What good is parent involvement in schools?
At almost every meeting about how to improve education, leaders discuss the importance of involving parents in the process. School Board candidates call for increased parent involvement. Teachers point to parents as key factors in why children succeed or fail in school. Heck, they don't say parents are a child's first teachers for nothing, right?
But researcher Alfie Kohn raises some critical questions about what parental involvement really means, and if it really matters, in a column for the Washington Post Answer Sheet blog. If some parents are criticized for not being involved enough, for instance, while others are demeaned for being too involved, is there a perfect point? How does it look?
Are schools simply trying to get parents to help them control children? Do parents challenge the school over the nuts and bolts of what's being taught? Should they? What do the children think about the role of their parents?
"Imagine someone who monitors his or her child’s schooling very closely, for example, and doesn’t hesitate to advocate for — or against — certain policy changes and resource allocation decisions. Is that a good thing? Rather than just asking whether the level or style of advocacy is effective, we’d also want to know whether this parent is asking for changes that will benefit all children or mostly just his or her own child (possibly at the expense of others). Our intensely individualistic, free-market-oriented culture — witness the growing push for charter schools, vouchers, and privatization — encourages us to see education not as a public good but as just another commodity one shops for, and to evaluate its effectiveness in terms of how much my kid gets out of it. Thus, those of us who value the cause of equity have reason to be disturbed by many sorts of parent involvement — not just because some are more involved, or better at being involved, than others but because of what that involvement is intended to achieve and for whom."
These questions rarely get asked, much less answered. Rather, everyone simply focuses on the broad general premise that parent involvement is good. The issue takes on an added dimension when Florida and other states explore the concept of giving parents more control with measures such as a parent trigger, allowing them to decide how to overhaul a failing school.
Sometimes parents do know best. Sometimes they don't. The debate over the value and extent of their role in schooling is one well worth having.