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Teachers in Poll Seek Greater Federal Push for Parent Involvement

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A large majority of teachers believe that the federal government could improve the nation's schools by encouraging parents to become more involved in their children's education, according to a survey released last week.

About 80 percent of the 1,000 public school teachers polled in January and February said that promoting parental involvement should be the first or second priority on the national education agenda.

The survey, funded by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, is part of a series on teachers' attitudes toward public education. In past surveys, new and experienced teachers alike have identified parental cooperation as a key to success for both students and teachers. (See Education Week, Dec. 16, 1992.)

For the latest survey, the polling firm of Louis Harris & Associates asked teachers for their reactions to the education proposals put forward by President Clinton during the 1992 election campaign.

Although the survey revealed widespread support among teachers for the President's proposals, respondents were asked to choose the most important concepts, considering the budget constraints faced by all levels of government.

Most teachers ranked strengthening parental involvement ahead of expanding early-childhood-education programs, establishing tough national standards for students, or improving safety in and around schools.

Upgrading early-childhood programs such as Head Start was most often listed as the second-highest priority.

The findings "demonstrated the depth of concern teachers have about such things as the lack of support or help from parents, their unsatisfactory experiences working with parents, and the lack of preparedness of children to learn,'' according to the survey.

Division Over Teacher Tests

Among the survey's findings:

  • Two out of three teachers said the federal government can play an important role in improving the nation's educational system; just over a third of the respondents said the federal government is too far removed to be very helpful.
  • Following on what the teachers identified as national priorities, an overwhelming majority said parents should be penalized in some way for allowing their children to be chronically truant. But more than half said they would oppose fining parents for refusing to attend parent-teacher conferences.

Almost 70 percent of the teachers said the government should focus on providing programs that help disadvantaged parents participate in their children's learning. Fully funding Head Start would help provide that kind of support, according to about 60 percent of the teachers.

  • A majority of the respondents favored establishing national education standards for what students should know and be able to do. About 80 percent would support requiring 8th graders to pass an exam before going on to high school.

However, the teachers were divided over whether they should periodically be required to pass a basic-competency test in order to keep their jobs. Nearly equal numbers of teachers supported and opposed the idea.

More favored expanding alternative-certification programs for individuals who want to begin a second career in teaching. And two-thirds of the teachers said a system of differentiated pay should be established to attract and retain teachers in urban and rural areas.

  • Close to half of the teachers strongly supported increasing federal Chapter 1 funding for low-income students. More than 90 percent said schools should have flexibility in deciding how to spend these funds.

Nearly 60 percent of the respondents added that principals, teachers, and parents should have more decisionmaking power.

  • Three-quarters of the teachers said that the federal government, working with state and local governments, should focus on improving drug-education and -prevention programs in the schools.

Support for such programs was high among all teachers, regardless of the location of their schools or the ethnicity or socioeconomic status of their students.

"This suggests the pervasive level of concern about safety in and around the schools,'' the survey concludes.

Free copies of the survey are available from MetLife, The American Teacher Survey, 1 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10010.

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