Teachers to grade parents? Perhaps, if you live in Mississippi. House Bill 4, referred to as the Parent Involvement and Accountability Act, has recently passed the Mississippi House on a 75–43 vote—on its way to becoming a law. Introduced by Rep. Gregory Holloway, the bill grew out of visits he had made to schools outside of Mississippi. He had noticed that high-achieving schools had strong parental involvement and low-achieving ones did not. Yes, very likely to be true, Rep. Holloway.
Holloway’s bill was expanded with a controversial amendment right before the House vote, but that is a different story. What is surprising—shocking, even—is the following provision in the bill that he proposed:
(2) Each report card for students in kindergarten through Grade 12 shall include a section in which the teacher grades parental involvement as satisfactory, in need of improvement or unsatisfactory on each of the following criteria:
Parental response to requests for conferences or communication;
The student’s completion of homework and preparation for tests;
The frequency of the student’s absence and tardiness; and
The student’s overall grade per nine (9) week’s assessment. (quoted from House Bill 4)
Holding parents accountable—somehow—for not responding to a request for a conference? Okay. For their kids’ absences or tardiness? Probably. For their kids’ unfinished homework and preparation for tests? Maybe. But for their kids’ overall grade? Really?
That’s not all. House Bill 4 continues this way:
(3) A parent may appeal the report card parental involvement grade assigned by the teacher…through a process adopted by the local school board in which the principal, the teacher and the parent meet to discuss how the report card grade was determined. The meeting shall also provide information and feedback on the steps needed to improve the parental involvement grade, thereby improving the environment and elements that affect student learning. (quoted from House Bill 4)
This makes it sound as though the grades for parents counted in some way that would cause parents to want to make sure their grades were good. That seems so odd—incredible, really…and yet, it reminds me of an anecdote from about 35 years ago.
My organization was working with a school district outside of Chicago. We had been asked by the school board to investigate ways to improve test scores, and we were looking hard at parent involvement, among other strategies. We talked to parents in the district to find out what they were already doing at home to help their kids do well in school, and we turned those home-grown “best practices” into a questionnaire that we administered to all of the parents.
For each best practice, we asked, “How many times in the last week did you…?” For example, “How many times in the last week did you check your child’s homework before he or she turned it in?” There was quite a list of such questions. We asked parents to post the questionnaire somewhere convenient—like on the refrigerator—and then to keep track of which best practices they used with their kids and how often they used them during the week.
After a few weeks, we went to a parent meeting. One of the parents, who seemed a bit agitated, stood up and said, “I hate your questionnaire.”
“What’s the matter with it?” we asked, understandably concerned.
“Well, the questionnaire says, ‘How many times in the last week.’ If you had asked ‘How many times in the last month,’ I could have gotten a higher score.”
It was working. Parents wanted a “high score” on our questionnaire. As it turns out, parents will work for grades.
I guess that is the same motivation that might make parents want a good grade on report cards in Mississippi. So, maybe it’s not so crazy after all. By the way, Mississippi isn’t the first state to try something like this. What about yours?