According to Kelli Stargel, it isn't enough that students bring home report cards. The State Representative from Polk County, Florida thinks that parents should receive them, too.

In January, Stargel introduced a bill to the Florida state legislature which would require that parents of public school students be graded on their involvement in their child's education. According to the bill, HB 255, report cards wouldn't be just for students anymore. Parents would receive report card grades as well.

Um, excuse me? I'm exercising remarkable restraint by not including the few choice expletives that spring to my mind in this situation. Grade parents? Is she serious? This has to be some sort of a joke, right?

Can You Actually Grade Parents?

It's no joke. Apparently, you can grade parents. Stargel, herself the mother of five, believes that parents of students in grades preK-3 should receive grades of satisfactory, unsatisfactory, or needs improvement on their student's report cards. She believes this so strongly, in fact, that she wrote a law in which parents of public school students would be graded by the following set of criteria:

  • Parental response to school communication or conference requests
     
  • Whether or not their student is physically prepared for school (has had a good night's sleep and eaten breakfast)
     
  • Student's absentee and tardy rate
     
  • Student's completion of homework and preparation for tests

I'll readily admit that none of these expectations seem too extreme. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that children who eat breakfast and get a good night's sleep perform better at school. And as someone who has worked in the public school system, I can certainly acknowledge that many parents could stand to be more involved, and that, sadly, there are too many kids who are falling through the cracks.

But passing a law that gives schools and teachers the legal right to judge a parent's participation (and, by extension, parenting skills and values) is absolutely not the answer.

The Problem With HB 255

According to an article published in the Sun-Sentinel, Stargel sees HB 255 as a way to ensure parental involvement in educational matters.

"I think there's a certain segment of parents who would just step it up a notch," she is quoted as saying. "It's not intended to be big government coming down on parents. It's just intended to hold parents accountable."

There's a huge difference, though, between encouraging disinterested parents to be more proactive when it comes to matters of education and subjecting all parents to an arbitrary grading system. As a responsible parent, I reserve the right to make all decisions regarding my child, and once we open the door to letting other people judge the merit of those decisions, it's a slippery slope.

For example, a homework assignment isn't always worth being completed just because it's been assigned. If my child brings home worksheets that clearly look like busy work on a night when we have a special family gathering planned, you can bet I'm going to nix the homework (and nicely explain why to the teacher).

What about busy working parents who don't have time to check homework every single night? Or parents who strongly believe that homework is a student's responsibility and don't get involved by choice? Do these examples make any of us "bad" parents who will receive unsatisfactory report card marks when homework hasn't been completed?

Parents Know Best

In an article for the Kalamazoo Gazette, columnist Julie Mack makes an excellent point that Kelli Stargel has clearly forgotten: school officials do not always know best.

In the majority of families, parents know what is best for their children, and are usually happy to work with teachers to accomplish educational goals. Authorizing teachers to grade parents would cause a shift in the sensitive dynamics of parent-teacher relations and, in many cases, create unnecessary tension. According to Mack, a parent's role in a child's education cannot be undermined. She writes:

"[T]he vast majority of educators are well-intentioned, and parents certainly shouldn't be picking unnecessary fights. Parents should view their relationships with school staff as cooperative partnerships, rather than contentious turf wars. That said, the reality is that schools are bureaucracies, and it's easy for a child's individual needs to get lost in the shuffle."

I don't have a problem with the general premise that parents need to take more responsibility when it comes to the education of their children, and I have all the respect in the world for the majority of teachers in public schools. But, as Mack suggests, we can't assume that schools and teachers always know best.

Stargel's bill does just that. HB 255 assumes that the primary role a parent should play in a child's education is to support the teacher and the school. Oh, yeah, and to make breakfast. It's ironic that a bill designed to improve parental involvement in education would actually undermine a parent's voice, but HB 255 does just that.

I'm willing to work with public school teachers and officials to do what is in the best interest of my daughter, but I'm not willing to allow them to grade decisions I make about whether she'll miss school or what time she goes to bed at night. HB 255 seeks to take authority and responsibility out of the hands of parents, and wants to place both squarely in the hands of an institution that is, at its most basic level, a government-run bureaucracy.

That is unacceptable. In fact, if I had to grade it, I would give it an unsatisfactory.

Or maybe just a plain old F.

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