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Posted at 6:30 AM ET, 11/12/2009

Should parents be required to volunteer at their children’s school?

By Valerie Strauss

This isn’t just an academic question.

A bill was introduced in the Ohio legislature last year that would force parents with kids in underperforming schools to volunteer for 13 hours each school year--or face a $100 fine. It didn’t pass, but this year, there is a bill requiring parents to attend at least one conference with a teacher each school year, before Dec. 31, or face a $50 fine.

Today The Answer Sheet’s Group of moms takes up the issue of parent involvement in schools. Should it somehow be made mandatory?

This Week’s Members:
Linda McGhee is a psychologist, school counselor and professor, who lives in the District and works in Bethesda. Her son is in fifth grade in a Maryland private school.
Peg Willingham works for a non-profit health research organization and she lives in Virginia, where her daughter attends a public high school.
Meg Arcadia is a teacher currently home schooling a 10-year-old boy, and a mom with a 3-year-old son.
Valerie Strauss is The Answer Sheet.

I think volunteering and otherwise taking part in school activities are good ways to ensure that the entire family is a part of the school community. Mandating such participation is not problematic for me with this caveat. Care should be taken to include all parents, both working and nonworking, and to schedule events at times of the day so that working parents can participate.

Schools can’t really require this (at least public schools can’t), although it would of course be great if more parents got involved. A twist on this question is, how can we get more dads involved, and why was the ratio of moms to dads at the PTA meeting I attended last Monday 25:1? I know there will be dads who rightly respond by saying they DO go to school events, or were home taking care of the kids or taking them to Scouts or karate or music lessons or other worthy pursuits, but it still startles me in this day and age to see the gender disparity. Of course, it’s probably all my fault for permanently scaring away the brave dad who chaperoned a nursery school outing when I told him that he had put too much juice in the kids’ cups and now they were going to spill and make a mess...

I agree, you can't require parents to participate. But wouldn't it be great if they did? My son attends Geneva Day School in Potomac [in Maryland]. It is a small preschool with a great sense of community. Both mothers and fathers participate in school activities. My son is excited to go to school and feels very proud. I am so happy that he is having such a positive beginning at school. I hope that our parental involvement has helped him feel so connected to his school.

I'll say yes, they should be required to, even just once a year, even in the smallest of ways. I realize there is no real way to enforce it other than through powerful persuasion, or, perhaps, shame. But we know that kids do better when parents are involved with their education. And we know that a powerful way to teach is to model the behavior you want emulated--even if you don’t really want to do it yourself. Kids learn a lot by watching. I also like the idea of compelling parents to attend one conference a year with teachers--though I can imagine that some teachers would rather not ever deal with some particularly annoying parents.

What do you think?

By Valerie Strauss  | November 12, 2009; 6:30 AM ET
Tags:  The Group, parents volunteering at school  
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I'm OK with incentives to attend a conference.

Requiring someone to volunteer is a hardship.

Sometimes parents have jobs -- and their child's welfare is better served by the parent continuing the attend their workplace and earn a living.

Not everyone has a flexible workplace and can rearrange their life to cater to a school schedule. It's class-bias to act like this should be a requirement.

Posted by: RedBird27 | November 12, 2009 7:26 AM | Report abuse

I think mandatory volunteering is a good thing, after all, not all school activities are during school hours. Our book fairs, music events, bingo night, all happen in the evening. We have have a couple of Saturday events. I can't make all events, but I can bake for an event and drop things off, or help set up.

As for the conference, I like this idea for elementary schools, but once you get into the upper grades, it's hard to decide which teacher is required. Math, science, language arts, social studies? Is one more important than the rest? We try to go to back to school nights to meet the teachers, but no follow up appointments means my child is doing fine. Obviously, if there are issues, things need to be talked over, but to try to set up 120 conferences before Christmas may be placing too much extra time on the teachers, taking away from lesson planning or extra help for the kids that need it.

Posted by: pamsdds | November 12, 2009 8:10 AM | Report abuse

Mandatory volunteering is an oxymoron. Volunteering is willfully giving your time. If it is required it is not volunteering, it is work. Fine, then say what you mean. The question is should parents be required to work a certain number of hours at their children's school? I don't see a $100 fine as much incentive to do "required volunteering." 13 hours work or $100? That comes out to about $7.70 per hour. I make more 10 times that much. So, I would just pay the "fine" and then actually volunteer on my own terms, when it was convenient for me and the number of hours I choose.

Posted by: SweetieJ | November 12, 2009 9:46 AM | Report abuse

I have a real problem with the legislation being discussed, which would have required volunteering from parents only at "underperforming" schools. Talk about the parents who can probably least afford to pay a fine or to give their time for free...

Posted by: subrosa77 | November 12, 2009 10:51 AM | Report abuse

I agree that their should be some type of legislation in place to mandate parents or guardians to participate in teacher conferences to occur, especially if a child is not performing academically well.

The problem that I've observed, and this has been shared by teachers, is that the chidren who are most at risk, their parent(s) or guardian(s) never enter the building. The teachers reach out but phone calls are not returned.

Parents and Guardians being involved in childrens education should not be an "option." Understandibly parents must go to work and earn a living, but I'm sure there are opportunities of handing a 2-3 hour vacation leave request at least twice a year to schedule parent/student/teacher conferences from K-12 (not just elementary school age). I just find it difficult to believe that it's impossible for parents or guardians to not meet with a teacher because of work schedules during a 9 month school year.

Mandating school volunteerism, I'm not sure is as important then the need of parents or guardians being mandated to be proactive in their childrens academic performances, especially in situations of a child(ren) at risk in failing.

Pass the law so that they MUST come. Our communities are already paying the penalty (high crime rates, disruptive students, behavorial problems in the classrooms) and a contributing factor of these issues seems to be lack of parental involvement.

Administators and teachers can only do but so much.

Posted by: PGCResident1 | November 13, 2009 8:06 AM | Report abuse

I know one youngster, very bright, with very concerned parents--but the father is a registered sex offender. (I'm not sure of the specific offense--in this state an 18-year-old boy who has sex with a 16-year-old girlfriend can find himself a registered sex offender.) Is this father supposed to volunteer at the school he is not allowed to live near? Or is this youngster supposed to explain to the teacher why the father won't be volunteering?

Incidentally, Isaac Asmiov's parents never went near the school after the day his mother enrolled him. This was a common situation for immigrants' children in the 1920s--in fact, most of the parents couldn't speak English so it wouldn't have done them much good to go to the school. Somehow the schools managed to teach them anyway. (Maybe because the teachers knew their subjects and because the students knew it was still possible to work your way through college, so it was a possible dream for them.)

Posted by: opinionatedreader | November 18, 2009 9:41 AM | Report abuse

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