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Parents Have Homework Too: Staying Informed

September 21, 2002|ABRAHAM HOFFMAN | Abraham Hoffman teaches history at Los Angeles Valley College. He retired from the LAUSD in 1999 after teaching there for more than 30 years.

As the new school year begins, everyone is optimistic. Teachers tell themselves this year will be different, that they'll crack the barrier and actually reach and teach their students. Students figure it's a new year and a fresh start, at least until the first homework assignment they neglect to do or the first test they don't study for. And parents--well, parents want a safe school environment and their children to get good grades and a good education.

So much for the expectations. How about the reality? Will it be another year of burnout and low morale for teachers, apathy and lack of achievement from students and parental unhappiness because the schools aren't "doing their job"?

Parents of schoolchildren often take things for granted that they should be monitoring. They complain in the 19th week of the semester that their middle or high school child is failing classes. "Why wasn't I told?" they demand to know. Well, they need to know this essential fact: Schools inform parents periodically of their child's progress in school, usually at the fifth, 10th and 15th weeks, with a final grade at the 20th week. Teachers are also required to send home a course outline and explanation of grading standards.

In many ways these communications become a game. Teachers record the grades and the computer creates the progress report, but getting it home to the parent becomes someone else's problem. Because of budgetary considerations, many schools mail home only the 10th-and 20th-week grades. The fifth-and 15th-week progress reports are given to the child to be hand-carried home. Students often don't do this, either throwing the progress report away or else forging a parent's signature. And parents remain in blissful ignorance.

The time is long overdue for parents to wake up and be aware that these progress reports periodically inform them how their child is doing in school. There is no reason to be surprised at the final grade if the parents have been receiving the progress reports and doing their share in seeing that their children do the homework and studying necessary for a good grade.

One way for parents to become aware of these communications between school and home is to create a "parent awareness calendar." Call the school for the dates of important school events. Get suspicious if your child volunteers to "bring in the mail" at certain times of the year.

Parents should be aware that, at some time in the semester, schools have open houses and "back to school" nights. Students are notorious for throwing away the bulletins announcing such events, yet the event is crucial for parental involvement. Usually a high school gets about 300 parents attending; that's about one out of 10 parents and, as the teachers note, never the ones they really want to see.

Many teachers also issue a special report to parents when a student is doing failing work. These may be given to the student or mailed home. Copies of these reports are kept in the student's file. Parents who complain that they didn't receive notice that their child is failing a class have no one to blame but themselves. Students who tell their parents they don't have any homework, day after day, are not telling the truth. These parents need to let their children know they are on to such falsehoods and that they will contact the school to find out what is going on if they don't get the reports.

None of the above is meant to be cynical. But teachers really don't want to get phone calls from parents who have awakened too late to remedy their child's poor grades.

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