to school choice?).   If you don’t believe in any form of parental involvement, you can choose to go to a school that doesn’t require it.  Also by having both types of schools in our district it gives us valuable data as to which system is more likely to produce a well educated populace.  I believe this data is likely to show that there is more to a child’s success in school than just the teacher.

Another advantage to parental involvement is it gives parents who truly want to help their kids a structured environment in which to learn how to help their children.

Required parental involvement can be a way to ease ethnic and racial tension by exposing parents to the diversity of our community in which their children live.

Finally, having parents ‘…working in classrooms or school offices…’ is likely to foster empathy for teachers and the practical problems of educating children.  Too often, parents don’t understand the time constrains placed on us teachers.  I can’t begin to count the many times a parent showed up at school without notice or making an appointment.  They then demanded a conference with me or other teachers.  I have regularly had to make a whole class wait in the middle of a lesson because a parent ‘just wanted to see how their child was doing’ and was too insensitive (or disorganized) to realize that they were taking valuable class time from other children.  Would you expect your doctor or dentist to make a patient wait just to fit your schedule?  Then why expect it from a teacher or school?

Setting rules for parental involvement should be encouraged.  It fosters responsibility in parenting rather than the historic laissez-faire approach which has contributed to producing our large underclass.

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