A lot of buzz has been heard lately over Florida lawmaker Kelli Stargel’s (R-Lakeland) proposal for parent report cards in the public schools of Florida. First, I have to express my surprise at her being a Republican, because more regulation or monitoring of what is going on in the private homes of America is usually not in a Republican’s bag of tricks. However, Stargel is hearing complaints from her constituents that everyone in the educational process is being held accountable to some degree except for the parents. Research in the educational field has shown for some time that without parental involvement and support a child will falter in even the best of classrooms (if you want studies let me know, I have  bunch that I can’t link to here).

Most states currently adhere to the No Child Left Behind Act which forces their schools to teach to the test for scores that would qualify them for funding. Some states have gone so far as to do away with tenure so that if a teacher’s students did poorly on the test he or she could then be fired or reprimanded based on the performance of their students. Florida lawmakers attempted this move last year with Senate Bill 6 of 2010, but it was vetoed by Charlie Crist. A smart move in my opinion, since bills of this nature only address half of the problem.

Imagine this: you are a racecar driver. You train for 4 years to be a racecar driver and you are taught by the best of the best. You rack up a lot of debt training to be a driver, and your teachers tell you that if you go to drive for Company A you can get that debt forgiven, but you have to drive there for 5 years straight and use their cars.

Sounds good to you, so you move to Company A and begin driving their cars. You start to notice something though. The cars aren’t always full of gas when you use them so you have to stop to refill when you should be setting a pace. The cars aren’t washed, their brake pads are thin, the tires are worn, and overall they just aren’t maintained as well as they should be. But you drive and do the best you can with the materials you are given because you need to get those loans paid off so you can go someplace better.

But then the owners of Company A start asking why the cars you are driving aren’t winning races. You’re the one driving them, and you should be able to win races with that big time education right? The problem is that the mechanics back at the garage do the bare minimum (or nothing at all) to prepare the cars for raceday, so it’s up to you and the pit crew to get the workhorse across the finish line, and some days you are lucky to get the car across the finish line.

You begin to point fingers. Why aren’t the cars maintained correctly? Why wont the mechanics and garage put new tires on and change the oil regularly? This is not your job, you cry, but the company heads won’t hear it. They fire you for not performing, and you’re stuck finding a new job that may not hire you because you didn’t perform up to snuff.

Doesn’t that sound ridiculous? Company A would be coming down on the garage, asking why the driver isn’t getting the materials he or she needs to win. Competent mechanics would be hired in place of the others, and the driver would receive the support he or she required.

We return to the real world and the issue of parent report cards. We cannot fire parents. Neither can we confront parents with tirades, asking why their student doesn’t come to school showered, well-fed, and rested. In the public schools we receive what is under our radar, and we cannot be picky like private or charter schools. With this understanding in place it must be acknowledged that evaluating teachers solely on the scores of these unwashed masses on the state test is completely unreasonable. It must also be acknowledged that some kind of evaluation of the home environment is necessary to explain undesirable scores. Sure there are plenty of bad teachers out there that are only in it for the summers off, but there are just as many new or average teachers that might not be experts just yet and are saddled with the quintuplets from the farm/crackhouse/single parent home down the road that help around the barn/house and never do their homework and the parents never call or come to conferences.

I do not think that Stargel is proposing a takeover of the home by schools, nor is she proposing that we tell parents how to parent their children. I do think that she is making a statement concerning the treatment of our public school teachers in an already hostile testing environment: before we fire teachers who are desperately needed, perhaps we should look at all of the factors behind these all-important scores and make a more informed decision about issues like teacher tenure and evaluation.

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