Paying Parents to Attend Parent Teacher Conferences

'Don't Let Mr. Emanuel Down 1280 x 1024' photo (c) 2009, Sam Purtill - license:

Rahm Emanuel the mayor of Chicago is heavily invested in getting parents and teachers to interact.  This is a lofty goal because the more a parent is involved in a child’s education, the more successful a child will be.  There can be no doubt that Chicago schools are failing their youth. To encourage parent interaction, Emanuel has decided to partner with Walgreens.

Mayor Emanuel and Walgreen Co. CEO Greg Wasson announced today a new
public-private partnership that creates a pilot incentive program aimed
at encouraging parents to become more involved in their schools and part
of new efforts CPS is undertaking to better engage parents across the
district. The pilot provides parents with a “Balance Rewards” card with
25,000 points, worth the equivalent of $25 in Walgreens in-store
purchases, when they pick up their students’ report cards and
participate in parent-teacher conferences during Report Card Pick-Up
days. The pilot will begin this fall with 70 schools across the city
that have historically struggled to engage parents. (source)

There has been much speculation about this plan and a suggestion that this is something parents should be doing automatically.  I certainly agree that it is a parents responsibility to engage with teachers but I think this payout plan is not a solution.  Families don’t work like they did in the 1950’s.  Chances are both parents are already working outside of the home, if it is a two parent family. In many cases, people are working longer hours and many people don’t work the standard 9-5 with weekends off.  There are also disabled parents who might find going to a school difficult for various reasons.  None of these factors mean that a parent is not engaged with their child or devoted to ensuring that their child receives the best education possible.

Instead of vouchers, what schools need to do is to be creative about interacting with parents. How about a notebook in which parents and teachers communicate with each other on a daily basis? Things like email, skype and even the standard phone call can do much to build a relationship to work for the benefit of the child.   For example, in my case, my disability often prevents me from attending parent teacher conferences and various events at the school. All of the my kids teachers know about my disability and have made allowances that allow me to be informed on their day to day performance.  When I have a concern, I simply pick up the phone and call the teacher to discuss the issue. 

I think that the assumption that a parent needs to be bribed because of a lack of attendance does not take into account modern day lives. If a parent is truly disinterested in the progress of their child, giving them a gift certificate for attendance is not going to suddenly create a drive to focus on education.  At this point, I am unsure if the state is paying for these cards but if so, it’s an absolute waste of money.  Certainly this money could be used to increase the pay of teachers, repair  dilapidated buildings, or invest in technology, or new books.

Creative solutions would go a lot further than a bribe and it would take into account the fact that parents are under a lot of pressure these days.  I am so sick and tired of the assumption that parents are always to blame because it does not take into account that the education and progress of children should be a social affair.  What people need are options which fit into their already over stressed, over worked lives and not more shame and finger wagging. The model of the two parent family, with one parent at home to do the private labour for the family is outdated and perhaps if more schools took that into account, there would be greater interaction.

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