Lawmakers push to let teachers grade parents

Jan 20, 2012

Over the last few years Florida has sought to increase accountability on its public schools. Just last year, legislators approved a new law that basis how much a teacher is paid on how well their students perform in the classroom. But public school officials have long complained that they aren’t the only factor to a student’s success. They say they need help from parents. As Lynn Hatter reports, at least two lawmakers agree with that statement, and have filed bills that put the spotlight on parents.

It’s crowded in the cafeteria of Bond Elementary School, and hard to find a seat as Leon County School district officials finish up one of their monthly town-hall meetings with parents and teachers. This time around, the message is about parents, and how important it is for them to be more involved in their child’s education.

It’s a message that resonates with Schuwanda Cunningham whose son attends Bond Elementary School. She recently moved to Tallahassee from Brevard County and says before the move her son’s grades were mostly D’s. But now he’s earning much higher scores, which she credits to the work of his new teacher.

“Her name is Miss Walker. She calls me at home, she comes to visit, and I’m just so proud of this school. I’m all for anything that’s going to help the students and the school. And it’s important, as parents, to know what’s going on with our children. So I really thank the school for what they’re doing and I’m really amazed at all the parents who are out tonight. It’s awesome.”

Cunningham says she supports a new law that pays and evaluates teachers like Miss Walker, based on how well their students perform. And she thinks a similar idea could work in reverse. That’s something Lakeland Republican Representative Kelli Stargel likes too.  For the second year in a row she’s sponsoring a bill to let teachers grade the parents.

“I’m a parent. I have five children. And it’s not just my personal experience, studies have shown  that the most important thing in the life of a child is the parent. We’ve done a lot in education to focus on making sure we have quality and high standards. But all of those things are only going to be as successful as the input and the involvement of the parent.”

Stargel’s proposal would allow teachers to give a satisfactory or needs improvement rating to parents based on a child’s attendance, whether or not the parent has signed all of the emergency contact forms and whether the parent has responded to requests for meetings or communications. There are no consequences if parents don’t comply.

But not everyone is onboard with Stargel’s plan.

“…I’m not sure how the Department of Education intends to use this information.”

The Florida Education Association, a teacher’s union, says it has some reservations. Spokesman Mark Pudlow says he’s worried that a seemingly-well-intentioned bill, could be used against them.

“We’re concerned that it’s going to give the Department another way to grade schools and disparage public education.”

The union is also concerned that the bill could lead to a clash between teachers and parents.

“It seems to me that what’s best for the student is having parents and teachers working together to improve learning for students and I am wondering if this really sets up a conflict between teachers and parents.”

But Stargel says her bill is largely aimed at getting the conversation started about the need for parents to be more involved in their child’s education.

“It’s a difficult situation, because we have free public education, and we can’t demand too terribly much of our parents. That’s why there are no repercussions in the bill. And I can’t punish a parent for not doing something.”

The measure caused a stir last year and made national news, although it didn’t go anywhere in the legislature. But she’s hopeful that there will be some traction this year.

Meanwhile, Republican Senator Steven Wise has filed a companion bill in the upper chamber. The focus in the early weeks of the legislative session has been on higher education reform. But there’s still lots of time left for the measures to get a hearing.