Earlier this month we learned that dozens of our state’s public schools received a “failing” grade from the Alabama Department of Education, and the list is long and diverse.
It stretches from the nearly 100-year old Theodore High School in south Mobile County to the relatively brand-new Columbia High School in Huntsville, and includes schools whose graduates (or drop-outs, rather) will impact nearly every community in our state.
Regardless of where you live, or whether you have children in these specific schools, this news should alarm everyone, especially since state law only requires schools that are utterly abysmal to be placed on the list.
“The failing school list is just the six percent that are the lowest performing in the state,” said Michael Sentence, the state’s new school superintendent. He added that “the number of schools that are significantly academically challenged is much larger.”
Things could not only be worse, they probably are worse. We just don’t know by how much, officially speaking.
Lawmakers should, at the very least, require the state to publish a second list comprised of those “academically challenged” schools that Sentence referenced, if only to give our communities a more accurate understanding of the situation. Otherwise some may live under the misunderstanding that if their school isn’t on the state’s official “failing” list then it’s doing just fine.
But since we’re on the topic of grading those involved in our public education system, perhaps we need to think about expanding the pool of subjects a little.
We already grade our students to ensure they’re learning.
Some states grade teachers to measure their performance.
And now we even grade our schools to ensure they’re accountable.
But we’re not grading what some consider the single most important element in the education process: parents.
Truth is, you can send a child to a brand new, multi-million dollar school, full of skilled and energetic teachers, and with a well-designed curriculum, but if that child’s parents aren’t involved, odds are they’ll fail.
We’ve known this for years. The landmark Coleman Report issued way back in 1966 found that the influence of families was far more important than that of schools on a child’s education, and that the quality of teachers and schools had relatively little impact.
A study from the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement found that in the U.S., nearly two-thirds of the difference in performance between good and bad schools was because of “home” variables, including “parental support for academic achievement.” And the Westat study in 2001 found that when teachers reported high levels of communication with parents of low-performing students, reading and math scores grew by 40-percent or more over those who reported no such communication.
One doesn’t need studies to know this is true. I once heard from a frustrated middle school math teacher who complained about how most of her students were failing, but when she’d send notes home about doing homework or studying, or requesting parent-teacher conferences, she heard nothing in reply.
“I can’t get any of their parents to care,” she said, adding that the only time she heard from parents, if at all, was when their child brought home an “F” for the course.
Maybe they would have paid attention sooner if the “F” would also bear their names, rather than only their child’s.
Some states have already studied this option.
Lawmakers in Florida have considered officially grading parental involvement, giving an “Unsatisfactory” mark to those who ignore requests for conferences or who fail to send their child prepared for class. A lawmaker in Indiana proposed a bill requiring parents to volunteer a certain amount of hours at the school, in Alaska parents can already be fined $500 for every day their child is absent without an excuse, and parents of habitually truant students in California can even be brought up on charges.
I’m not sure if grades, fines, or charges would suddenly cause parents to start caring about their child’s education, but at least we could start laying the blame where it belongs.
And in Alabama, most of that blame probably belongs with our parents.