Bill would grade parents, not just students

It could be just a matter of time before children in Florida’s public schools are asking to see their parents’ report cards.  State Representative Kelli Stargel has filed HB255, also known as the Parent Involvement and Accountability Public School Bill. Under its provisions, in addition to giving students grades on report cards, teachers would also assign grades to the parents, using one of three scores: satisfactory, needs improvement or unsatisfactory.

The parents’ grades would be based on several factors:

  • Parental requests for conferences or other communications with teachers;
  • Student completion of homework;
  • Student’s physical preparation for school that has an effect on their mental preparation. This includes whether children have had sufficient rest, lack school supplies or are improperly dressed; and
  • Student attendance and tardiness

Stargel, who is a mother to five children, filed the bill on January 18. It would require teachers to give grades to parents of students in Pre-K through 3rd grade. HB 255 states, "Without proper parental involvement in all aspects of a child's life, the child's prospects to be a well-equipped and useful member of society are greatly diminished." No argument here.

In this year’s State of the Union speech, President Obama called on parents to be more vigilant in overseeing their children’s education. “Only parents can make sure the TV is turned off and homework gets done,” the president said. However, Stargel’s bill goes beyond Obama’s call to action. Her supporters argue this type of legislation is needed to raise as a political issue those parents who fail to exercise what some would consider a basic duty to ensure their children are prepared for school each day. Others criticize her bill as an unparalleled government intrusion into parental decision-making.

The idea of punishing parents for their role in their children’s education is not without precedent. Parents in many states face jail time if their children have excessive absences. For example, last fall California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed SB 1317, a new statewide anti-truancy bill. In the most extreme cases, parents in California can now be fined up to $2,000 and be sentenced to one year in jail if their children miss school too often. Still, it seems a huge jump from requiring parents to ensure that their child attends school to requiring parents to make sure the child’s homework is complete, that the child has had enough sleep, and that all the school supplies the student will need are packed neatly away in a backpack. Oh yes, and heaven help the poor soul who fails to attend parent-teacher conferences.

One point that is unclear in the bill’s language is what would happen to parents consistently receiving low grades. The bill does not contain any provisions to fine or imprison a parent who consistently receives unsatisfactory marks. This lack of enforceability might present a quandary, since the state most likely could not force a parent receiving “unsatisfactory” marks to wear a scarlet letter on his or her forehead, or to allow the child to take away t.v. privileges from parents receiving low grades on a report card. Perhaps it would be enough for the parent to receive a good old-fashioned tongue-lashing from the teacher or school administrator, admonishing the parents to do a better job monitoring their child’s school progress. However, lecturing the students is tough enough for educators. I suspect few teachers or administrators relish the thought of chastising red-faced parents for their lack of attention to their children’s education.