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Old 02-07-2007, 11:39 AM   #1
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New Bill Takes Aim At Truant Parents

As much as I think parents need to be involved in their kids' education, this is insane...

Bill aims at truant parents

Forget truancy court.

A bill filed in the state Legislature would send parents who miss conferences with their children's teachers to criminal court.

Parents are outraged, teachers are amused -- but nobody seems to strongly support the measure.

"It's crazy," said Paula Taylor of Fort Worth, who has two children in public schools. "I don't think it's fair."

The proposal by Rep. Wayne Smith, R-Baytown, would make missing a scheduled conference with a public schoolteacher a Class C misdemeanor.

Smith has said he hopes the measure would increase parents' involvement in their children's education. The bill would allow for "reasonable excuses" for not attending, and proceeds from fines would go toward providing additional compensation to teachers or buying school supplies other than textbooks.

Educators' reaction mixed

The proposal has drawn chuckles from some educators. Some teachers even like the idea of getting extra money for their classrooms.

Still, area educators say turning parents into outlaws isn't going to make them more involved in schools.

"It's very difficult in this age and time," said Marsha Griswold, a sixth-grade math teacher at Stripling Middle School in Fort Worth. "We don't have families in which one parent stays at home and one works."

Kathleen Gilbert, a ninth-grade world geography teacher at Hurst Junior High School in the H-E-B district, said even parents with the best intentions can't always participate.

"I'm thrilled that the Legislature recognizes that parents, students and the school have to work together," Gilbert said. "But it's a little severe.

"I don't think we've done a good enough job yet of making parents feel that their input is as necessary as it is. We're only starting, at some schools, to give parents the opportunity to have input. We need to make them feel welcome."

A lot of parents work long hours, are single parents or work two or three jobs, Gilbert said.

"They want very much to be involved in their kids, but don't have the time to get off work and come up here," she said.

Twyla Miranda, an education professor and director of the graduate education program at Texas Wesleyan University, said the people the proposal would hit hardest are those who can't afford to take time off from work and those who don't care enough to attend.

Making attendance a legal requirement could end up further souring the relationship between parents and teachers, she said.

"That just adds one more confrontational barrier, and a lot of times there are barriers already between parents and teachers," Miranda said. "A lot of people, when they're cornered like that, don't tend to change their attitudes."

Parents' concerns

Patti Lenz, who has a daughter at Trinity High School in Euless, voiced similar concerns.

"I think that's the wrong approach," Lenz said. "If you do that, you've immediately got a contentious situation. You're not coming at them in a friendly way."

Lenz said teachers should contact parents directly and invite them to participate. Some parents may need to come in during the evening or on Saturdays, she said.

"Eventually, they have to put their kids first," she said.

Cindy Wilson has attended countless parent-teacher meetings for her two children, now a junior and a sophomore at Mansfield Summit High School in south Arlington. She knows some other parents dismiss such meetings or can't find time to make them, but she doesn't see how the legislation would improve their involvement.

"It will just add more complications for parents," she said. "And will this be added onto our school budget? The legal process is long and will drag things out for the district and parent."

An A for effort

Some local educators applauded Smith's efforts to fix a growing problem even if they disagree with his method.

"His heart is in the right place, bless him," said Larry Shaw, executive director for the United Educators Association.

"The spirit is good," agreed Fort Worth Superintendent Melody Johnson. "We welcome parental involvement. We just don't want to see it legislated."

Arlington Superintendent Mac Bernd said the proposal would be a nightmare to enforce.

"I don't think we can criminalize every aspect of a parent's responsibility to their children," he said. "Cake is what we do at the school. The parent's involvement is the icing. Cake is always better with icing, but we're providing the cake regardless."

Staff writers Eva-Marie Ayala and Katherine Cromer Brock contributed to this report.

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Old 02-07-2007, 11:44 AM   #2
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States have been trying this for awhile, I remember recently there was a proposal for a law making parents do jail time for their students truency.

I understand the thinking behind it, but the execution is another thing...

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Old 02-07-2007, 11:45 AM   #3
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Sounds like some kind of scare tactic, criminal court. If parents are really neglecting their kids, doesn't that belong in family court? It sounds like cases of extreme truancy problems stem from larger family problem than just getting kids to school.

I agree that parents hold the highest responsibility for the education of their children, but I don't think this bill makes sense.
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Old 02-07-2007, 12:09 PM   #4
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I may be and probably am naive about how messed up some parents' situations are, but off the top of my head this doesn't sound THAT outrageous to me, so long as they define "reasonable excuses," well, reasonably. For example, if the parent(s) are scheduled to work they shouldn't have to attend, or perhaps if they really wanted to put teeth in it, they could make this like jury duty, where your employer can't penalize you for fulfilling this obligation. Often parent-teacher conferences are the only chance the parent has to get reliable detailed information about how their child is doing, and the only chance the teacher has to get a good fix on the child's home situation. A little flexibility in scheduling is good (for example, as a professor I can't cancel a class for something like this, but I could certainly come in the next morning or whatever), although expecting the teacher to individually call each parent sounds out of line to me. The biggest problem I can see with it is the adversarial relationship it might create between teachers and parents who view them as The Enforcer. But then again, if a parent is that hostile to the the idea that their involvement in their children's education is mandatory to begin with, I'm not sure there are realistically going to be better ways to engage them. If nothing else, that will make it clear to the teacher that here is a student whom they know probably isn't getting any support at home.

Obviously there would be language-barrier issues with some parents, there are probably ways around that though.
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Old 02-07-2007, 01:18 PM   #5
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I agree w/ what you're saying yolland. My reaction was more towards the first bit where it says they will now be penalized in criminal court. Why use criminal court for issues that are clearly a matter for the family/truancy courts? I don't have a problem with the fines or some form of punishment for repeat offenders, but it seems the the idea of making it "criminal" is more of a scare tactic.
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Old 02-09-2007, 01:18 AM   #6
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Local Time: 09:57 AM columnist Emily Bazelon has a novel alternative for reinvigorating the parent-teacher conference: involving the kids.
How to improve the dreaded parent-teacher conference

Thursday, Feb. 8, 2007

Last month, a Texas legislator came up with the radical proposal to make a skipped parent-teacher conference a misdemeanor offense. The law would fine parents $500 if they don't show up and squeeze themselves into those kid-sized chairs! A state education association gently suggested that reporting parents to the police may not be the best way to encourage their involvement. Teachers pointed out that some parents who are in the country illegally are already afraid of the authority a school represents. That's one big factor in why they don't attend in the first place.

All good reasons for this bill to go nowhere. But what about the underlying premise: the usefulness of the traditional parent-teacher conference. More than 100 million of them take place each year, from pre-kindergarten through high school. Are we getting what we should out of this time and effort? Probably not—perhaps because we don't invite the kids we're discussing to come along. If we did, the research shows, more parents would probably show up, too...

In her 2003 book about parent-teacher meetings, The Essential Conversation, Harvard sociologist Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot warns against conferences that feel generic. To avert that trust-killer, she told the NewsHour With Jim Lehrer, teachers have to talk about children in "idiosyncratic, individual terms" so that parents "recognize 'Oh, yeah, that's my kid.' " And parents, for their part, have to ask specific questions and tell stories about their children, rather than falling back on the old "Well, how's he doing?" Lawrence-Lightfoot borrows from 1930s sociologist Willard Waller in describing parents and teachers as "natural enemies." Parents zoom in on their own child. When they ask teachers to be "fair," they're really looking for special consideration for their kid. Teachers, on the other hand, have to treat each child as an individual while at the same time attending to the class as a whole. To them, "fair" means treating kids as equals and judging them by the same standards.

The parent-teacher conference can serve to reinforce the enmity, especially if it takes parents back to their own miserable school days. (Those little chairs are nothing if not infantilizing.) The conference can also cut through the adversarial posturing—especially, perhaps, if it takes the form of a three-way conversation: teacher, parent, and kid. Lawrence-Lightfoot thinks this should be the rule, not the exception. And not just for older students. She has seen 6-year-olds talk about themselves at a conference with "insight and discernment."...

One study of four schools with conferences that included students, by Diana Hiatt-Michael of Pepperdine University, found close to 100% parent participation. Those numbers could fall with a larger sample. But they still may be an improvement on the current rates of participation, which vary significantly depending on the socioeconomic makeup of the student body. Hiatt-Michael found that immigrant parents are more likely to go to conferences that include their children, who can translate for them. It's a simple way around the language barrier, which my sister said made the parents of her students less likely to show up, and made the conversation sketchier when they did.

The criticism of including students in parent-teacher conferences is that it gives them power they can't handle, at the teacher's expense. "A lot of the current school reforms take away authority from teachers: standardized curriculums and tests, giving them lists of books they're supposed to read," said Kathy Schultz, director of teacher education at Penn (and my long-ago science teacher). "This could feel like one more threat to them." True enough, but teachers and parents could still talk outside a child's presence at the end of the conference, or at a different time. (Everyone agrees that the conference shouldn't be their only point of contact.) Schultz pointed out that teachers would still direct the proceedings, by helping students set goals for the conference and figure out how to talk about their school selves. The main objection for teachers may be that including kids in conferences and conference preparation would inevitably mean more work. (Other proposals for improving parent-teacher relationships—back-to-school home visits, regular telephone calls—are even more labor-intensive.)...
It's an interesting idea--but that qualifier, "the conference shouldn't be their only point of contact..teachers and parents could still talk outside a child's presence at the end of the conference, or at a different time" gives me pause. If it's this difficult already to get parents to come in once, how likely are you to get them to come in twice? How would getting the kid "out of presence" work, and for how long could you do that, and mightn't that make them a lot more anxious about the whole thing? I can certainly think of some issues (social development, possible learning disabilities, etc.) I might not want my child present for.
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Old 02-09-2007, 11:19 AM   #7
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Gah. I remember those - once, when I was 18 (18, mind you!) my division teacher did not want to give me my report card because my mother wasn't there. Now, I'm sorry, but im my family, the rules were, once you turn 18, you are perfectly capable of handling the responsibility of school. (Well, ok, my mother started giving us that responsibility when we turned 14, while keeping it in our heads that truancy will cause painful consequences for us, like loss of privledges, and all manner of not-nice punishments that involved scrubbing things you'd rather not have to do.) And she had a good reason, too: she was in school, and wouldn't have been able to get there in time. And let us not forget that not getting that card would have prevented me from getting into college on time, which they all wanted me to do.
So I had to go to the principal and argue her down to make her give me my card. I mean, failing gym (they had some stupid rule about getting an F for not wearing the gym uniform, which consisted of these naaasty Daisy Dukes, which I refused to wear) wasn't going to matter to IIT. I had an a average for four years. In the end, I got it.

But in general, I think it's aoutrageous to try and force parents to attend these conferences. They're utterly useless, especially if the student in question isn't even part of it.
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Old 02-11-2007, 07:56 PM   #8
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another reason I vote Libertarian
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Old 02-11-2007, 08:16 PM   #9
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Stupid law if you ask me.

I graduated high school with a 97.7% average. That makes me sound strange, I know, but high school wasn't exactly academically challenging, even if I was in all AP classes. Anyway, my parents just stopped attending parent-teacher interviews then. What was the point? I was doing more than well, I didn't have any behavioural issues, my parents were both busy, professional people (saw more of my grandmother than either of them growing up), what is the point of forcing somebody like that to waste their afternoon going from teacher to teacher?

The law is overly broad, IMO.
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Old 02-11-2007, 08:21 PM   #10
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Mine never went either. Well, my dad went to my freshmen one and said my English teacher was a fox, so I banned him from going. And yeah, I made all As, the teachers don't even know which student is which, so who cares?

It's more important when kids are really young because school goes hand in hand with other developmental obstacles, but if parents don't already care about their child's development, the law will probably not change them.

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