March 12, 2016 11:38:54 PM
A bill coauthored by District 41 Rep. Kabir Karriem (D-Columbus) in the Mississippi Legislature takes a unique approach in looking to improve parental involvement in schools -- grading parents.
House Bill 4, would allow teachers to rate parents as "satisfactory," "in need of improvement," or "unsatisfactory" based on involvement.
According to the bill, authored by District 76 Rep. Gregory Holloway (D-Hazlehurst), which is called the Parental Involvement and Accountability Act, parental involvement is measured through four criteria: parental response to requests for conferences or communication, the student's completion of homework and preparation for tests, the frequency of the student's absence and tardiness, and the student's overall grade per a nine-week assessment.
Passed by House of Representatives on a 75-43 vote on March 4, HB 4 now heads to the Senate for consideration.
Karriem, who is serving his first term after leaving the city council for the legislature, said parental involvement is important, especially in low-performing districts like Columbus'.
"We shouldn't have to have bills like this to make parents get involved," Karriem said. "We do need this, especially in those C, D and F schools, where parental involvement is the first step in moving the school district's letter grade."
The Mississippi Department of Education rates school districts annually based on overall district performance. In the latest available accountability rankings, for 2014, the Lowndes County School District had a B rating, Columbus Municipal School District had a D rating, Clay County School District had a C rating, and the West Point School District had a D. The Starkville-Oktibbeha County School District, which began its first school year in the fall, did not exist at the time. However, both the Starkville and Oktibbeha County school districts had C ratings.
Lowndes County School District Superintendent Lynn Wright said he encourages increased parental involvement. However, he said he wasn't sure that grading parent involvement is the best way to promote it.
"We have some very successful kids who may have terrible home life," Wright said. "We have some kids who have great parents who may turn out wrong. It's hard to grade a parent on several issues."
Wright said he's also concerned about how students would perceive the grades. He expressed further concern about a child comparing their parents' grades to their peers.
He also said it's hard to measure a parent's impact on a child's education.
"A parent may be working 10 hours a night, but they're busting their tails trying to provide for the family," Wright said. "There are just so many variables with grading the parents."
Columbus Municipal School District Superintendent Philip Hickman said his district is more focused on the things it can control, rather than grading parent involvement.
"We know the factors that contribute to student failure," Hickman said. "Lack of parent involvement, poverty -- but none of those things do we as a school district have control over. What we do have control over is every minute millisecond that our child walks into our building and the minute millisecond that that child leaves, what impact we have on that child."
The Dispatch could not reach Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District Superintendent Lewis Holloway for comment.
Karriem acknowledged that the bill can't fix everything. But he said he feels it's needed as a first step to help move the ball toward improvement in some of the state's districts.
"Basically what this bill is saying is that it all starts at home," he said. "We've got to get involved. It's easy to point fingers at the educational system, but we all have to take steps to make districts better and it starts with parental involvement. It's not a panacea for everything, but it's a start."
HB 4 includes other mandatory measures for C, D and F school districts. Many of them come through an amendment added by District 80 Rep. Omeria Scott (D-Laurel).
The amendment includes required homework assignments, handwriting instruction in manuscript and cursive, mandatory written assignments to accompany daily reading, a mandatory assignment of one book to read per subject each month, which the child must then write a short report on. Also required would be the assigning of each student at least five words per week to learn in each subject area.
The amendment also requires school uniforms, mandates at least two parent-teacher conferences per nine weeks for students who have "not mastered his or her coursework for the mid-term or who has demonstrated bad citizenship, and forbids teachers from wearing clothing such as blue jeans and t-shirts outside of pre-approved situations.
Karriem said he liked some of the measures in the amendment, such as the requirement for cursive writing instruction. He worried that the additions might ultimately hurt the bill's chances to pass in the Senate. He also said some of the provisions add extra burden to already overworked teachers.
"Where I do believe that those amendments are something that are needed, I don't know that it should have been added to this particular bill here because it takes away the core principles of what we've been trying to do as far as making parents accountable," he said.
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