Parent report cards are novel way to boost support

By Lucas L. Johnson Ii

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, May 10 2012 10:15 a.m. MDT

The state has previously been praised as a leader in education reform by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan for other changes in state law including toughening the curriculum and teacher evaluations.

The Michigan measure that created the parental involvement contract also set up a "Parent Engagement Tool Kit" website that provides ideas on engaging parents, said Bob Kefgen, assistant director for government relations with the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals.

"That contract language was one really important piece and we've gone much further than that," he said. "It's really about having a host of resources at your disposal because there's really no silver bullet."

Nada Fouani, principal at Iris Becker Elementary School in Dearborn, Mich., said she's noticed more parents getting involved since the measure was enacted in 2001.

"Our PTA has become larger and much stronger," she said.

Nashville resident Christi Witherspoon favors the measures. Despite her busy schedule as a doctor, she and her husband, Roger, spend as much as three hours each night helping their two young daughters with homework.

"I think it's of the utmost importance because I don't think children can be consistently successful without parental involvement," Witherspoon said.

Her daughters appreciate the help.

"I really enjoy my mom going over my homework," said 9-year-old Gabrielle. "If it's wrong, she helps me out with it."

And if mom isn't around, Rachel, 6, knows who to turn to: "I have my dad, or my sister."

Some families, though, face greater obstacles.

Corey Jenkins is a single father of three children ages 10, 12 and 14. The recently divorced 39-year-old just got a new job after looking for work for months. But he said he hasn't let his problems interfere with his involvement in his children's schooling.

"I can make excuses, but there are none that make sense," Jenkins said. "My children are most important in my life and so I make time when they need it. I enjoy attending parent/teacher conferences."

James W. Lewis, president of the National Society of High School Scholars, said that whether parents are single or married, they can make more of an impact when they know ways to help.

"In the state of Tennessee, they'll have to make sure those resources are put out there to allow for fair and equitable distribution of this training for parents," he said. "And if that's done correctly, I think there could be a very positive move toward helping students understand the value of education and also allow the parent to understand the value and the connectivity between education and their students' opportunity for learning."

Gera Summerford, president of the Tennessee Education Association, agrees. The teacher said she's encountered a number of parents in her 30-year career who seem disengaged and need direction.

"There are ways that the schools can promote that parental connection," she said.

The SEDL study identified several ways that schools can assist parents in supporting their children's education. A key way was providing information about how to help their children at home.

Tennessee Education Association lobbyist Jerry Winters said he believes the state's parental proposals will be effective because they seek to forge a partnership between parents and schools.

"Parents don't need to go it alone, they need support," he said. "Schools certainly don't need to go it alone, they need support. A parental-school partnership is the ideal environment for improving student achievement."

Online:

Michigan Department of Education: http://www.michigan.gov/mde

National Society of High School Scholars: http://www.nshss.org

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