BALOG COLUMN: Involvement should be by choice
A proposal that Charleston County School District parents be required to spend eight hours a year volunteering in their children's schools has been met with mixed reaction, as you might expect.
Response to a postandcourier.com poll was 2-1 against the idea.
If the goal were to have parents fill the void that's been created by state budget cuts, then opposition could be more clearly understood, even if some parents applaud budget cuts in general.
As it is, there might just need to be more explanation, and more flexibility.
Because we said so
There's clearly a group of parents like Hope Hannon, featured in Friday's coverage, who are already actively involved.
There's another group who are probably involved with their kids' homework at home but don't make appearances at the school. And then there's another group that probably doesn't know where to begin.
Comments about the story Friday on postandcourier.com were running about 2-1 with the majority assailing the plan as liberals legislating morality and the rest a bit of a mish-mash of greatest hits of education complaints: teachers should be teaching, parents should be involved, etc. etc.
The people saying that there's no need for something like this likely either don't have kids or are already involved in one way or another.
It's probably not that parents are opposed to being involved with or helping out at their children's schools, it's that they bristle at being required to do so.
Some parents don't know how to do that, either because they're working all the time or because they lack the necessary skills.
Options for involvement
A 2011 bill from the national PTA would have changed that, by providing money for literacy training and a place for parents to volunteer. Of course, being a piece of legislation, it also includes things like changing the name of the centers from Parental Information Resource Centers to Statewide Family Engagement Centers. But the goals remain the same -- get parents more involved in their kids' education.
"The Family Engagement in Education Act will promote meaningful family engagement policies and programs at the national, state, and local levels to ensure that all students are on track to be career and college-ready," the bill reads.
That sounds surprisingly reasonable.
The Michigan Department of Education has examined the research about parent involvement in children's education. It found that parental involvement is important, but lots of parents aren't sure how to help their children. It also cites different levels of involvement. In fact, there are national standards for parental involvement based on standards created by a professor at Center on School, Family , and community Partnerships at Johns Hopkins University. Volunteering is one of the six, but it's not the only thing.
The school district should consider a multi-pronged approach. Offer parents some guidelines on how to help their kids. That could be just as valuable as having someone volunteer in the classroom, and maybe moreso.
If it's not feasible for a parent to volunteer at the school, it might be feasible for him to read with his son once a week, which is also listed as one of the six standards.
But that's not community service; that's parenting.