What about parent accountability?

Teacher accountability has been a big theme in the news lately–how to make teachers take ownership of their students’ achievements and work harder to improve test scores.  There are a lot of issues branching off from that, but in my current school, one of the main ones I see is that while most critics are quick to point out the faults of teachers, no one is really talking about the ownership that parents, guardians, and families should be taking for student success (or lack thereof).

Obviously, teachers and parents do not have the same role in children’s academic development.  Teachers have all chosen to work in our field.  We have taken college courses in education, attended workshops, been evaluated and observed, and earn a paycheck for our service.  Parents do not always explicitly choose to become parents, and rarely take courses or read many books about parenting prior to starting their work.  Furthermore, many parents do not consider being a mom or a dad to be their primary occupation.

Procreating is, arguably, a human right.  If consenting adults decide they’re going to have a baby together, there aren’t really any other requirements.  No one can stand in your way.  Once the baby is born, the standards for keeping custody of it, at least in the US, are usually pretty minimal.  Food, water, shelter, clothing, some form of supervision and attention to the child’s safety and medical needs–that’s basically it.

What happens when a child is coming to school from a home where only those very most basic needs are being met?  Academically, the results aren’t good.  I’ve had students come to school in dirty, stained clothes; with unwashed and unbrushed hair; head lice or bed bugs; falling asleep at their desks because they share a bed with their baby brother who was up crying all night.  I have more than one student who has at some point missed at least a month of school straight because their parents chose to take them to their home country while school was in session.  Are these things illegal?  In most cases, no, but they can all be very detrimental to students’ ability to focus and learn.

Students whose families are financially qualified receive free lunch and breakfast at school.  Children (and often the parents as well) get free health care from the state.  Although free vision and dental care are also usually available, children who need glasses and dental attention frequently don’t get it because their parents are unwilling or unable to take them to appointments.  In an effort to solve these problems, an eye doctor and dentist occasionally visit each school to provide these services for free.  Vaccinations are also sometimes given at school.  All school supplies are provided for the children and we cannot require them to bring any materials from home.

On the one hand, it makes sense to provide these things for children.  They need food, medical care, and supplies in order to learn.  The kids should not be punished for their parents’ poverty or inattention to their needs.  On the other hand, if a family can’t manage to feed their children, clothe them properly, and provide them with minimal health care–if Medicaid, Food Stamps, welfare, subsidized housing, and other forms of government assistance aren’t enough–should the children remain in that family’s care?

That’s a complicated question, because public schools are, in a sense, a form of government assistance.  Since all kids are required to attend school, it makes sense for schools to be places that provide these services to children.  However, given the high expectations now being placed on teachers and students alike, I believe it’s time to raise the bar for parents as well.  Minimal standards have been deemed unacceptable in schools; they should also be unacceptable in homes.

I’m not saying any child from a less-than-perfect home should be immediately put into foster care, of course–but I am saying that if a child whose family gets food stamps AND free school meals is still coming to school hungry every day, something is wrong and it should be investigated and addressed promptly.  If every effort has been made to get the parent to take the child to get glasses so he/she can see the board in class, and after months it still hasn’t happened, we can’t just shrug and say “Too bad the mom is so irresponsible.”  To me, these are examples of neglect, and I would support the child being removed from the home in both situations, not as a punishment for the parent but as a natural consequence of failing to care for the child that is their responsibility.

Yet, this is not what is happening.  I know of multiple cases where children are remaining in unhealthy or dangerous home environments, despite having been reported and investigated by authorities.  This impacts heavily on their schoolwork in ways that even the best teaching cannot realistically overcome.  If teachers’ jobs are going to depend on raising their students’ test scores, there must be an element of parental responsibility for their kids’ basic (and not-so-basic but essential for school) needs as well.

How does this work in other countries?  What does the government provide for needy families, what do public schools provide, and in what situations (if any) are children removed from the home?


7 responses to “What about parent accountability?

  1. Great to see you back again! The whole “let’s bash the teachers for every societal ill” thing has gotten so depressing that I’ve wimped out and am trying not to think about it. I struggle valiantly and know 100’s of other teachers who do the same against an insane, ineffective system that we don’t even like, yet we’re blamed for it. Like I said, most days I just can’t bear to even address the argument. Kudos to you for doing so here.


  2. In England quite a lot of what you mentioned is provided. I
    did hear about a family having kids taken away because they were
    morbidly obese.

  3. Agreed! The whole school system needs an overhaul, and we
    need to stop using outdated methods and standardized testing which
    has been proven ineffective. I hate that people are out there
    saying that it is all the teachers fault for the poor test scores
    and underachievement. I watched Oprah and was outraged that the
    only “problem” they could find was “bad teachers.” What about
    parent accountability, poorly structured curriculum and standard
    tests that do not work and underfunded schools? Sure there are bad
    teachers out there, so why not give them classes to attend along
    with every other teacher on ways of improving their teaching
    practices? Hold seminars about effective teaching practices and
    reward good teaching. Not only should that be taking place, but
    teachers and other educators should be pushing for better
    legislation within schools so that we can provide a great
    education. Education does not only happen within schools, it should
    be happening at home as well.

  4. Teachersshould be held accountable for what they can control. We can evaluate teachers on many things. Test scores is not one of them. This is the responsibility of the student with support from the homefront.
    We are dodging the bigger, societal issues because our leaders such as Obama & Duncan don’t have the courage nor vision nor resources to face the real influencer- home and community. Let’s be honest and fair for a change.

  5. I was a fourth grade teacher in Los Angeles when Title I was born. It was conceived largely as a result of the Watts Riots and other episodes of civil and social unrest in major urban centers. Its initial impact yielded measurable results in student achievement–mainly due to the tremendous amount of staff development that was required by the funding–instruction got a whole lot better! Poverty prevailed in the communities, but schools were richer; both in resources and in intellectual and pedagogical capacity of teachers. I think this is key. Homes matter–that fact is undeniable, but when kids are with us six or more hours of every day (for most), we educators have to take the baton and run with it. We just have to do whatever it takes. I know. As a child, I came out of the cotton fields to the single most impactful element in my life–a school called, Dunbar. It was the teachers and the administrator who helped me forget, while I was in their care, all of the hurt, shame and poverty of a disfunctional home. Excellent teaching and training (yes, TRAINING) is what made the difference in my outcome. It’s too bad that we educators have to do so much, but it has always been that way–it’s what we are called to do. Like my teachers of yesteryear, we have to be prepared to shoulder a heavy burden. That’s why PREPARATION is central to our success. Teachers can’t afford to stop learning. Our students are unique, our challenges are unique, and our success can only be measured by their success.

  6. I’m really sick of teachers being blamed for these kids lack of effort in school. I am a teacher and I only see the student for at most 2 hours a day. The parent IS the one affecting the student the most and they need to be held responsible for their children.

  7. Well, you probably will not like my answer at all but the federal government should not be involved in education at all. That is part of the perception problem, schools are viewed as an extension of the government at it’s systems which makes it easy to be angry with the local school. Schools used to part of the community and in fact they were paid for by the community. The average school house in the late 1800’s would have over 50 kids of all ages and only one teacher, no other staff. Those teachers got by basically the same way our ministers/preachers do now. You answer what do other countries do for needy families do? I have lived in a lot and it varies on how socialist the systems are but the most common answer is, and I believe the correct one, is absolutely nothing – in most countries people take care of themselves and their community. That is the message that we need to live by and when we do people will stop “grading” schools by some “test scores” and remember what eduction really is about. If a child can read/write and do basic math they are ready for college. Problem is even colleges have forgot their role. How few remember that Degree is actually short for the Latin Degradium and means literally that you have learnt that you need to learn? That can happen in one day or ten years – it is all about the person. Time to stop putting these labels and made up gradings on our teachers/schools. For the record, I have lived all over Europe, been all through Africa and spent a lot of time in south/central America and I have never encountered schools better than the US. Don’t even mention Asians schools because they are joke by comparison. Our schools and fine and so our young people, it is society that is the problem and the lies on the shoulders of people supporting “liberal” views although I can’t say that term is accurate since their modern ideas are actually just the one the ancients Greeks/Romans had that were judge immoral and done away with for thousands of years

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