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Blame parents or involve them?

By Guest blogger on Feb 15, 2012 03:00 PM

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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Comments (28)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 15, 2012 3:54 pm

I asked a parent of a very young child to please encourage her child to do his homework every night. She replied, "I'm not going to encourage him. That's his problem." Does anyone think she would respond to some of these very constructive suggestions? We have to face the reality that we must sometimes understand that a child is not going to get support from home and figure out how to give it to him/her in some other way. We can't blame children when their parents don't care.

However, every single one of the kids who have participated in acts of mob violence knew what they were doing was wrong. And often their parents had no clue where they were late on school nights. And those two sets of responsible parties are absolutely to blame. We can support people who want support, but let's not completely abandon the concept of personal responsibility.

We might consider working social education into a curriculum that cares only for test results - and start it at kindergarten.

Submitted by Quibila A. Divine (not verified) on February 15, 2012 10:29 pm

Conversely, I have had hundreds of Philadelphia's parents attend workshops to get a better understanding of what the law says about their rights and responsibilities to be actively engaged in the academic success of their child. Perhaps, the parent with whom you spoke was unsure how to be encouraging to her child. I am of the understanding that most parents want what is best for their child. Some just don't know how to give it to them.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 16, 2012 12:13 pm

Most parents do want what's best for their children, but there are some that don't care and their children can't be shrugged off because of this. Realistically, we must be aware of alternatives when there is no support at home.

I do agree with you that most parents do care and that it would lift up our nation to support them and their children. The Johnson Administration's Great Society aimed to do that and a lot of success was seen until Richard Nixon shut down the program.

Submitted by Nijmie Dzurinko (not verified) on February 15, 2012 4:35 pm

I think this is a great post with excellent suggestions Quibila. We need more leaders like you who are good at meeting parents where they are and really working with them. I've seen the results of your efforts, and I'm excited to keep working with you!

Submitted by Quibila A. Divine (not verified) on February 15, 2012 10:28 pm

Thanks, Nijmie! YOU and your work are appreciated.

Submitted by Teach (not verified) on February 15, 2012 4:37 pm

Teaching Communities About Parenting, a local non-profit, should be engaged as part of this effort. They do some great work.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 15, 2012 8:25 pm

It's quite possible to blame parents while involving them. We want to involve them so that they can solve the problem rather than be blamed for it.

Submitted by Andrea Lawful Trainer (not verified) on February 16, 2012 7:23 am

and herein lies the "rub" with Public Education. If time, energy and resources were spent ENGAGING parents, the schools would be in a much better place than it is in right now. It has become the mantra of the day to blame parents who need so much help themselves, that they are just in survival mode. Poverty and hopelessness will do that to you. Oftentimes, these parents end up in this place because they were not afforded the kind of education that would then empower them to see beyond the four walls they live within. So now, the rubber meets the road as what has been in place for decades has now come home to roost and instead of having the message being spread by parents that public education is wonderful, just the opposite is happening. Let me see how long it takes for the people who CAN do something about this,to actually stop doing reports and surveys long enough to actually DO something and make progress..The Educators that are in the trenches and cry daily because they want their students to do well are being drowned by the negative chatter about the children, the families and the lack of resources they have.

Submitted by Veteran of WPHS "Renaissance" (not verified) on February 16, 2012 1:49 pm

This was a great post, and I'm glad that the blogger called attention to the importance of "involving" parents. I hope that "involve" actually could translate into "engage" -- which I think is very different when it comes to schools. I know that there are state laws regarding clearance to work in schools, but in my experience there are two barriers to engagement that schools themselves can address: 1) principals and teachers earnestly can include parents in learning about and even contributing to decisions about instruction, school policies, and other programming. Check out Lynn Strieb's book, Inviting Families into the Classroom: Learning from a Life in Teaching; 2) Principals and teachers can spend time really learning about the communities that their students live in and seeing the assets that are in fact present in these communities and in students' homes/families. I know there are skeptics out there, but there are precedents for programs that have proven valuable for school-family connections. Rather than start out with the expectation that it is the parents' obligation to come to the school as the measure of "involvement," what about an expectation that professionals working in a particular community should learn first hand what that community is like, what they might build on. For information about a successful program funded by the state of California, see the Parent Teacher Home Visit program: There is plenty of other research that suggests ways this can be accomplished.

Submitted by Anon (not verified) on February 16, 2012 9:44 am

Stop having sex when you're unprepared for the consequences of the act. Schools can't be all things to all people. They were started to provide an education, now the inner-cities want them to be 1-stop shops for all types of social ills. At what point in time does the individual bear responsibility?

Parents in the poorest parts of Africa will pay for their kids to go to school, make them walk/run 3-5 miles to said school, and make sure they get an education even though they themselves may be dying from AIDS, yet here, it's the schools'/government's responsibility to fix everything. Why?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 19, 2012 9:36 pm

The poor parents in "Africa" don't have the money to pay for school..their children don't GO to school. Check with someone from one of the poor countries in Africa and elsewhere.

I don't expect a school to fix social ills, I just expect my property tax dollars from my house in Philadelphia to be used appropriately, educating my child. That means a teacher actually knows the standards of the curriculmn for the class they teach, assess a student properly, can evidence that to a parent without being hostile because the parent is poor, doesn't speak English as a first language, or works full time.

If a teacher refuses to interact with the students and their parents professionally, according to the ethical and scholarly responsiblity we as members of the community they teach in , in their role as a public servant, then I think we as consumers have a right to complain about it.

Submitted by Sylvia P. Simms (not verified) on February 16, 2012 12:42 pm

Effective Parental Engagement=Student Success. It's not Rocket Science.

Submitted by Quill (not verified) on February 16, 2012 9:21 pm

Have we lost the meaning of the old saying it take a village to raise a child. These kids did not start out with the mind set of wreaking havoc on this city, it was taught to them. Now I am not going to say parents are not at fault because we all should take responsibity for our actions. I believe that parents should regulate and the schools should educate and these politicians should partake and be more responsible with the resources that have been bestowed upon them.

Submitted by Quibila A. Divine (not verified) on February 17, 2012 6:20 am

Unfortunately, there are attempts in schools, districts, and states to regulate the "village" and set parameters about who and how one can be actively be engaged in a child's academic success. It is a time when many people are leaving districts for charter, private, and Catholic schools, administrators find time to be unwelcoming to those who want to assist in ensuring a quality education for their young relatives.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 19, 2012 9:47 pm

Parents want to be involved in schools but teachers and principals in this school district can be so hostile to parents. I had to hang up on a principal when she refused to explain why she was giving a detention to a kindergartner for being late a few minutes the first few weeks of school about four times. I called the district and complained but she, the principal, continued to be so horribly unprofessional with me that her supervisor had to intercede and have her meet with us and apologize.

For 2 yrs the community liason refused to provide me with the paperwork to volunteer at the school, only with a new principal this year are parents allowed to volunteer.

The former reading and literacy teacher told me that I should not question why my 1st grader received a C in writing his first semester and that there was no need for me to even meet with them. She claimed every student in 1st grade received a C.

I could site example after example of how unprofessional, patronizing and hostile the elementary school was to parents. Every time I walked my child to school, I dreaded leaving my child there because I didn't know what my five year old was experiencing. If I had the money to afford a private school, I would have switched him right away, and instead I am doing the charter school lottery.

The r & l teacher also smoked right in front of the school doors as children were walking into the school in the morning and when I complained, she told me she would quit if I made it so that she had to go off of school grounds and smoke.

I also can't tell you how many times I hear teachers say they don't call parents, or talk to the parents about a problem because they assume (without making any effort) that the parent doesn't care. I hear it ALL l the time. But if a parent doesn't care, why haven't they reported the parents for neglect.
The school makes parents stand outside and ask a person at the door instead of allowing a parent entry into the school office, the teacher's get angry and hostile when you ask to have a conference about a grade, they do not share curriculumn, standards and ways of assessment. I had a teacher run out of her classroom when I stopped by (I have my clearances and had principal approval) and refused to teach while being observed by me, the parent of a 6 yr old student in her class.

Philadelphia Public Schools need to stop being hostile and unprofessional as they relate to parents of their students and work on encouraging our participation, not blocking it. Any school official who tries to prevent a parent understanding what's happening with their child while spending hours in their care must have something to hide in my opinion. I am not a teacher and may not understand my role in supporting my child's education which is why I would expect a school to assist me as it benefits my child who is the real customer after all.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 19, 2012 11:40 pm

I'm sorry that you've had such bad experiences with the staff at your son's school. The atmosphere where I teach is nothing like what you have described, so it seems unfair to paint all of the District schools with the same brush. Perhaps you can try for a transfer. I'm sure that there are plenty of schools where you and your son will feel more welcome. Good luck.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 19, 2012 11:33 pm

Luckily the school has a new principal this year who is wonderful! Professional, welcoming to Parents and supportive to Teachers. I didn't know you could transfer to another school, the regional superintendent did not mention it at all. She was also excellent. A professional commited to urban education and students. No parent should have to experience what I and other parents experienced. Because it was never about us as Parents, but our children. And why should I have to transfer my child to another school? Because a teacher refused to not smoke around small children??? It was our neighborhood school, should I have left all our neighbors kids to inhale smoke in the morning?

Before people complain that parents don't care or are willing to get involved in the schools, you need to respect what happens at any experience was not unique, I have gotten to know other parents and we share horror stories. I also now sit in a classroom with a bunch of teachers getting a graduate degree in education, and they are from lots of different schools in the district and I hear the stuff they say about Parents.

But if you know of a public elementary school that has made AYP for over 8 years and is not a charter lottery or private school in the city that I can transfer my child too, and won't have to drive more than a half an hour one way, please, please share the names!

Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on February 20, 2012 4:49 am

As a SDP parent and teacher, I am also sorry about your horrible experience but not surprised. Even as a SDP teacher, I have found some principals and teachers very stand offish and condescending. They are not providing the school environment - from curriculum to climate - that they would demand for their children. Unfortunately, I think it gets worse in high school.

Too many Philly principals are in a position of power because of who they know - not what they know. Just as the police protect the "blue line," there is a "sisterhood" and "brotherhood" of principals and higher up administrators who protect each other. It is extremely frustrating as a parent who knows "the system" and just wants the best for my children - just as every other parent. It certainly increases my desire to not have my children in the SDP when a principal will lie to cover his or her backside.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on February 20, 2012 9:15 am

How we choose our principals and how we remove them are two festering issues which need to be addressed in our school district.

Leadership matters and so does how we choose our leaders.

Back before the state takeover, we had site selection of principals and assistant principals where the local school community chose their own principals. That is how I was chosen by the Furness community to be their AP. Before the selection team voted me in, they checked me out by calling their friends at UCHS to see if I was a good guy or a bad guy. Check out my reputation with the Furness faculty.

That is a far better way to choose our leaders than selecting them in the back rooms of bureaucratic power where we more often function on the basis of "Whose friend are we putting in today?"

Democracy works far better than any other method of choosing effective leaders, especially if there is a democratic process for changing leadership if they prove themselves to be ineffective.

Good schools are not about the principals of those schools, they are about the community of those schools.

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on February 20, 2012 11:17 am

Thank you Rich for keeping this issue in our minds. It does not affect the finances in terms of staffing (a body is body here) but it affects so very much in terms of the achievement of the children. Ultimately it either builds parent support or drives this support away... so it is the key to this "low performing seat" rhetoric. Rather than replacing the seats, it is the principals that need to be replaced. Levering could've been kept, had this been done; however, who really cares which school survives or not? It would be the community of the schools which had good principals, who cared enough to build this community in the first place.

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on February 20, 2012 11:38 am

I completely commiserate with you. I volunteered extensively with clearances provided by the Parent Volunteer Program (this was about 6 years ago, not sure if this program still exists). I found out about this program throught the excellent work of the Home and School Council (thanks Addy Williams, Superwoman!). It was a battle to get involved. The principal paid a lot of lipservice, but gave no support. There was hostility from a senior staff member, who sent the school policeman after me as I sat in a room staffing a uniform exchange closet. He wouldn't even give me her name (I pretty much knew who it was) and said she didn't want me "wandering the hallways" (after 2 years of being in the school daily and with clearances to boot.) I could go on and on with other incidents...but I've washed my hands and added another layer of cynicsm to my outlook.

You could start with looking at the "schools" link at the PSD's website to find one that has made AYP. Cook-Wissahickon is (non special admit, non charter, with very strong parent involvement) excellent, but unfortunately at capacity. Nearby Cook, is Dobson which has a good academic record also. What is your target area of the City?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 20, 2012 2:48 pm

So sorry to read about your experience at your child's school. I often say to myself, it is better to be professional to parents and other caregivers than to be nasty and mean to them because in essence they pay my salary. Having said that, I also firmly believe that it is often not what is said, but how it is said that causes problems. If you visited your child's classroom during instructional time and wanted to speak to the teacher and staff, that time was not appropriate. An appointment is necessary. Explaining to a parent why a child received a particular grade is necessary along with guidance on how the child can improve the grade is a must. It is important that parents and teachers work as a team to support and educate the children. I have had situations myself where parents have been irate and nasty and that has been the exception rather than the rule, I smile, I say what I need to say in a professional and calm manner and I move on. Parents and other caregivers always need to be mindful of their approach to teachers and other staff at their child's school. Always remember, the schools have your child, in most instances, longer than you do, in terms of waking hours. It is always best to have a good working relationship with the schools.

Submitted by MBA to M'Ed mom (not verified) on February 21, 2012 10:14 am

I went to observe my sons behavior, not to talk to the teacher, as he told me his teacher had given him an 1h time out for not putting away something quickly enough in class. I should mention my mom is a first grade teacher - not in Philly, so I always check with her before I do anything. I am a professional, so I have never been rude or disrespectful towards anyone, but was shocked when teachers are towards me, especially in front of my child.

Because teacher's have my child for so many hours during the day, I would say it's better for the TEACHER to have a good working relationship with ME as the parent. I am trusting them with MY child, and if they are hostile, disrespectful, condesending or rude to me, especially when I first meet with them at a SCHEDULED appointment, warning bells start flashing and I now start thinking child abuse because why would someone be rude, dismissive or block the interference of the parent of the child they have in their care unless they are doing something NOT RIGHT? NO ONE, not even a teacher has the right to my child, nor do I need to tolerate an abusive teacher, nor does my child!

It is better to be professional to a parent of a child instead of nasty...because if you are nasty to the parent, an adult, how do I know that you won't be nasty to a child??? Your response to me email really bothered me, especially as you have to REMIND YOURSELF TO NOT BE NASTY to the parents of the children you teach?? They are trusting you with their children, you REALLY need to respect that trust.

Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on February 21, 2012 4:17 pm

Thank you, again, for sharing your story. You are absolutely right - if a teacher is disrespectful to parents I also assume they are disrespectful toward students.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 21, 2012 5:09 pm

A one hour timeout--ABSOLUTELY is not acceptable. Timeout's should only be as long as the child's age, 7 minutes for a 7 year older, and it might be less depending on the child's ability to comprehend the punishment and the child's ability to understand what they did incorrectly. I personally try hard not to use timeouts because of many articles that I have read about the negative affects it has on children and what children have said about how timeouts make them feel. I have asked for input from my own children as to what they believe should be their punishment or "timeout" for an infraction, and surprisingly, they come up with some pretty good ones on their own.

So sorry that my post and not email disturbed you. Both the parent and the teacher or teacher and the parent, need to be respectful of each other. And yes, at times, I do need to remind myself to not fall into the trip of being nasty, particularly if someone is not listening and is talking to me disrespectfully. In all of my years as an educator, I have only had one parent speak to me in a way that was not acceptable to me and I dealt with her accordingly, (and it wasn't at the time when the incident occurred, but later when the parent and I had a chance to think about what happened and were able to talk with each other and not to each other--there is a difference) with a smile and my charming, winning personality. And now we have a wonderful working relationship because we both want what is best for her/his children--a firm, good education so that her/his children can grow up and become productive members of society, with jobs, and the ability to take care of themselves in this society.
Again, my comment was not to offend, but to bring another perspective.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 20, 2012 7:11 pm

Ladies and geantleman, it is simple. The apple does not fall far from the tree. The reason why many of the students in the PSD are screwed up is because their parent(s) are screwed up. We can either confront that fact or stay in denial and continue to search for some magic bullet that will solve all the PSD's problems.

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on February 21, 2012 7:09 am

But the answer is not to give up on these kids. I have had the pleasure of working directly with the kids of some really (sorry, I would use the word "psychotic") "out of touch","immature" parents; and these kids are the best hope of change. Ha ha, these parents thought I was trying to "show off" and even though they didn't have time to make sure educational things (which had no value to them and they couldn't comprehend) happen, boy did they have time to put me down.

Submitted by Hines (not verified) on September 3, 2014 1:16 am
I know that there are hundreds of parents who attended the seminar in Philadelphia. Them in order to better understand these laws and regulations, which can actively participate in their children's learning in the past, And define their rights and responsibilities. I think that all parents want to give their children the best thing, But sometimes, they do not know what children really need.  ionixe

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