There’s a very big hole in the center of the story about the firing of all teachers at Central Falls High School in Rhode Island.
This article features quotes by students and teachers.
This one includes quotes by administration and union officials.
And this one includes quotes by education big wigs and pundits.
Notice the hole? It’s big, very, VERY big.
Where the hell are the parents?
I write this as I listen to my kids bickering in the background about the best way to present a science project which is due this week. I know exactly what phase they are working on right now, having finished a description of the process and the data chart and the graph of the data. And I will have a very good idea by the end of the afternoon whether the project is going to meet all the requirements of the project syllabus for a sixth-grade science class.
There’s another project going on here today, too; the older kid is working on chemistry and I’ll know by the end of the evening whether a paper has been completed in sync with an A.P. Chemistry syllabus.
Both kids will have shown me their grades on line by tonight, and I’ll have reviewed and signed my younger kid’s academic planner, reflecting the assignments and work done over the weekend.
School has taken up a big chunk of our weekend. OUR weekend, not just their weekend. This is my role as a parent, to answer some questions without actually doing their work, to find resources if they need them, to facilitate the learning process. And most importantly, to help set expectations. Failure is not an option here.
While teachers may deliver and teach the content, grade students based on the work performed in learning the content, they cannot do what parents are supposed to do. They already have to do far too much that parents used to do — like providing materials paid for out of their own pockets, when school systems have cut back deeply on spending, or providing food and even personal hygiene products when kids show up unkempt with empty stomachs, when some households have difficulty pulling together one meal a day. I know this because I’ve talked frankly and candidly with my kids’ teachers; parents who are paying attention already know which children in the classroom are challenged, because the situation impacts their own kids.
There’s nothing quite as heartbreaking as hearing from your own kid that a child in their classroom doesn’t have a winter coat because their family can’t afford one, or that a child has gone without lunch because the parents are struggling and not yet able to qualify for free lunch. Or that gifted children skip performances by the band, orchestra or other class because they do not have appropriate attire like plain black pants and their family can’t afford them.
And teachers often fill the gap. I know this, because I’ve volunteered to help them when they’ve talked with me about the frustrations they have with trying to make sure these at-risk kids keep up with the rest of the class, that the promise these kids have is realized in spite of their challenges.
There are other demands which further stress teachers, like unruly and undisciplined children who disrupt classes, or children at either end of the learning spectrum whose needs can chew up class time and more time after class. I hear about them every day when my kids arrive home from school and dump their emotional baggage accumulated from trying to learn in this environment.
So where are the parents? Most of the time the problems don’t surface until the child tells their teacher there’s a problem — like telling the orchestra teacher a day before a performance that they can’t attend because they have no pants, or telling the teacher they have a stomachache and can’t concentrate because they haven’t eaten. It’s not the parents telling the teacher there’s a problem; it’s the kids.
And where are the parents in Central Falls? Why was performance allowed to lag so badly that their representatives on the school board had to take such dramatic action? Why weren’t parents intervening far earlier by becoming more actively involved in the complaint process rather than waiting for the school board to do it for them?
Think about it: your child comes home with failing grades in multiple classes. What do you do?
I know what I’d do, but frankly, no kid of mine is going to come home with a failing grade. They’ll come home with a C and I’ll be sitting at the table with them while they do their homework every night until there’s a B and then an A in that class. There will be no television, no internet except for heavily monitored research, no video games, no cell phone, no texting until there’s a B in that class.
And there will be phone calls and emails with the teacher about the nature of the problem until we get the grade back up. One child in this household wasn’t turning in their homework on time; an email exchange helped fix that problem and bump up a grade level within a week, because the homework now made it in when due (and there wasn’t any television until this happened regularly).
Some parents will complain that they don’t have the money to make sure their kids get better grades. But this doesn’t take money. It takes personal discipline, and without exercising personal discipline as an adult, kids won’t have role models and learn how to acquire personal discipline of their own.
I expect push back about the ethnicity of this particular school district, too. Too bad. There are many school districts across the entire country where English is a second language for students and their families. Math achievement in particular does not rely on English as a primary language, as the students of Garfield High School in East Los Angeles proved under Jaime Escalante’s tutelage. Yes, they excelled because of their teacher, but their ethnicity and their poverty were not impediments. The challenge of their minority status was used as a spur to encourage them to work harder. Had parents been more engaged, the success rate in Escalante’s classes would have been even greater.
While the media whips up a frenzy over the bellwether case of Central Falls High School, while conservative pundits drone on about the need for for-profit charter schools and unions complain about the burdens demanded of teachers, ask yourself why we aren’t hearing more from the parents. Ask yourself how much responsibility parents are supposed to have for their children’s educational outcomes.
I’m reminded of the movie Parenthood, in which teenaged slacker Tod Higgins (played by Keanu Reeves) explains to his girlfriend’s mother Helen Buckman (played by Dianne Wiest): "You know, Mrs. Buckman, you need a license to buy a dog, to drive a car — hell, you even need a license to catch a fish. But they’ll let any butt-reaming asshole be a father."
The parents of the students of Central Falls High School have a major role in the failure of their children’s education; unfortunately, we can’t fire them since anybody can be a parent. It’s much easier to simply fire the teachers.