NASHVILLE — Charles Widener and his wife believe being personally involved in their children’s academics is essential to the youngsters succeeding — not just in school but in life.
“It’s very important for us to be involved with our children,” said Widener, whose 9-year-old and 5-year-old attend a Nashville magnet school. “You have to show them that education is important.”
Tennessee is among a few states that have enacted or are considering legislation that aims to spur parents to get involved in their children’s school performance.
One bill advancing in the Tennessee Legislature would encourage school districts to develop a parental involvement contract, and another proposes what are commonly referred to as parent report cards, which are mostly used in charter schools.
The contract legislation is similar to a proposal passed in Michigan in 2001, and Louisiana is currently considering legislation to grade parent participation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Utah passed legislation last month that creates an online survey where parents can evaluate their own involvement, but the school does not assign them a grade and it’s voluntary, the NCSL said.
“It’s the engagement,” said Rep. Antonio Parkinson, a Memphis Democrat and sponsor of both Tennessee proposals, which are advancing in the Legislature. “One thing we understand is schools with higher parental involvement perform higher. And so, what we’re trying to do is ensure that every school gets that opportunity for higher parental involvement.”
The bill that would require the state Department of Education to develop a parental involvement contract to be used by school districts is close to being sent to the governor. The measure unanimously passed the Senate 32-0 last month and is awaiting a vote on the House floor.
Under the proposal, the “contracts will provide, at a minimum, that the parent or guardian will commit to review their student’s homework and offer assistance when needed, sign report cards, ensure that their student is not truant, attend school functions, and make every effort to attend parent-teacher conferences.”
“We know that parental involvement is one of the most important factors in predicting student outcomes,” said Republican Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown, who’s sponsoring the companion bill.
The other proposal creates a four-year pilot program that would grade parents of students attending some of the state’s struggling schools. It’s scheduled to be heard in the House Finance Committee on Tuesday, and the companion bill is up in the Senate Education Committee the next day.
The legislation would require teachers to monitor and assess the quality of a parent’s involvement. Each student report card would include a section in which the teacher grades the parent as excellent, satisfactory, needs improvement or unsatisfactory.
Parkinson said the proposal is important because it allows “parents to at least judge themselves ... honestly, so that they can see whether or not they’re giving as much as they can possibly give to the success of the education of their children.”
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, who has implemented tougher education policies since taking office in 2010, says parental involvement is a “key issue.”
“If you go into schools and talk to teachers about what are their biggest struggles, it’s simply that parents aren’t nearly as involved as they’d like to be,” said the Republican governor. “If you compare successful schools to schools that don’t have great test results, that’s the key difference.”
Alan Dooley said he knows firsthand the importance of parental involvement because he hears it from his wife, who’s a science teacher in Nashville.
“When parents don’t show up for a conference with her, she can’t work out problems or issues with that child,” Dooley said. “The more you can hold a parent accountable ... just as a teacher is held accountable for what she teaches, I think it’s important. It’s a two-way street.”
Tennessee Board of Education Executive Director Gary Nixon said the proposals are a “step in the right direction.”
“I believe parent involvement in their child’s education is critical for success,” he said.