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Readers: Parents not experienced enough to run failing schools

"Parents taking over school boards in the flux of wanting change and improvement may not be the best response," said one reader.

It must be exasperating to be a parent whose child is in a “failing” school, with nowhere else to go. But should parents be allowed to take over control of their local schools in cases like this, as some lawmakers are proposing?

We recently asked readers: “Florida just narrowly killed a bill that would have allowed parents with kids in failing public schools to take over their local school boards. What do you think of the idea behind the ‘Parent Trigger’? Could this ever have merit or be useful? Why or why not?”

And though most readers were sympathetic to parents’ struggles, none recommend Florida’s Parent Trigger idea.

The reason, say readers, is because as much as parents might have the best intentions, they also should have experience in education and in running school matters. Without that experience, reform can’t happen. Do you agree?

(Some responses edited for brevity.)

It takes support

“As a Canadian, I am really quite amazed at the destruction of the morale of professionals in your education system. Parents taking over school boards when schools are failing? Is that really going to result in anything other than chaos? I am amazed at the notion that replacing elected people, who have at least some grasp of what needs to be done, with parents who know little about how to run a school board is going to make things better. Meanwhile, the morale of your poor teachers is going down the drain as everyone blames the educators for the woes of your educational system. Why not support your teachers and school boards, rather than venting your anger at them?” —William Badke, associate librarian, Trinity Western University, British Columbia

Parents should play a part, but not run the enterprise

“I absolutely believe parents should have a role in takeover of failing schools. I DO NOT think they should be able to take over the school, however. In other words, they have control of the trigger if they represent a majority of the students and if they recruit capable administrators that agree to develop a proposal for the renewal efforts (kind of like what’s required for a charter, only with the data regarding the school and its problems).  Also, there would need to be a commitment on the part of parents to form an education community with teachers, proposed administrators, students, and general citizens to engage deeply in the reform efforts for the school—if the proposal is accepted.” —John Bennett, emeritus professor/associate dean, University of Connecticut

It takes reform at home, too

“Fortunately, this bill was narrowly defeated when the Senate vote was a 20-20 tie. There are (at least) two major flaws with such a scheme: (1) It is far from clear that parents have the expertise or even interest in taking over control of a school. A significant factor in the success of a school is the support provided by parents to their children. Children with supportive parents, those who read to them, encourage them to ask questions, help their children to maintain the curiosity with which they were born, and teach them to respect others, are far more likely to succeed in school than those with parents who fail in these aspects. It is incredible that control of schools would be turned over to a group that could contain members who have already failed their children. (2) It seems possible, perhaps likely, that those who would benefit financially from a school board losing control would encourage parents to ‘pull the trigger.’ We have seen the extraordinary influence of money in influencing voters. Money could be even more focused to influence a small group of parents.” —Steven Blumsack, emeritus professor, mathematics, assistant-in-research, LSI, Tallahassee, Fla.

Not everyone’s an expert

Why is it that so many people mistakenly think that because they spent their youth sitting in school, they are experts on the subject? No other profession has to deal with this misconception. A rising number of these ‘experts’ then think that they can become teachers (home schooling). Now, some Floridians want to become the board of education! I believe members of school boards should have credentials and past experience that will help them make educated decisions to improve their school district. Preferably some of the board members should have been educators who worked in that district. Who better to make academic decisions than those who worked in that school district?” —Janet Umbel

Many board members are parents

“Parents who have kids in failing schools have a huge investment to help schools turn around. However, parents taking over school boards in the flux of wanting change and improvement may not be the best response. In fact, many school board members who are on these school boards are parents. … What if we join hands collectively, administration, teachers, parents, students, community, and other stakeholders, and promise to help our kids with a ‘Big Idea’ that is innovative and far reaching? One proposal I suggest is to quit glossing over the instructional negligence of ‘how’ we address the social-emotional needs of students. … As a parent, let’s join hands with all concerned people who want the ‘engine of innovation’ that drives instruction. While individually we make a difference, collectively we can move generations forward. What if?” —Louise Eggert-Nevins, Ed.D.

The country has enough inexperienced people running education

“Being a retired school teacher/administrator and reflecting back, observing the present, and projecting to the future, parents taking over the school board is not a great, good, or even workable solution. We have enough ‘experts’ who tell us how to run the schools, and the majority of these people have never been in a classroom except to visit. Stop the mandatory testing, create a school environment that is fun, exciting, and relevant to what the students need to be a contributing member of society. In education you get some ‘bad eggs’ just as you do in any business or industry. However, most of the teachers just want to be able to teach their students, see their students learn and achieve; but they are handicapped due to the enormous amount of requirements placed on them. Do I want the parents leading my school? No! I want a team of good educators who are interested in the welfare of each child. Can this happen? Yes! Will it work? Certainly, our parents and grandparents who went to 1-room school gained the basic knowledge and were quite successful. Teach more, test less, watch success.” —J.B. Holcomb, retired educator of 34 years

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