- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 20, 2011

Every now and again, a bit of news flashesover the transom that potentially raises more questions than it answers. Such was the case this week.

Should teachers grade their students’ parents?

A Florida lawmaker has turned that question into an answer with legislation that surely will stir a major debate in Tallahassee, where Florida Gov. Rick Scott is relying on such advisers as former D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee and his own gut instinct to turn the status quo on its head.

Parents, like teachers, are the two most influential guidance counselors in a child’s life. If one fails, the other tries to take up the slack. But if both are lousy at their respective responsibilities, a child is doomed to fail through no fault of his or her own.

Florida state Rep. Kelli Stargel’s measure would bind the hands of teachers and parents together by requiring elementary school teachers to rate parents on their students’ report cards.

Teachers would grade their students’ parents on a scale similar to the one used for the littlest youngsters in grade school — satisfactory, needs improvement or unsatisfactory.

Parents would be rated in four categories: Communication, such as responses to requests for school meetings; their child’s attendance; homework completion and preparation for testing; and their child’s “physical preparation for school.”

The categories are nothing more than the basics that parents are supposed to tend to, although it’s obvious the “physical preparation” issue could mistakenly prompt a judgment call that could lead to concerns about abuse or neglect.

Parents could appeal their rating, but no punitive actions could be taken against the child or the parent.

Mrs. Stargel, a mother of five, said she proposed the bill because of a common question during school-reform discussions: What about parental involvement?

Bill Cosby pressed that issue Wednesday, during a conference call to promote National School Choice Week. Teaching and parenting go hand-in-hand, he said, and when they are at odds, youths end up making bad choices.

“I think that so many things in our world of education happen to be more about grown people knowing that there are problems, but not acting like there are,” he said. “Our children are left to grow on their own without any particular behavioral guidance. Prison, jail, whatever are not something to be looked at as another choice.”

You may recall that Mr. Cosby was in the hot seat in 2004, when he said in a speech in Washington that poor parents aren’t holding up their end of the civil rights bargain. Since then, he has been urging parents and other “grown people” to reclaim their children, their schools and their communities, and yank them from the hands of gangs, drug dealers and other ne’er-do-wells.

But you can’t do that if you fail to be the enforcer or view parenting as beginning and ending with bottles and Pampers, and then bawl your eyes out because your kid drops out of school and gets wrapped up in the streets.

And you are setting up another generation of young minds for failure if you think a teacher marking your child as “present” on daily attendance records is an automatic path to learning.

Mrs. Stargel’s bill will hardly improve schools, and it’s not intended to. But she and Mr. Cosby are forcing us to reignite a long-needed dialogue on the connection between teaching and parenting. It’s a discussion that takes center stage during the opening of a school year, but seems to be supplanted by teacher tenure, funding and other issues as the school year wears on.

Indeed, after the uniforms, textbooks and school supplies are taken care of, parents often fall into a rut.

Pertinent questions fall by the wayside.

Do you inquire about homework?

Make pop calls at your child’s school?

Does your child’s school encourage your involvement beyond back-to-school nights and PTA meetings?

We’ll never turn the status quo on its head by playing hide-and-seek.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at [email protected]

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