Atlanta Forward: Enforcing Parental Involvement In Education

Updated:

The Atlanta cheating scandal has put the focus on administrators and teachers. But what about the role of the parent in a child’s education? Should they be held more accountable? Some schools are requiring parents to sign a contract. And some counties are jailing parents who fail to keep their children in school.

It may look like an average day in a DeKalb County courtroom, but it’s anything but. Parent after parent face a judge. Their crime: educational neglect.

State law in Georgia says parents can face stiff penalties including jail time if their child has more than five unexcused absences.

But DeKalb County Solicitor General Sherry Boston says putting parents in jail is the last resort. She says her department makes several attempts to reach out to parents. When they don’t respond to letters, phone calls or visits from social workers, she says she has no choice.

Some of the parents arrested have children with more 40 or more unexcused absences. So far this year, her department has had over 700 cases of educational neglect referred to them.

“I don’t want to see any child not have an opportunity in life because their parent chooses not to take them to school,” Boston said.

Georgia is now one of several states that has laws forcing parents to be responsible with the threat of arrest. Parents in California face misdemeanor charges for too many unexcused absences. And in Alaska, mothers and fathers are fined.

But Tim Callahan of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators isn’t so sure it’s the best practice. “You can’t legislate being a good parent,” Callahan said

In many cases, teachers may need to play the role of parent, he said.

“Some of our students who are in most need of teacher affection, teacher support are those who don’t get it at home, and so teachers sometimes have to almost be a parent to some of the students,” Callahan said.

At Ivy Preparatory Academy in Gwinnett County, a successful student requires an involved parent. And administrators mean just that. Parents must sign a contract. So do the teachers.

“Our parents are the heartbeat of our school because if they don’t commit to getting their girl here and making sure she’s prepared and ready to learn when she gets here, then we wouldn’t be successful as a school and our girls wouldn’t be as successful as they are,” Principal Nina Gilbert said.

Ivy Prep expands to its first ninth-grade class this year. Traditionally, that is when moms and dads can lose some contact with their teen. Therese Aleman, whose daughter will be a freshman, says the key is finding a balance.

“I think parents struggle with how do I stay involved and how do I help them, but also how do I not over-architect for them because at some point we have to let them go,” Aleman said.

Principal Gilbert said it’s a model that’s working. In the most recent testing, her students were in the 90th percentile in math, science, social studies and language arts.

“We have to have the commitment from our parents that if we say your scholar needs additional academic support, it is expected that she is going to remain here until 5 o’clock to get that,” Gilbert said

As for the CRCT test, Gilbert said they don’t even talk about it until they are close to taking it. Instead of learning to be good test-takers, they concentrate of being great thinkers.