John Florez: Parents have solutions if lawmakers just ask

Published: Saturday, Nov. 16 2013 12:00 a.m. MST

Maybe, if lawmakers asked parents how best schools can help them help their children, they would be more successful than demanding accountability from parents who lack the help they need. Schools ought to be redesigned to help parents meet the needs of students for today’s economy.

Toby Talbot, Associated Press

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You have to marvel at their resiliency, once you see what parents and their children have to endure in making it to school each day.

There are single- and two-parent families that hold two to three minimum-wage jobs, live in crowded housing, are undernourished and have worn-out clothing and shoes. Many children go to school with toothaches and earaches, are in need of glasses and deal with transportation challenges, only to return home — many as latchkey kids — to face domestic problems. Having been involved at a national level, as well as on a local level as a school board member and volunteer in low-income neighborhood schools, I see the challenges parents face in trying to provide the basic living necessities for their children.

Last Tuesday, members of the Utah legislative Education Task Force started discussing what should be the responsibility of parents and how to hold them accountable for getting their child to school prepared to learn. They talked about how some teachers, especially the seasoned ones, didn’t feel supported by parents. It’s more of the discussion lawmakers had last session about how some parents were not held accountable for the education of their kids, how they missed too much school and were not prepared to learn.

It’s interesting how our lawmakers seem to make laws based on hearsay and anecdotal cases, rather than thoughtful analysis of the problem, how extensive it is, and what is the compelling public interest for government involvement. More important, it looks like no one bothers to ask the parents, the customer, what can be done to improve their students' education.

Can you imagine a company trying to sell its product without an understanding of what the customer wants? Has anyone done a study asking parents why their child comes unprepared to learn, or why parents are not involved in school functions; or how our society has changed and affected families?

Our schools were designed for past economic eras of two-parent families with the mother staying home and therefore having time to be involved in her child’s education. Though our economy has affected family life, our schools have not taken that into consideration. They expect the parent and child to change while schools remain static. Schools can be intimidating and impersonal for some, and seem to be structured more around bus schedules rather than being family driven.

Somehow, when successful business people and leading citizens become legislators governing public institutions, some lose their ability to solve problems as well as their ability to run successful enterprises. They defer to the professionals in the system who come up with the same solutions in the interest of the institution, rather than the customer. They lose sight of the most important commodity they bring to the table — their problem-solving acumen.

Maybe, if lawmakers asked parents how best schools can help them help their children, they would be more successful than demanding accountability from parents who lack the help they need. Schools ought to be redesigned to help parents meet the needs of students for today’s economy. All parents care; they don’t need to be demeaned. They may be poor, but they have the ability to help offer solutions; and, what better way to empower and involve parents in the education of their students.

Utah native John Florez has been on Sen. Orrin Hatch’s staff, served as Utah industrial commissioner and filled White House appointments, including deputy assistant secretary of labor and Commission on Hispanic Education. Email: jdflorez@comcast.net

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