Friday, July 29, 2005

Publishing Parental Concerns

In a letter to a local newspaper, a parent named Wendy Martin expresses concern over a new grading policy that is being implemented by the schools of Palm Beach County, Florida:
This fall in Palm Beach County, letter grades will no longer be included on report cards for kindergarten through fifth grade. The report cards will read as follows for various subjects: Child is performing on or above grade level; child is less than one year below grade level; or child is struggling.

In essence, information is being withheld from parents and students that indicates a child is doing well. "On or above grade level" tells parents nothing. There is no distinction between average work and work that is better than average. What message are we sending our children when the best they can be is "on or above grade level"?

This change cuts to the root of our value system in America. Art Johnson, the Palm Beach County school superintendent, was quoted as saying that "our challenge has been, and is, the education of the masses." It is offensive that Mr. Johnson views our children as the "masses" and not the beautiful individuals that they are.

This change is being forced on the parents and students of Palm Beach County without us having much say in the matter. Most parents were not informed by our principals, but read about it in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in March.

It is interesting, however, that although we were not notified, the School Board provided principals with an information sheet to "provide assistance when dealing with questions." As if they wanted to control the principals' responses, or didn't trust they would answer the questions appropriately.

They anticipated parents having questions about incentives or awards the children could receive without letter grades. The School Board's canned response was that the new report cards could provide awards for attendance and conduct.

Are you kidding? Forget about the honor roll. Let's replace our bumper stickers "Proud Parent of an Honor Student" to "Proud Parent of a Student Who Showed Up."

A group of parents attended the School Board meeting in May and the issue of report cards was raised. There were board members who were opposed to, and surprised by, the change being made and stated that grades would be reviewed at their next retreat and revisited.

On June 29 we attended the meeting; three board members vocally opposed the change. It finally was discussed at the July 21 meeting and scheduled for a workshop meeting this Wednesday

The public can attend, but not speak.
If what Ms. Martin is saying is true about parents not being notified of the change in grading-policy by the schools, shame on them. Regular, informative, and well-planned communication with parents (and the larger community) is at the heart of effective educational reform.

If I were not a classroom teacher and was instead the superintendent of a public school system, I would treat such letters much like a wise business person would a letter of complaint from a customer, which, surprisingly, are often a "blessing in disguise."

Letters from parents that bring a problem or concern to the attention of the community should actually be welcomed, because if the writer makes a valid point, it's a pretty safe assumption that for each letter that is actually mailed, there are probably 100 or more people who feel the same way.

It would be time to re-examine what processes and procedures that we may need to improve upon.

Legitimate concerns that are expressed by parents in the form of letters to the paper (I'm aware that sometimes the writers of these letters have their own axes to grind.) are a type of parental input. And parental input is a key component of any successful reform of public education.

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