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Parents Need a Full and Equitable Partnership with Their Children’s Schools

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I recently read an article in the Washington Post regarding schools that refuse to send home tests to parents. In various patterns they will send home test scores or even the test sheet with multiple choice answers on it, but in all these cases parents didn’t get to see the questions associated with the test scores. At this point any reasonable person will be asking why?

One of the considerations in some of these schools was that these tests could be used again in that same grade. This reminds me of a teacher who used the same chapter tests for all twenty years of her career in the fourth grade. After I had been principal for two years in that school, I realized this. The tests had become so poorly copied, that the words and answers were slanted on the page. After a little investigation I realized that Mrs. X had been doing this in every subject all those years. That is why she never sent the actual test home. Parents were outraged, and I informed her that this practice had to stop immediately. It was no surprise when Mrs. X decided it was time to retire that June.

This is a microcosm of what is poor educational practice. Whenever a school or one of its teachers tries to obfuscate a situation, there is something rotten in the state of that school. There is absolutely no valid reason for a teacher to use the same test year after year – classes change, students are different, and the teaching and testing should align with those specifics each year. Yes, there are guidelines teachers must follow, but nowhere will anyone find an edict that states a teacher should use the same test. This is like a doctor using the same tongue depressor with every patient during the day – it is malpractice and then some.

school 2 websitetemplates.bzOver the years I have seen much of this kind of thing and it is very discouraging. The number one rule in all schools should be transparency – there should not be anything that is not available to parents that will assist them in helping their children do better in school. If a student gets a poor grade on a test, it only makes sense for the parents to see the test, sign it, and be able to go over the questions and answers with their children at home. This is so incredibly simple that it boggles the mind that any school and its administrators would allow such detrimental procedures to take place.

Testing is not the only thing that should be transparent – every assignment, projects, and classwork should be open to questions from parents and students. With the availability of school websites, everything that occurs in the classroom should appear on the class webpage. For example, I have seen cases of teachers giving projects – sometimes counting for a significant percentage of the final grade – and the guidelines and instructions were only given either orally or written on the blackboard. Students went home and were unable to discern all the necessary components of the project, and parents were left in the dark. This kind of thing should never happen and it is incumbent upon the administration to make sure that it does not.

Clear, consistent, and constant communication should occur between school and home. Every teacher should have a class page and an email address for contact. The administration should also have an accessible email for parents and guardians. It is essential that the website for the school is updated daily (I know when I was principal that I would update things on the site a few times a day). Parents should never feel that the school is not available to them, open to questions, and that there in an equitable and transparent relationship where the success of each child is everyone’s responsibility.

Sadly, many schools operate in a smoke and mirrors modus operandi. They allow parents only so much information – doors remain closed, the principal’s office is an armed camp, and everything is rather cloak and dagger. In this manner there is nothing but disaster in the making for all involved. I was aware of one school that had a website but rarely if ever updated the main page. Only the principal had an email address, so if parents wanted to contact a teacher, they had to write to the principal to get the message through. This Draconian process inhibits communication on all sides, especially since there are some matters which a parent may be reticent about involving the principal before speaking to the teacher.

In our ever connected world, there is no excuse for schools to withhold anything pertinent about educational matters in the school. That means using the website to post standardized test scores, any other meaningful data, school procedures, emergency closing information, all applicable policies, and all budgetary matters. Parents should know as much about the financial health of their school as they do about the educational climate; furthermore, they should be made aware of any physical issues in the building, like problems with the boilers or electrical systems. In short, parents should always know what is happening in their children’s school because the only path to a successful educational journey is one where everyone involved in the process knows what is happening.

school 1 mnps.orgAs for the experience inside the building itself, I always believed in an open door policy. If I did not have something seriously pending that required me to close the door and get to it, I left my office door open and went about my work. Whenever a parent would stick his or her head in the door and ask, “Do you have a minute?” I was only too happy to give that parent the time. There was no “You need an appointment” attitude, which I know is pervasive in some schools, where seeing the principal is harder than seeing your doctor. I also was very happy whenever a student knocked on the door and wanted to talk; in fact, I always appreciated that I had cultivated a relationship with them that encouraged students to seek me out to talk. Gone is the day, at least in my mind, where the principal should be an unapproachable, fire-breathing warden.

Classroom teachers should always have an open door policy. I always told my teachers that they should be ready for visitors. Sometimes prospective parents come to see the school, and they want to tour the building. In my experience nothing impresses parents (and students if they are with their parents) more than coming into the building when classes are in session. There should be no reason that a teacher should not welcome visitors or the administrator at any time of the day (obviously if testing is in progress that classroom is not entered). Again this goes to transparency – there is nothing that a teacher is doing that should not be witnessed. If a teacher feels differently, then something is wrong with that picture and it merits an investigation.

All of this comes back to the idea of parents as full and equal partners in their children’s schools. As a parent myself, I want to know about everything that is happening in my children’s school. I want to be able to go to the website and be able to find anything and everything I need. This should be the same for all parents. As expectations of the Common Core State Standards accelerate the level of instruction across all grade levels, more than ever before there is a need for parents to have all the tools they need at their full disposal. Parents want and need to be advocates for success for their children in school; it is up to schools to provide every mean necessary for this to happen.

If you are a parent in a school that is open, welcoming, and transparent, congratulations; if you are not, it is time for you to express some outrage and call for things to change. It is the right of every parent to be a full and equal partner with the school for his or her child’s success, but sometimes the only person who can make this happen is the parent who presses for things to change. It is up to every parent to force the issues, press for answers, and seek educational equity and justice for their children. Only when everyone works together for the same goals can there ever be the true success that we need and expect for children in our schools.

Photo Credits: website-websitetemplates.bz; principal’s office-mnps.org

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About Victor Lana

Victor Lana has published numerous stories, articles, and poems in literary magazines and online. His books In a Dark Time (1994), A Death in Prague (2002), Move (2003), The Savage Quiet September Sun: A Collection of 9/11 Stories (2005) and Like a Passing Shadow (2009) are available online and as e-books. He has won the National Arts Club Award for Poetry, but has concentrated mostly on fiction and non-fiction prose in recent years. He has worked as faculty advisor to school literary magazines and enjoys the creative process as a writer, editor, and collaborator. He has been with Blogcritics since July 2005, has edited many articles, was co-head sports editor with Charley Doherty, and now is a Culture and Society editor. He views Blogcritics as one of most exciting, fresh, and meaningful opportunities in his writing life.