This idea gets an F

February 17, 2003

AS IF TEACHERS don't have enough to do, now the superintendent in Lebanon, Pa., is proposing that they grade parents.

Under the proposal by Superintendent Marianne Bartley, the parents of Lebanon's 4,200 kids would be graded "yes" or "no" in such categories as attendance at PTA meetings, whether their children come to school fed and dressed and whether those ubiquitous forms are signed and returned promptly.

Ms. Bartley insists this isn't an invasion of privacy or an attempt to evaluate people's parenting skills. That's the way it will be taken, though, by many who do a poor job of raising children. The good parents don't need to be graded. Guilt lets them know when they're falling down on the job.

If there's one thing on which education researchers agree, it's that kids whose parents take a keen interest at home perform better at school. Johns Hopkins University has an entire program built on that proposition.

Teachers have many tools at their disposal to encourage parent-child activities at home, and the best teachers use those tools to include moms and dads in the educational enterprise without being judgmental.

Unlike physicians, they'll even make house calls. Many schools assign teachers to visit the homes of students, using Title I money to pay for the service. And everyone knows teachers who spend long hours on the phone, wondering why Johnny hasn't done his homework recently or expressing concern over Maria's weeklong absence.

Spend time in any teachers' lounge - especially at an elementary school - and you'll realize how much teachers know about the intimate lives of their charges. The tragedy and triumph of modern family life march directly to school. One East Baltimore elementary gained international fame a few years ago with a program of instruction on the handling of firearms; children had been picking up the guns at home and accidentally discharging them.

Teachers have enough to do as it is - concentrating on the kids. They shouldn't have to waste everyone's time grading the parents, too.

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