Thursday, October 2, 2008

Where have all the parents gone?

A while ago, Mindy asked if a lack of parental involvement is a cause or effect of children doing poorly in school. I don't honestly know the answer to that question. I used to think it was primarily a cause, with of course exceptions for individual kids. Now, I'm almost starting to wonder if it has any effect at all. My brain says surely it must, but my recent experiences seem to contradict that thought.

When we were growing up, our elementary school classes were segregrated by honors kids, average kids, and those who needed extra help. On open house nights, the majority of the parents of the honors kids would show up, and they usually ended up borrowing chairs from the extra help kids' rooms. Why? Because the one group showed up and the other one didn't. Either the parents didn't care, or just were afraid of hearing bad news about their kid, or I don't know what. You might expect parents to be there especially for the kids that struggled with school, so they could find out how to help their kid at home, but such was not the case. It was a private school, the parents were paying a decent amount of money to send their kids to the school, so it wasn't like they were completely disinterested in the child's education.

Then I became a parent, and started attending the open house night myself. My son was in a school very similar to that which I had attended, except the class rooms were no longer sorted by "ability". It seemed like there were usually a lot of parents there, but as the kids were all mixed together, it was difficult to know which segments of parents bothered to come. You would think that with the cost of tuition being what it was, a parent would want to keep tabs on how their child was doing.

Then we joined the ranks of public school kids. Not only public school, but we were zoned for what is very close to a ghetto school. Most of the kids are from very low income families, live in rough neighborhoods, and it's a D-rated school. The first time they had open house, there were so few parents there that I honestly thought they'd changed the date and I just missed the notification. Seriously. It was a very sad commentary.

This year, Alex is in high school, in an advanced honors magnet program. There were something like 250 kids that applied for the 100 positions open (which is already double the 50 spots they had last year), so you know it was rigorous admission. Kids had to prove they were ready to excel in this group. Tuesday night, we had open house. Of the 180 kids in the entire program, there were maybe 50 parents that attended. I realize that some parents have more than one child, and there were possibly some scheduling conflicts. Maybe some of them have to work nights. I cannot believe that applied to 2/3 of the group, however. So where was everybody? Do they not care? I don’t understand, I really don't.

On the bright side, Alex was awarded a Skip Homework Tonight pass yesterday because I attended the open house. That was a nice surprise for him!


Mindy said...

The parents in our charter school system have to give 30 hours of volunteer time. To encourage parent participation at open houses, they actually give volunteer hour credits for it. I can't believe that some parents have to be "bribed" to participate with the children and show an interest in their schooling.

Mom said...

Getting chairs from one level's class for another's wasn't Open House, it was Parent Day, where the parents had the opportunity to spend a morning in class (including many working parents). The contrast was absolutely astounding.

Our Open House story is just as astounding. After getting ridiculous behavior notes on one of you, we confronted the honors teacher, trying to understand what her problem was. I remember so clearly the impression that we were talking to a tape recorder which was then just spitting out responses which had absolutely nothing to do with the questions we were asking.

Paying for education doesn't necessarily give your child much more positive training than interested or not parents. But to answer your question, a concerned parent doesn't truly give up on poor school achievement (trust me on that one!), but poor parental interest will certainly not motivate a child to achieve on his own.

Anonymous said...

So very sad to hear that so few parents were present at what I consider a very important event. I am a working single parent with two children at different schools and have never missed an Open House, Conference, or Parent's Event and have participated in Career Day as well. However my ex husband routinely misses such events and doesn't even ask me how it went! He figures if the Kids are good students then it is not necessary. I feel he is totally missing out. So exciting to learn about our children's days and the professionals who are contributing so much to their growth and development. In my area these events are usually well attended. In fact I arrive half hour early just to make sure I can park. I just cannot grasp disinterested parents. Our societal values are degrading right before our eyes.
Jennifer Berins, Coral Springs Florida