The Worst Parent Engagement Ideas

I’ve posted a lot about good parent engagement/involvement ideas, but sometimes you can learn just as much from looking at bad examples. You can see lots of good ideas at all my parent engagement-related “The Best” lists here.

Here are my choices for The Worst Parent Engagement Ideas:

Putting Parents in Charge is a condescending NY Times column on parent engagement that was written by Peg Tyre. Among other things, she talks about how parents aren’t “sophisticated” enough to truly know what a good school is because often times they will pick ones with “low academic achievement” — and that’s usually a code phrase for low test scores. Excuse me — perhaps many parents know that there is far more to getting a good education than being able to do well on a multiple choice standardized test! She calls for “substantive training programs” for parents so they can make choices about what “works best in schools.” I wonder who will make that determination? How much you wanna’ bet that not many teachers would be invited into that process? And it doesn’t look like many parents would be, either….

Family Engagement: Four Great Ways to Get Involved is a report on the Department of Education’s blog about a family engagement forum they recently hosted. If the blog post is an accurate indication of what occurred, then it’s a sad commentary about the level of the Department’s sophistication and leadership on topic — just bland obvious recommendations.

Are Parents Making The Grade?is a good post by Tara Zrinski challenging the perspective that punishing parents will enhance parent engagement in schools.

I’ve written several posts about the unhelpful idea being pushed in Florida to have teachers grade parents. Happily, it doesn’t look like its making any kind of substantial progress. Here’s a news report giving an update and a Florida newspaper’s editorial against it.

“Teachers at an East Harlem elementary school are bizarrely forbidden from communicating with parents without first getting a supervisor’s permission and from calling parents outside of normal school hours, the teachers handbook says.” Read more about the bizarre rules discouraging parent engagement in article at The New York Post.

NPR reports about it in a story titled In Hartford, Parents Don’t Always Pick Best Schools. School District officials just can’t believe that parents might use a different standard to judge their schools other than the arbitrary method of standardized test scores (maybe they need to read The Best Resources Showing Why We Need To Be “Data-Informed” & Not “Data-Driven”). Because parents don’t “understand” that test scores are the only true basis on which they should judge a school, the district believe that they need to initiate a campaign “to get more information out to parents because, the theory goes, good information makes for better school choices.” They’ve even hired an advertising consultant to help them do it. After all, what do parents like Myesha Simpson know:

“I love the school because I love the teachers, I love the way they teach, I love they way they solve their problems, I love the way they handle things,” Simpson says…She says that more information from the district might change the choices some parents make, but it won’t change hers.

No, instead of trying to learn from parents, hubris and a condescending attitude is the way to really connect with families….

The New York Times reports about the Office of Family Engagement:

In January, at a meeting of parent coordinators from a number of schools, employees of the office asked them to forge relationships with parents who they thought might speak out in support of the department’s policies, including its controversial push to close failing schools. The employees at one point used a nickname to describe the type of parents they were looking for: “Happy Harrys,” and not “Angry Sallys,” as two coordinators recalled it.

And on Tuesday, an employee at the office circulated a petition among nearly 400 coordinators citywide, asking them to round up parents’ signatures. The petition was in support of one of the mayor’s most concerted political efforts of the year: to persuade the Legislature to end the law protecting the most senior teachers in the event of layoffs.

You can read more about at Gotham Schools.

Of course, why should District staff spend their time asking parents for ideas, connecting them with other parents, and helping teachers and families work together to help students? Instead, let’s develop our political agenda, organize parent against parent and parent against teacher. That is what parent engagement is all about, isn’t it?

I’ve posted about a Florida legislator’s proposal to have teachers grade parents. I’ve also written about a Michigan prosecutors plan to jail parents who didn’t attend parent-teacher conferences. An Indiana legislator wants parents to perform community service if their child misbehaves in school, apparently targeting instances of bullying. I’ll admit that punishment can sometimes be effective for some people in some circumstances. But, as most teachers know. punishment generally just teaches the perpetrator to be more careful about being caught the next time. On top of that piece of common sense, punishing parents is just a simplistic approach to a complex problem. How about if, instead of lashing out at parents, we encourage schools, and provide them the resources they need, to put more energy into genuine parent engagement, including providing supportive family services?

Why paying parents to attend school events is wrong is a piece I wrote for The Washington Post.

In my book, I emphasize the importance of two-way conversation as opposed to the typical one-way communication schools use with parents — calls home to inform parents about problems with their children, notices given to students to carry home, “connect-ed” automated phone calls. Check-out Pearls Before Swine comic strip to get an idea about how NOT to define a conversation.

The ‘Parent Trigger’ doesn’t help schools or parents is the headline of a piece at The Washington Post.

An elementary school in Delaware was criticized for having separate meetings for parents from different ethnic groups (see Delaware schools: Race-based approach snarls plan for parental involvement). I’m sure it was a well-intentioned effort to help engage parents, but I think it sends the wrong message. Parents from different ethnic groups might have some different concerns (for example, ELL parents are probably more concerned about services for ELL students than native speaker parents), but schools can also play a key role in helping parents connect with each other about common concerns and build relationships with each other. I could easily see some natural small group divisions that might tend to divide along ethnic lines when it comes to working on specific issues, but, as in effective community organizing, it comes from a united larger group where relationships have been built and done in the context of “dealmaking” (I’ll support you and you support me).

I support the idea of high school ethnic studies classes that are designed to help students see that the greatest racial equality efforts have come when different groups have worked together, and which have regular joint projects between those different classes. I think those are a bit different, though, because in those cases students are a “captive audience” and teachers can ensure that message and those activities happen.
In parent involvement programs, it’s all voluntary, and schools need to work hard to make sure that divisions are not made worse in everything they do.

Parent Revolution, the charter school affiliated group behind the faulty and ill-conceived “parent trigger” mechanism in California the facilitates charter school takeovers of schools, has produced an awful video to publicize “trigger.” It begins with :

Our schools are failing because they are not designed to succeed. They are designed to serve the needs of special interests and bureaucrats — not children. The only way to change that is to give power to the only people who only care about children — parents.

Now, that’s what I call a positive message communicating the kind of cooperation we need to help our schools. Let’s start off with stomping on schools, then stomping on teachers and teachers unions (the “special interests”), and then let’s further increase the barrier by not acknowledging that most teachers are parents, too. And let’s not even mention the “special interest” of the charter school operator Parent Revolution works with. The video goes on to not offer even a sliver of possibility of parents working with teachers and schools to improve them. It’s amazing how much self-righteousness and hypocrisy can be combined into a four-and-a-half minute video.

One Delaware School District wants to use a portion of their Race To The Top monies to pay parents to come to certain school events. Very bad idea. New York City Mayor Bloomberg closed down an effort that including paying parents to do the same thing. New York City had started a heralded, and expensive, conditional cash transfer program heavily focused on school-related objectives. The program announced the results of an evaluation of the program in and it didn’t work, particularly for the school-related goals. It doesn’t work to bribe students, and it won’t work to bribe parents. How is the district going to handle it when some parents get the money and others do not? How about using that money to hire someone to work with parents to see if they want to develop a parent-directed Parent University. Or maybe use it to bring in the Parent Teacher Home Visit Project and use those resources to provide stipends so teachers can out to visit parents.

How a fifth-grader spent his summer vacation on worksheets is the title of a post from Gotham Schools. It describes a school giving students a book billed as a “parent involvement resource” to complete over the summer. It’s basically a collection of mind-numbingly dull worksheets. As a commenter on the blog suggests, why couldn’t the school just give the kid cash equivalent to the cost of the book so he could buy some books he wants to read?

With the on-going effort to force parents to be involved with schools or face punitive action, it’s interesting to read about an attempt two years ago in Washington, D.C. to require TANF (welfare) recipients to attend PTA and parent-teacher meetings. Susie Cambria writes:

Welfare and education advocates alike educated the CM [Council Member] about the real reasons for poor parent engagement (including the failure of schools to make attempts to engage parents) and convinced him there was a better way to achieve the policy and practice goal.

Here’s another bad idea to promote parent engagement in schools — a Michigan prosecutor wants to make it illegal for a parent to miss a scheduled parent-teacher conference. As I wrote in my post about an equally ill-conceived plan to make parent involvement mandatory in a San Jose school District (see “School to Parents: Volunteer or Else!”):

Why not make something mandatory… instead of putting energy into building trusting and reciprocal relationships with parents; learning their concerns, visions for themselves, and visions for their children; helping families find the energy and capacity within themselves to want to act; and then working together to do something?

In a “Hall of Fame” worthy example of how NOT to encourage parent involvement/engagement, the Charlotte Observer reports that a school secretary was fired for continuing to translate for parents who couldn’t speak English after a new principal banned her from doing so. The school in question is 42% Latino, and its motto is “Academy of Cultural and Academic Diversity.” The secretary, Ana Ligia Mateo, complained to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which ruled in June that there is “reasonable cause” to believe her civil rights were violated. She is now suing the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

The South Carolina Lt. Governor made some ridiculous comments about denying low-income parents government aid if they don’t attend PTA meetings. He went on to compare poor people to “stray animals” that will breed if they are fed. Here’s a thoughtful response to those comments that appeared in a South Carolina newspaper yesterday. It’s titled Bauer’s comments reflect our own misconceptions.

Mary Ann Zehr, who previously wrote for Education Week had a post titled A 5th Grader Is a Translator at School. Is That a Good Thing? It describes an Oklahoma newspaper article about how wonderful it is that a local school is using a Spanish-speaking fifth-grader to translate to parents. Mary Ann asked for reactions.Here’s the comment I left:

Mary Ann,

is terrible! Not only is the school using a student to get out of putting the appropriate resources into having the ability to communicate with parents, it’s putting both the child and the parents in an embarrassing and potentially damaging situation. It forces children to act much older than they actually are. The New York Times ran a story on issue:

URBAN TACTICS; Translating for Parents Means Growing Up Fast


I could understand it if there were just one or two parents who spoke a particular language (for example, one year we had a student and family who only spoke Swahili). But SPANISH? In a state that has over eleven percent of its students being Latino?

“Idaho schools tie merit pay to parent involvement” is a post I wrote about an incredibly idiotic plan. You can read more about it here.

Parent Involvement is Smart. Don’t Turn it Into Something Stupid is a post by NEA leader Lily Eskelsen. It’s about Idaho’s plan to tie teacher pay to the number of parents who show up to school meetings.

In yet another bizarre and punitive effort to force increased parent involvement, a Washington, D.C. City Council Chairman has announced plans to introduce legislation that would cut-off TANF benefits to parents who didn’t attend parent/teacher conferences and PTA meetings.

What An Awful & Misleading Video About Our Schools

“Twice a year, they’re going to publish in the local newspaper the list of parents or guardian who for whatever reason did not participate in the parent conference,” said Long.

That quote comes from an article about how one Louisiana school district is using a state law that allows them to act against parents who don’t participate in their child’s school. Yup, that’s a great idea. We all know how well shame works with our students, so let’s apply it to their parents. It will certainly build a great school community — NOT!

Tennessee state senator: Reduce welfare payments to families if children don’t do well in school is the headline in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. It begins:

A Tennessee state senator has come up with what I believe is a first: Republican State Sen. Stacey Campfield of Knoxville proposes to cut welfare benefits to parents whose children don’t make “satisfactory academic progress” in school.

Campfield believes that his bill would compel parents to work harder to ensure their kids excel in school. As you might imagine, his Senate Bill 1312 is triggering a lot of comment.

Here’s a Daily Show segment on his bill:

It appears that the School District in Austin, Texas laid-off all their parent engagement staff based in individual schools and then created a Central Office based department.

How did that work out for them?

Apparently, not very well.

Read all about it at A Failure To Communicate.

Even though Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel had shown a brief glimmer of understanding about parent engagement at one point last year, it appears he has reverted to previous cluelessness.

In a rant blaming parents
for student learning difficulties, he states his newest idea:

Emanuel wants to tie after-school program enrollment to parents picking up report cards.

“You know, you vote, you get a sticker. We’ll give you a sticker when you pick up your kids’ report card, and then you can enroll them in after school [programs],” he said.

Yes, there are parents who have lots of issues. But, you know, not letting their kids enter an after-school program if they don’t pick up their report card is probably not going to help….

The Mayor is doing something that’s worse than the equivalent of calling into talk radio: Calling in might make you feel good and feel like you’re doing something, but it’s not making a bit of difference. But in the mayor’s case, what he’s wants to do is likely to make things even worse….

Come On, Now – Schools Giving “Stamps” For Each Parent Involvement Activity?

Diane Ravitch features a Tennessee parent in blog post reporting that her school parents group was told that instead of raising $20,000 for iPads, they had to raise that money to buy computers so students could use them to take the new Common Core standardized tests. Certainly, there might be pedagogical reasons why it might make sense to purchase computers instead of iPads — those might very well be worth discussing. However, asking parents to specifically raise money to support standardized testing has got to be added to list.

Here’s the latest addition to list, courtesy of NPR:

The Philadelphia school system was forced to cut millions of dollars from its budget, lay off hundreds of employees and shutter nearly two dozen schools to help close a billion dollar shortfall. Some principals are asking parents to “contribute” as much as $600 per student to help pay for basic supplies and the school superintendent threatened to delay the start of classes month until the city kicked in $50 million to cover the minimum level of staffing.

Utah Republican State Senator Aaron Osmond has introduced a bill that would make a new law:

students who fail to achieve academic proficiency would be required to participate in remediation, the cost of which would be charged in full or in part to their parents.

Here’s the response from a member of the State School Board:

“I think it’s better if we can find ways to engage parents in schools in positive ways and encourage these parent-teacher partnerships and not have to legislate what parents will do and what they will pay for if they don’t do it,” she said. “It can just come across, I think, as punitive or heavy-handed if you’re not careful.”

/15/916c9406-5dc5-11e3-be07-006c776266ed_story.html?wprss=rss_Copy%20of%20local-alexandria-social&utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter”>Prince George’s schools charge PTAs that use buildings is an article in The Washington Post.

Here are a couple of excerpts:

The John Hanson Montessori Parent Teacher Student Association has offered after-school dance and chess lessons for years, believing that the enrichment programs help engage Prince George’s County students. The group charges a small fee to pay the course instructors, and until now had been using space at the school for free.

Or so the PTSA thought. Nicole Nelson, the PTSA’s vice president, said she recently received a bill from the school district asking for $2,502.70 in rental fees. Nelson believed it had to be a mistake, as the PTSA has barely $1,500 in its treasury, money it plans to use to honor teachers and to celebrate graduates….

Lawrence said he understands charging a PTA to use a facility on a weekend, when no custodial staff is on duty. But he does not think it makes sense to bill a volunteer parent group for after-school activities while custodial staff is still on duty.

A couple in the United Kingdom was given a substantial fine for taking their two children out of school for a one week vacation.

If you read the BBC article, it certainly doesn’t sound like justice was served.

Listen, I’m a teacher. It doesn’t make my job easier when parents take their kids to Mexico for a few weeks during the holidays, or when students miss school for a trip. But, come on, we live in the real world, and I understand that not everyone has the privilege of having vacation when I do. I also recognize that there are educational benefits for the kids in these trips.

As the father in the article says:

“The people who make these laws and policies don’t live in the real world.”

The Cobb County School Board is considering a member’s suggestion that if a parent doesn’t attend a teacher conference, then the parent could be banned from attending their child’s graduation.

Here’s a news report on the proposal:


You may have already heard about what happened in Salt Lake City recently — the parents of a number of students owed money on their children’s lunch account and, because of that, after those students were served lunch it was taken away and thrown in the garbage.

You can read about it in these articles:

Utah School Draws Ire For Taking Kids’ Lunches; Debt Cited is from NPR.

Utah school district apologizes for seizing kids’ lunches for unpaid bills is from NBC.

If parents don’t qualify for the free or reduced lunch program, of course schools should hold them responsible for paying. But, come on, this move does not make for a parent (or student) friendly environment. There are far more relational ways to work with parents on this issue.

It’s possible that the principal at this school might not have had many engagement parents. Now, there definitely will be, and I think they’ll be after his scalp (figuratively, of course).

I think this next school needs to rethink how they relate to parents:

Parents reprimanded for taking children out of school for family funeral is the headline of an article in the British newspaper, The Telegraph.

Here’s how it begins:

Two parents have received a written warning after their children missed school to attend their grandfather’s funeral.

Andrew and Danielle Overend-Hogg were told that their children, aged nine, five and three, had taken an unauthorised absence.

The letter also threatened that any repeat of the absence could lead to Teagan,nine, Isla, five and Elsie-Mae, three could lose their places at Sheffield’s Handsworth Ballifield Primary School.

The Director of Ofsted (which I think is close to the equivalent of the U.S. Department of Education in the United States — correct me if I’m wrong) in Britain wants to give head teachers (principals) the right to fine “bad parents.”

What is a bad parent, you might ask:

Wilshaw, Ofsted’s chief inspector, said in an interview with the Times that heads needed to demand more from parents, saying: “If parents didn’t come into school, didn’t come to parents’ evening, didn’t read with their children, didn’t ensure they did their homework, I would tell them they were bad parents.

“I think headteachers should have the power to fine them. It’s sending the message that you are responsible for your children no matter how poor you are.”

You can read more about it at The Guardian , The Telegraph, and at The BBC.

Charter school parents warned that late pick-ups could mean child-welfare report is the headline of an article in Chalkbeat: New York.

Here’s how the article begins:

A charter elementary school on the Lower East Side is telling families they will be reported to the city’s child-welfare agency if they make a habit of not picking up their child on time.

A Virginia court has ruled that parents cannot be charged with a crime if their kids come to school late.

Here’s an excerpt from The Washington Post article, Va. Supreme Court: Parents can’t be charged when kids are late to school:

The court’s decision stemmed from a 2012 case in Loudoun County in which Maureen Blake, a divorced mother of three, was convicted of three misdemeanor charges for her children’s lateness and fined $1,000 for each count. Millette wrote in his decision that each charge was based on five instances in which the children, then ages 8, 10 and 11, were late, generally by about five to 20 minutes.

Blake stated that some of the tardiness was attributable to one child’s struggle with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, behavioral problems on the part of the children or Blake’s own ADHD, for which she was receiving treatment.

What a dumb prosecution of a dumb law. Jeez, if our schools took to court every parent whose kids were five to twenty minutes late five times a year, we’d have a zillion court cases. More importantly, it would likely mean instead of their being late, they just wouldn’t come to school that day at all. Plus, it will really generate a lot of positive feelings among parents — NOT!

Even thought it’s been thrown-out, I’m still adding it to this list.

Detroit Parents Missed a School Meeting But Their 3rd Grader Is the One Who Might Be Punished For It is the headline of this news article (and video).

Here’s how it begins:

Parents of third graders at Coleman A. Young Elementary School in Michigan were recently asked to attend a mandatory parent meeting — during the workday — which addressed the importance of state testing.

Twenty-four parents were able to attend, but the children of parents who didn’t were threatened with suspension if their parents did not show up at a make-up meeting scheduled the following week.

Feedback is welcome.

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One thought on “The Worst Parent Engagement Ideas

  1. Here is all the reason you need to realize that children should never have to be interpreters

    “Imagine, sitting in the doctor’s exam room. The doctor tells you, please sign to your mom and tell her she needs to have brain surgery. You are 12 years old.” Liysa Callsen of

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