Blaming Parents for Student Performance – Tempting but Unworkable

As a new teacher I am well-versed in the arguments over who is responsible for student underperformance. For years angry parents blamed teachers, claiming that the entrenched bureaucrats occupying public school classrooms lacked the skill, talent, and motivation to effectively teach the minds of the young generation. Teachers were in it for a paycheck and were only there because they couldn’t get a job in the “real world.”

Teachers would fire back, claiming that the irresponsible progenitors of the spoiled and undisciplined youth lacked the willpower or know-how to raise youngsters who would, or even could, sit still and pay attention in classroom without ogling a cell phone screen. Parents undervalued education, glossed over the role of teachers, and wanted to be more friend than parent to the student who ended up with a D-, preferring to blame the teacher for “not understanding” the student instead of insisting the student realize that he or she was not the boss of the room.

Legislatures around the country, according to Lisa Belkin, have begun firing salvos at parents after spending years hammering on teachers. While I am certainly thankful that teachers are no longer seen as the sole factor in student underperformance and misbehavior, I don’t think that blaming the parents will help.

Belkin’s article is excellent, but only focuses on younger students. At what age, theoretically, would parents be less responsible for a student’s school attendance and academic performance? The start of junior high? The start of high school? When a student turns 16? While it is clear that parents have lots of control over the school performance of a second grader it becomes less clear when the student is a high school freshman. A fifteen-year-old can find his or her own transportation, study materials, and often no longer needs a parent to review homework. Should the same laws that apply to the parents of a seven-year-old apply to the parents of a high schooler?

The article discusses the concept of schools grading parents, which seems logical at first glance. However, such actions are far from innocuous and are only likely to breed increased animosity between schools and parents, or teachers and parents. Parents who harass teachers over student underperformance are likely to be even more vocal and aggressive when they themselves reap poor “grades.” School districts would become swamped with angry parents demanding to know why they were labeled ________________ in category ______________ of their child’s report card.

If a teacher has to worry about angry responses from 120 students over grades, imagine adding 120-240 (or more) parents and guardians to the mix!

Simply put, grading parents and siccing laws and rules on them to try and boost student performance and attendance is likely to backfire by causing anger and resentment amongst many parents. Some might be properly chastened by a bad “grade” and genuinely strive to improve…but most are likely to become indignant. And many might have excellent reason to be angry – in impoverished districts, how can upper-middle-class administrators truly understand the plight of working-class or poor parents? Receiving an “unsatisfactory” or “needs improvement” from a well-to-do principal may only exacerbate tensions between school districts and parents who feel they are disrespected and ignored.

So, tempting as it is to start leveling rules and laws and grades upon parents, let’s hold off and keep the peace (what little still exists!).