When Parents Get Pushy
Have we gone too far in getting parents involved in education? In 1994, Congress added "increased parent involvement in schools" to its national educational goals. Today, in one Chicago school district, parents are hiring and firing school principals, planning curriculum, and authorizing budget processes. In Cambridge, Massachusetts, parents allegedly ran one school principal out of town with threatening phone calls and angry accusations. And in Kentucky, parent involvement has actually become the law!
Legislation passed in 1991 requires all Kentucky public schools to be run by "site-based management councils" that include parents, teachers, and principals. The councils determine who will be hired, and what books should be included in the curriculum. But councils do not make firing decisions. "The parents on these councils cannot get anything done without teacher support," says Susan Perkins Weston, executive director of the Kentucky Association of School Councils.
Parents Pack a Punch
Perkins Weston doesn't think Kentucky parents will go overboard: "Most of the parents in our communities are struggling to make a connection, and the councils provide a structure under which parent involvement works." Under this system, she says, parents can accomplish things that teachers and administrators can't. "These parents are positive; they're nervy. Many are familiar with the business world and are more comfortable bucking authority. They march right into the superintendent's office and demand what their school needs -- the bullets bounce right off them," says Perkins Weston. "It's harder for teachers and administrators. It's more political for them."
As is the case with many parents involved in education, those who serve on the Kentucky site-based councils are usually very well educated and affluent. Perkins Weston recognizes that a large part of her state's student population is underrepresented. "Councils need to be bending over backwards to reach those parents and those kids." She concedes, "That's not happening yet."
It's All in the Plan
Some parents in Kentucky are vying for more power on their site-based management councils, according to Perkins Weston. But so far, teachers have successfully argued against it. It doesn't appear that parent involvement will get out of hand in Kentucky because its councils must follow strict guidelines. Dorothy Rich, veteran educator and president of the Home and School Institute, says that's the key to a positive program: "If schools want parent involvement to work, they must have a strong plan and a backbone. The school has got to take a leadership role while providing parents with a sense of security that it's doing its very best."
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