As Indiana’s leaders discuss more ways to reform the state’s public education system, many teachers are understandably defensive.
They argue that it’s really parents, not teachers, who have the greatest impact on a child’s success in school. And they note that without that parental involvement, teachers are at a huge disadvantage in trying to motivate a struggling student.
Some teachers argue that what the state really ought to do is crack down on lousy parents. It ought to hit them in the pocketbook, making their families ineligible for certain forms of public assistance.
The frustration these teachers are expressing is reasonable. It is hugely difficult to make a child do homework and pay attention in class if the message from home is that education doesn’t matter.
It’s also true that some students are faced with obstacles at home that go beyond the quality of parenting. They live in environments where concern about where the next meal is coming from takes a higher priority than finishing that math assignment. They live in homes where a single mom working two jobs is simply too worn out at the end of the day to run through her child’s spelling list.
And none of that is the fault of Indiana’s teachers.
Still, it’s a bad idea for the state to begin handing out punishments to disengaged parents.
Unlike private schools or even charter schools, public schools have a responsibility to educate every child, regardless of the baggage he or she might carry. Public schools don’t, and shouldn’t, have the option of turning away the students who don’t show up in the classroom ready to learn.
Hitting such families with penalties might get the attention of parents, but what it will almost certainly do is make life more difficult for a child who is already facing a steeper climb than the average student.
Schools need to find ways to remove those obstacles to learning.
They also need to take advantage of those parents who already are engaged, and they need to look for incentives to encourage those parents who aren’t.
There will always be students living in less than ideal circumstances. It’s the job of the public schools, and the community at large, to find ways to reach those students in spite of the roadblocks.