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Blame parents or involve them?

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This guest blog post comes from Quibila A. Divine, in response to a recent article about youth “wreaking havoc” on city streets.


To those who agree with our Deputy Mayor of Public Safety Everett Gillison, who feels that we need to blame parents for “reckless” youths, I say: "If they knew better, they would do better."

The federal government has recognized the importance of parental involvement in education. Since 1965, the U.S. Department of Education has given Title I funds to schools with large numbers of low-income students. At least 1 percent of these funds must be spent on parental involvement activities such as:

  • helping parents/caregivers understand the educational options available to them when their child's school does not meet adequate yearly progress;

  • helping parents/caregivers understand data (school and district report cards, student PSSA scores, and teacher quality);

  • teaching parents/caregivers how to reinforce learning at home;

  • preparing parents/caregivers to be actively engaged in their child's academic success through workshops, conferences, and trainings;

  • recruiting and teaching parents/caregivers to serve as equal partners with school and district administrators; and

  • teaching school-based staff and administrators how to engage all families.

Between fiscal year 2011 and 2012 the amount of funding available for these types of programs in Philadelphia doubled, to $2.4 million (item 18).

Now, imagine if we funded programs so that:

  • the parents/caregivers of children who are truant, who are in the court system, or who have Department of Human Services’ cases were strongly encouraged to volunteer three hours per week to form or join their child's school's safe schools corridor program.

  • these parents/caregivers would first receive the training necessary, such as the Graduation Coach program, to help them remember and discuss the goals and dreams that they had for their child at birth.

  • this training was expanded to those parents/caregivers who receive different types of public assistance.

  • some of the business partners who were willing to provide the money to pay our last superintendent to leave, would pay for the Criminal Records Checks and Child Abuse Clearances that are needed for these parents to volunteer in and around their child’s school ($20 per parent/caregiver).

Many of the youth, and some of their parents, are suffering from a lack of positive role models, hopelessness, and trauma/mental health issues. They often contend with low expectations that are held by some who are paid to educate and advocate for them. Considering this reality, we must begin to think outside of the box for solutions.

If we choose to blame the parents, let's do so only after we have exhausted all attempts to help them become active partners in the education of their children.

Perhaps, it is time for the mayor to develop a Parent and Family Advisory Commission (similar to the one he has for youth). The commission could offer suggestions about how families served by city agencies and organizations can be brought together to ensure that the parents/caregivers of children who are most at-risk, continuously receive the encouragement and education that they need to effectively advocate for their child's success. This Parent and Family Advisory Commission could be closely aligned with the Mayor’s Office of Education, Intermediate Unit 26, and the School Reform Commission.

Maybe, it’s time for the citizens of Philadelphia to finally see what research has consistently proven: when parents are actively engaged in their child’s education (regardless of race, color, income, or zip code), their child performs better academically and socially.

Rather than placing blame on parents who may have attended the same failing schools to which they now must send their children, we need to start developing and implementing effective partnerships. If we don’t, then who is to blame?

Quibila A. Divine is a former director of the Pennsylvania Governor’s Institute for Parental Involvement.

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