Educators exasperated by the need for greater parent involvement have persuaded Tennessee lawmakers to sign off on a novel bit of arm-twisting: Asking parents to grade themselves on report cards.
Another Tennessee measure signed into law recently will create parent contracts that give them step-by-step guidelines for pitching in. The report card bill—which initially would apply to two struggling schools—passed the state Legislature, and the governor has said he is likely to sign it. Participation in the programs is voluntary.
Only a few states have passed laws creating evaluations or contracts that put helping with homework or attending teacher conferences into writing. Tennessee is the only one so far to do report cards, though Utah has parents fill out an online survey and Louisiana is also considering parent report cards.
The measures are meant to address a complaint long voiced by teachers and principals: Schools can’t do it alone.
“It’s a proven fact that family engagement equals students’ success,” said James Martinez, spokesman for the National Parent Teacher Association.
“It’s one of the key ingredients to education reform, to turning around schools, to improving our country’s children’s knowledge base compared to the rest of the world.”
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Under Tennessee’s contract legislation, parents in each school district are asked to sign a document agreeing to review homework and attend school functions or teacher conferences, among other things. Because it’s voluntary, there’s no penalty for failing to uphold the contract—but advocates say simply providing a roadmap for involvement is an important step.
Michigan is the only state that has enacted a similar measure, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).
In the case of Tennessee’s report card proposal, a four-year pilot program will be set up involving two of Tennessee’s struggling schools. Parents of students in kindergarten through third grade will be given a blank report card at the same time as the students, and the parents will do a self-evaluation of their involvement in activities similar to those in the parental contract. Parents will give themselves a grade of excellent, satisfactory, needs improvement, or unsatisfactory
Tennessee Rep. Antonio Parkinson, a Memphis Democrat and the House sponsor of the measures, said the program might be expanded depending on how many parents participate.