Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Florida wants Parent Accountability

Florida legislation will soon be deciding on whether or not to pass a bill that would require teachers to grade Florida parents on how well they are preparing their children for school.

Are they serious? Yes.

This bill would require the teachers, grades kindergarten through twelfth grade, to grade the parents on homework completion, the child's attendance, how well the child has slept and whether or not the child has eaten a proper meal, along with the parents' responsiveness to these opinions of the teacher. (OK, they phrase it as 'communication' and not opinion, but I digress.)

So let's take my past experience with the Florida school system and break it down to what they have used in my experience to where they are going with this new legislation. For the record, I and my siblings attended Florida schools then sent our children through the Florida system so I could rightfully say I've years of experience as to how the Florida system works in a few different Florida counties.

Let's start with homework.

When my family first moved to Florida, I and my two older brothers entered high school and my baby sister started kindergarten. Never was homework collected and graded. It was given, but the teachers didn't care if you did it or not. They didn't bother. One teacher had explained that the homework was 'student optional' and if the student wanted to do well on the final, then they would do the extra work to master the subject. If they opted not to, then their grade would reflect this.

Hmmm.. Student accountability in high school.

Now, in the lower elementary grades, this same attitude was present. Except, younger students don't tend to remember what they copied off the board by the time they get home. I will offer that I much preferred how a few of the private schools handled this situation. In a few of the private schools, they simply required that the parent sign the homework after it was completed. This allowed the teacher to be in daily contact with the parent and the parent to have a daily idea of just how well their child was handling the topic. I still have happy memories sitting with my daughter when she was in first grade, while she read her reading assignments to me. I suppose the difference here is that I cared and somehow the current thought is that unless you score the parent on the job they do of parenting, today's parents don't care. Both my spouse and I fall into the 'we care' concepts of parenting so both of us spent much time helping our children with their homework. I don't see how grading parents would change this much but we'll get back to this later.

Florida schools have had an attendance policy in place for a very long time if not forever. Simply put, the teacher marked whether or not a student was present and the attendance was then sent to the office. I remember in high school, this being done at the start of every class and a student sent with the results each hour. (Classes were an hour long when I was in high school.) Now I was under the impression that it was up to the attendance office to notify the parent when a student went missing (i.e. skipping) or when the absentee student was in excess of the allotted amount.

Now, back in the day when I was in school, the attendance office wasn't watching so closely. The school I attended was close to the ocean so when the surf was up, the surfers weren't in school. At least not till the surf died down. At some point along the way, I became so disappointed in the "education" I wasn't receiving that I, too, started skipping school. At first it was just a day or two, then it became a week. Eventually, going to school felt weird. I'd show up on test day, ace the test, then head on back to the ocean. At some point, I gave up on bothering with the tests, too.

I believe I hadn't been in school for over three months when my father came across me on his way to work. It was one of the few times I can still remember steam coming out of my father's ears! Well, that's another story. I just bring this up to point out a simple fact. Why hadn't the school's attendance office notified my parents about my lack of attendance in all that time? I was in the top five percent, an advanced and gifted student, yet, no one, noticed I was not attending school. I opted to not return to high school and went to college at age seventeen instead.

Some would say, well, that was so long ago. Florida schools have improved! They are much more vigilant of such things today. Hmmm. Really? Well maybe a little. Looking back to when my girls were in public school, the attendance office was much better at sending out form letters once fifteen days were missed. I still remember the first time I saw one of those form letters! I promptly called the school to find out what it was all about. I had sent in doctor's notes whenever my girls were sick so the absences were legit, due to illness. The very kind lady who worked in the attendance office, informed me that it was just a form letter and not to worry. She had all the doctors' notes and they never pursue anything in regards to non-attendance. I couldn't say if they do or don't. I'm just repeating what I was told.

So let's address the proper meal issue. I totally agree that children need proper nutrient. I'm also aware that the schools have in place a free and a reduced breakfast and lunch plan for those less fortunate and in need of food. Now, my kids ran into a different problem. We had to head out for school before their bellies could handle food. None of my kids ever wanted to eat that early, and my son would throw up every day on the way to school whether or not he had eaten. Needless to say, we later realized he had issues with his teacher which ended up with us removing him from that school. The morning vomiting only occurred if he thought he had to see her.

So I would always keep Pop tarts and other easily packed breakfast type items available for my kids and once their stomachs had woken up, they would eat. They either took a packed lunch from home or bought a school lunch but in all honesty, after spending time in the schools volunteering my time, I doubt the schools could truly monitor what every child eats for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It's a noble concept which I believe they would completely fail at. The sleep issue would also be a hard one for them to accurately rate. Young teens are notorious for preferring to sleep the mornings away while staying up late so God bless them for even considering trying to score that one.

Now, as for the parents' responsiveness to the teacher's communications, that is a loaded topic. I found that in the 'communication process' it was the teachers and school administrators that caused the road blocks. I've got years and years of them refusing to communicate I could list. Usually, an issue had to become a mountain before I could get them to address it. In the end, I got tired of the war and gave up on them and their system. Finding another path was a positive way to go.

Now, in the school's defense, I do recall watching teachers as low as kindergarten level, having so much paperwork to fill out, that they had to leave their students in the hands of a 'helper' who would hand out crayons and busy work. After witnessing this phenomenon, I don't see how adding more paperwork on to the teachers obligations is going to improve the classroom. This new legislation may be seen as just another 'tool' to help a teacher out but how will this tool really work?

Homework. The schools currently have in place a system for low achieving students to be monitored by both the teacher and the parent. The student is required to pick up a form from the office each week, write out the homework assignments, and have the teacher sign it, verifying that it was copied correctly. The parent is then expected to review the completed homework and sign off that they have reviewed it. At the end of the week, the student is to get a weekly grade from the teacher. So if this current system which is only monitoring the weaker students is already failing, how is monitoring ALL the students going to improve this?

Attendance. Parents are already held accountable for the students' attendance. This just adds one more form and without a comprehensive follow up, won't change a thing.

A good night's rest and a proper meal. Wow. Now this is a hot topic. In a stable home, attaining both of these are achievable, but if you look at the totality of society, not all children come from 'stable' homes. God bless the government for thinking that they are going to be able to solve all domestic issues in every house. This has me wondering just how the legislatures plan to address this. They already have Children's Services in place, so just where are they planning to take this one?

As for the proper meal issue, bullies stealing lunch money and leaving the victim to go hungry has been a story line since I can remember. The only real way I see for kids to be guaranteed, no matter of the reason for lack of food, to be fed, is for the schools to provide free meals, breakfast and lunch and possibly an after school snack, for all students regardless of whether or not their parent applied for it. This just raises the bar that all kids are fed and removes the need to prove need.

Is this new legislation really necessary? Well, some may feel it is. I doubt that the poor child who comes from an abusive home will have any more hope than they had before. Will some parents feel the stress and put more pressure on their kids? You bet. There will always be 'over-achievers' even if misdirected and there will always be parents who really weren't ready for the job when they entered parenthood. No legislation requiring teachers to grade parents is going to change this. Parents who care will continue to care and parents who don't, won't. So I see this as the first step to many future steps where parenting rights will slowly start to be taken away. The state will start to believe that they can do a better job. (In a few cases, they may be right, let's not look too closely at Florida's record on how well Florida has protected children in the 'system'.)

All and all, I don't see this legislation as necessary or truly useful. The teachers need less paperwork and more time to actually get to the business of teaching. Make teaching engaging, and most students will become engaged in the learning. No paperwork mandating records of food intake and sleep habits is going to make learning fun and intriguing. Homework isn't really needed when class is interesting and if the class is interesting, then the homework would be, too. If we are going to change our system for the better, why don't we return to making learning an interesting thing to do?


jugglingpaynes said...

My husband would like to know why they aren't grading the parents about how well the child wipes himself in the bathroom. :o)

Peace and Laughter!

Vicki said...

I'm guessing that they have already had too many teacher abuse cases for them to risk that close of an inspection, but don't be surprised if cleanliness doesn't get added.

I'm more appalled that money is being wasted to push this bill through. Even if they are successful in passing this bill, the enforcement, amount of extra paperwork, the lawsuits that will be filed when a teacher actually makes any negative assessments, isn't going to help anything.

Anonymous said...

Wow. You have NO IDEA what it is like in the public school system today. Absolutely NO IDEA.

Vicki said...

OK, Anonymous, please expound.

What is it like, in your experience, in the public school system today? Also, how will this bill make this situation better? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Convince me to see your side.

goodmorning said...

i hate that the anonymous person didn't retort. :( i wanna know why they would say that!