“A body of men holding themselves accountable to nobody ought not to be trusted by anybody.” —Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man

Accountability in education is a necessary beast: stressful and oftentimes cumbersome, but ultimately useful. Students take high-stakes tests to determine if they are eligible to earn college credit, graduate from high school, or enter college. They are held accountable for the number of absences they accrue or an overabundance of tardies.

Teachers face scrutiny over their students’ scores on state-ordered tests and  legislators who would like to tie pay-scales to these tests. Administrators also share the burden of accountability. Although the recent shift from ISAT to SBAC tests in Idaho has removed the pressure to meet AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress), I do not doubt that a new measure will soon be in place to determine a school’s adherence to the new Idaho Core. Read Fretwell on parents and schools.

While we may grumble at the hoops we all have to jump through, I think it is safe to say that few argue that accountability should be completely removed from schools. In fact, I am in favor of more rigor, transparency and collaboration in educational accountability. However, there is a huge flaw in our system that must be addressed if America wants to fix our seriously lagging accountability numbers. A major part of the accountability equation is missing: parents.

There is no accountability in schools for parents, despite their crucial role in  their children’s success. There are many ways a parent can be involved in their student’s education. Teachers, administrators and counselors can reach out to parents with concerns about a struggling student. Parents can check their student’s grades online and receive email alerts of impending assignments. Parents have the option to meet in-person at parent-teacher conferences or after school appointments.

But what are the repercussions if a parent does not take advantage of these tools? Their child might suffer, the teacher probably faces a steeper uphill battle and administrators continue to shoulder it alone. Yet the parent answers to no one. As long as their child shows up to school until they are 16 years old, a parent has no legal obligation in their child’s education.

Parental involvement is not a cure all to America’s educational woes. We could learn a lot from the successes (and trials) of other countries like Finland and South Korea. Standardized tests are in desperate need of revision, perhaps even abolishment. We need to attract more highly educated, more engaged and better qualified teachers by making teaching a desirable career. Schools need better funding and more legislative support.

But all of these fixes pale in comparison to the revolution that could be achieved by increasing parental involvement. A 2002 report issued by the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (SEDL) synthesized 51 different studies on parent involvement in education. The report concluded that students with involved parents are consistently more likely to achieve higher grades and test scores, continue on to some type of higher education and have better social skills, regardless of their socioeconomic background. In the ever contentious debates over education, most of us agree on the importance of parents. Why then is this critical component treated as optional?

How can we make parents and guardians accountable? We certainly cannot do something silly like make them take a test, fine them for absent behavior or revoke their parental rights for uninvolvement. But perhaps we could rethink how we evaluate students, teachers and administrators. If a student comes from a home where parents are absent from the equation, shouldn’t their admission to college be weighed differently than a student who has two dialed-in guardians? And what about teacher evaluations? Should a teacher who works in an affluent neighborhood with 90 percent parent attendance at parent-teacher conferences be judged with the same evaluative test as a teacher from a Title 1 school who does not even have accurate contact information for home?

I wish I had a more tangible solution for holding parents accountable for their child’s education. But in the absence of radical reforms and new norms of parenting, we might have to settle for a more balanced approach of evaluation for everyone else in the educational equation that takes into consideration the role of parents. If we can’t force parental involvement, perhaps we can at least better account for their influence when we make important educational decisions.

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The views and opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of Boise State University, the Center for Idaho History and Politics, or the School of Public Service.

  • Jean Locicero Shankle

    Many parents are involved. It it not only that they are involved, but how they are involved. Are they helping students come to school rested? Are they aware their students stay up all night playing an online role playing game? Do they send them to school with breakfast in their stomachs? Do they ask students what they learned in school and expect and wait for answers? Do they encourage their children to study and create conditions at home for them to do so?