Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Rethinking Parent-Teacher Conferences

This is parent conference week around our California junior high school, so we're thinking about ways of making these encounters a more productive experience for the parent, the student, and ourselves. Alexander Russo's This Week In Education links to a timely thought-provoking article on meeting with parents:
A ninth-grade teacher I know spent nights and weekends last spring preparing for parent-teacher conferences, but only about 30 percent of the parents showed up. "The parents I needed to see most didn’t come for their appointments," she said.

Her experience is typical. In most districts, parent participation in conferences drops off significantly in middle school and high school. In this teacher’s rural district, about 85 percent of kindergarten parents signed up for the spring conferences, but only a handful of 12th-grade parents attended -- mostly to discuss their kids’ college plans.

Perhaps it’s time to rethink parent-teacher conferences altogether. The conferences consume a lot of time and energy, but they seldom improve student achievement, according to Harvard University’s home-school communication study.

In Beyond the Parent-Teacher Conference, Heather Weiss and her co-researchers record the number of times parents in the transition study attended formal home-school events when their children were in kindergarten and first grade: 85 percent attended one or more parent-teacher conferences during a school year; 80 percent attended an open house; and 67 percent visited a classroom while school was in session.

Why do so many parents and teachers dread parent-teacher conferences? Harvard University’s Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot says many parents find sitting in little chairs and facing their child’s teacher a haunting experience. In her 2003 book The Essential Conversation, Lawrence-Lightfoot says "ghosts in the classroom" -- the parents’ recollections of their own unhappy school experiences -- often inhabit the room and get in the way of a productive conference.
There is much, much, more to read in the entire piece, and I believe that it's worth your while to take a look.

In this new era of increased accountability, I think that it's prudent to keep an open mind and be receptive to new ideas about how we as parents and educators can be more responsive to the academic needs of our kids.
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