Can Parents Be Partners?
America is a land of choices. In virtually every area of our economic and private lives we have a smorgasbord of choice. We can choose among 100 breakfast cereals, 200 makes of automobiles, 300 different church denominations. Thus, it is ironic that in this land of choice there is so little choice in the public-school system. Our task force believes that public education cannot, as presently structured, deal effectively with the nation’s diversity and its demand for compulsory education.
Despite the national attempts to reform education, we are worried that the nation is creating solutions to the wrong problems. We are afraid that states are working for more of the same without taking a good hard look at the system itself. On the surface we seem to have responded with energy, enthusiasm, and money to a crisis in education. But we hope that in 10 years the country does not look back and find that we kicked up a lot of dust and then settled for business as usual. We propose something in the great American tradition: that you increase excellence by increasing choices.
Presently, the school system controls both the production and consumption of education. The system tells the students what they will learn, at what speed, and what quality. Students and their parents have little to say about it. A more responsive system would incorporate what students and their parents say they need with the education services necessary to meet it. We believe that we can remain dedicated to a system of public schools and still increase consumer sovereignty.
Some districts and a few states already permit families to select from among various public schools. The results are encouraging: generally, students achieve more, parents are more satisfied, and educators feel more like professionals who have been selected by their clients.
IT we implement broader choice plans, true choice among public schools, then we unlock the values of competition in the educational marketplace. Schools that compete for students, teachers, and dollars will, by virtue of their environment, make changes that allow them to succeed.
Our recommendations are not for unrestrained choice-we suggest state role in monitoring and limiting use of choice, which will prevent these programs from having unintended consequences.
It is clear many American families want more choices. In fact, we learned that teachers often exercise educational choice: In many American cities, a higher percentage of public-school teachers’ children attend private and parochial schools then the overall population.
The lack of choice has helped create a passive approach among parents. Tho many American parents are not deeply involved in their children’s education. Parents in Japan and Taiwan think how hard a student works is most important in determining achievement. However, parents in America think a person’s ability is most important. Far higher percentages of Japanese and Chinese parents provide desks for their elementary school-age children to do homework, and these children spend much more time on homework than do American children. Our parents must become more involved in their children’s education- working closely with the school, stressing the importance of studying, and reducing the time spent watching television . ...
Richard D. Lamm
Governor of Colorado
Task force chairman
1. Provide technical assistance to school districts and universities by encouraging instruction in effective parent-involvement techniques to be included in preservice and recertification training programs of all teachers and administrators.
2. Create the climate for greater parent involvement.
3. Provide incentives to school districts.
4. Expand opportunities for students by adopting legislation permitting families to select from among kindergarten to 12th-grade public schools in the state. High-school students should be able to attend accredited public postsecondary degree granting institutions during their junior and senior years.
A version of this article appeared in the September 10, 1986 edition of Education Week as Recommendations From Governors’ Task Forces on Education: Parent Involvement and Choice: Variety Would Lead to Excellence