Letters to the Editor
Policymakers, educators, and parents realize that, as Gene I. Maeroff argues, "'school smart' parents strengthen education" (Commentary, Oct. 25, 1989), but they do not know how to educate parents.
School decentralization in New York City in the 1960's was supposed to promote involvement by establishing parent associations in schools and charging principals with the responsibility of communicating with them.
Twenty years later, parents still are not school-smart.
The late Richard R. Green, as chancellor of the city schools, saw parents as pivotal partners in the educational process; he appointed a parent to head a cabinet-level parent office, requested a budget for parent-training programs, and convened a series of borough forums to discuss educating parents for their appropriate school role.
Forum panelists prescribed structural recommendations without specifying content:
Retreats with educators and parents;
Forums clarifying parents' role;
Videotapes for parents outlining their role;
Stipends defraying the cost of babysitters to allow parent leaders to attend school meetings;
Family-assistant programs to hire parents and train them to work with other parents;
Parent-duty programs similar to jury duty, with parents required to spend at least one day yearly at their child's school;
A 24-hour hotline for parents to receive school-related information.
As Mr. Maeroff suggests, parents should meet with their child's teacher and plan how they can enhance the child's education. Parents should also check homework and discuss each school day with their child.
And school-smart parents should participate in their parent association, the recognized body for working with the principal on matters affecting their child's education.
The relationship between principal and parents should extend beyond patronizing consultation4and enlist parents as equal partners in decisions about textbooks, curriculum, and personnel.
A parent presence should also extend into governance.
School-board elections should express the voice of parents. If parents found themselves in increasing numbers on policy boards, they would probably institute rapid reforms.
A model proposal, along the lines of the current experiment in Chicago, would allow eligible parents to select a parent representative to school boards.
Stephen R. Franse Member Board of Education New York, N.Y.
Gene I. Maeroff begins his Commentary with some sad but true facts concerning the low rate of parental involvement in schools.
The narrow sort of involvement he describes, such as checking up on the school and coming in to pick up report cards, is the kind that school personnel often see as the only sort worthy of mention.
Mr. Maeroff contends that, to promote the development of healthy, well-rounded individuals, this kind of monitoring must occur.
Certainly, parents should be aware of their children's progress and should reinforce school goals at home.
And schools must carefully analyze their commitment to parental involvement. Are parents' needs taken into consideration? Are varied types of involvement encouraged? Are roles and expectations clearly stated? Are parents involved in planning?
Mr. Maeroff makes two archaic, inaccurate statements that promote stereotypical thinking.
First, he writes that the "teacher is the expert, and parents should be prepared to defer to him on many judgments." Rather, parents are the experts about their children; many parents have operated for too long under the teacher-driven notion that they have little or nothing to contribute to their children's educational plans.
Second, Mr. Maeroff comments that sometimes, "even when parents would like to do better, divorce robs children of the advantage of having the full-time involvement of two knowledgeable advocates."
Where are the data suggesting that homes in which two parents reside have two fully involved parents? Or that children whose parents are divorced don't have the full-time involvement of two such advocates?
And the illustration for the essay, depicting parents as dunces, is in poor taste. Perhaps some parents fit this role--but some educators would be just as suited to it.
Marsha La Follette Deb Brower Mountain Plains Regional Resource Center Drake University Des Moines, Iowa
I found Gene I. Maeroff's Commentary a positive addition to the current paradigm shift toward recognizing the value of home-school partnership.
Research does indicate that parental involvement improves student achievement and school climate; it also suggests, however, that such involvement needs to be collaborative and, in most cases, school-initiated.
It is misleading to assume that parents alone can maintain the initiative.
I have found from my involvement as a practitioner and researcher over the past 20 years that educators need to see schools as an integral part of the wider levels of family and education.
To maintain this relationship, a partnership with the home has to have a built-in forum, such as a school-based council.
What follows are organized dialogues about the partnership, skill training for both teachers and parents, a willingness to use community resources, and a role for the family and school as advocates for the developmental and learning needs of children.
Kenneth Silvestri Montclair, N.J.