Parent Outreach? Not in an Educational Landscape of Opposites

Sep 7, 2011 by

Matt Amaral is a writer and high school English teacher from the San Francisco Bay Area.

Oprah’s Teacher of the Year, Ron Clark, has an article on today about the drawbacks of parental involvement. He gives examples of teachers and even principals who are leaving education because they are so annoyed at having to deal with “helicopter parents.” It is a good article that makes a good point: Parents need to trust teachers like they would a doctor or a lawyer, and work with them to solve problems instead of making excuse after excuse for their child. Bravo.

I just wish I had that problem.

We’re starting the third week of the school year and you want to know how many parents I have talked to? One. I didn’t even talk to him. He left me a message in rapid Spanish, and I left him a message back in my own rabid version of the language. I’m not sure either of us even understood what was said. I don’t know what schools Ron Clark is referring to when he is complaining about parental involvement, but it sure ain’t low-income urban ones. We have parental involvement like the Tea Party has diversity.

Of course these are the worlds in which teachers choose to go into. You teach at a poor public school knowing full well your stress is going to be caused by the students. You teach in an affluent school district knowing full well your stress is going to come from the parents. It is a trade-off every teacher talks about. Kids in suburbia are spoiled but well-behaved (for the most part), but their parents will stalk you if they fall off the college track because it couldn’t possibly be little Johnny’s fault he got a C. In a school like mine, our Back to School Night is like some odd purgatory of emptiness, but during school hours, the kids are all hyphied-out.

Steve Lopez wrote an article in the LA Times today about grading parents. Grading parents??? Kind of a cool idea if you think about it. Lopez writes about Parent U-Turn, an organization started by a woman named Mary Johnson who advocates for parents to get involved in their kids’ education. This is the kind of organization we need to implement on a national level if you want to talk about real education reform. I always write about the fact that the most important part of a kid’s education doesn’t even take part on school grounds. Everyone knows the home life is the NUMBER ONE indicator of a child’s success in school. Yet education reform has never focused on parent outreach in any meaningful way on a large scale.

Part of me wishes I had a parent involvement problem. I’m tired of calling cell phones only to get the voicemail that is 75 seconds of rap music followed by the word “Holler,” and then never getting a call back. I’m tired of parent meetings where the parents don’t show up to the meeting because, as one told me last year, “I hurt my foot this weekend.”

What if we did start grading parents? It would be funny in a sad way, because then the kid and their parents would be failing at the same time. I always say this: We wonder why a kid is failing, we meet their parent, and then we don’t wonder anymore.

We need a parent outreach campaign on a national scale. And the only way to do that is by providing social services to help families in need. The problem with that is our government is CUTTING services as we speak. As usual, the discourse in Washington is operating in some crazy backwards reality from how things really are. Independent economists around the world are screaming we need to increase spending to stimulate in a recession, yet our legislators are cutting. The people driving the call for fiscal responsibility are the ones who were fiscally irresponsible for 8 years. Parent outreach, and social services? Forget about it.

I won’t ever have a helicopter parent problem. Because providing services in the community is looked on as socialism, and today’s America is not into helping out poor communities. We are about giving tax breaks to billionaires and dismantling middle-class workers’ ability to negotiate.

So once again when we’re talking about education, we’re talking into a headwind, and our words are rendered useless and blown away into nothingness the moment they are uttered. The parent issue is a perfect example of the educational landscape of opposites we find ourselves in today.

There won’t be any parent outreach program done on a national scale, even though it is the most important aspect of education in this or any country.

We’re shortening the school year when anyone who knows anything about education knows we need a longer school year. This gives us a larger summer break when said people know we need to get rid of the summer break and go year-round.

Charter schools are the new thing, yet every teacher I know who works in a charter school works more hours for less paythe exact opposite direction teachers’ salaries need to go.


In order for schools to improve, you have to improve the working conditions and pay of the people doing the educating—teachers—but across the country we are seeing attacks on teachers unions trying to undo decades of progress. Another opposite.

Class sizes need to go down drastically, but instead are increasing.

It seems every meaningful point in education is being addressed in an upside down fashion. And yesterday Michelle Bachman said if she becomes president, she will get rid of the Department of Education. You can’t make this stuff up.

So another year begins, and on the policy side, it has already ended. The way we’re going now, we’ll have to skid to a stop at some point, make a u-turn, and then maybe, a few years down the line, we’ll start making progress.

But not this year.

And probably not the next.

Try saying these words out loud: “President Bachman.”

I get shivers too.

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