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Posted at 11:30 AM ET, 06/08/2011

Holding parents accountable: Grades? Fines? Jail?

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This was written by Catherine Durkin Robinson, a nationally syndicated writer and the founder/president of National Coalition for Accountable Parenting. She lives in Tampa.

The organization is focused on encourating a national discussion about the importance of effective parenting and empowering the public to hold parents accountable.

Just how much say the public should have in the way people parent is a controversial issue, especially now, amid increasing calls for schools to find ways to hold parents accountable for their involvement in their children’s education. Is there any way to do this fairly? It is something schools should be doing in any case? Robinson thinks do. Do you?

By Catherine Durkin Robinson

Legislators, groups, and school officials across the country are trying to change No Child Left Behind and make the law, along with our schools and education in general, much better. They stress the importance of teachers, administrators, and community leaders, and bemoan our students’ lack of knowledge when compared to the rest of the world.

Why don’t they mention parents in this equation?

Despite this particular example, there is a growing movement to hold parents accountable. Bills introduced in Florida a few months ago call on school administrators to grade parents for their involvement, or lack thereof, and in Indiana there was a call to require parental participation in a child’s education for a certain amount of hours each semester.

In a last-ditch effort to curb out-of-control truancy levels, many states have decided that punishing the parents of chronically absent kids is an appropriate response. In Maryland, some parents have been jailed for failing to bring their kids to school. Parents in Alaska can be fined up to $500 for every five unexcused absences, and California passed a law allowing them to prosecute, fine, and jail parents in similar situations.

Some experts argue that these policies alone won’t work. Of course, simply incarcerating incompetent moms and dads won’t bring all truant children back to school full-time. A failing grade alone won’t encourage every set of parents to behave better and start taking their responsibilities seriously.

However, combined with other initiatives, finally stating with policy instead of rhetoric that parental involvement matters is extremely effective in eliciting change.

And, quite frankly, it’s about time.

Other proposals should be considered as well.

In the rush to punish people who bring children into this world without the skills to raise them properly, we often forget that rewarding the opposite type, parents who are wise and informed and responsible, is just as worthy an idea.

Those who ensure their children are regularly attending school, earning satisfactory grades, and displaying appropriate conduct, should be held up as positive examples. Why not reward them with discounts from participating local businesses, as well as a more substantial child tax credit from the federal government?

Parents who take it one step further and attend parent-teacher conferences every month, participate in the school’s PTO, and volunteer at least five hours each school semester deserve even more congratulations and should enjoy the public’s appreciation for a job well done through rebates on local taxes and credits toward tuition-assistance programs when their kids go off to college.

These are just a few suggestions. When talking to concerned citizens across the country, I’ve heard even more ways to applaud our responsible parents and encourage others to either follow their example or refrain from having kids altogether. Showing appreciation and support is the least we can do for people who make our world better, and society safer.

How can we bring this about? School districts can distribute report cards showing a student’s attendance record, academic performance, conduct, and parental involvement. That’s the first step.
A more thorough report card would be the necessary proof a parent needs to take part in business and government programs designed to congratulate them. This would mean a bit more work for educators, to ensure accurate transcripts.

However, if administrators could be assured of public support and that such nominal work would guarantee better partnership with parents, bringing about higher grades and better schools, they’d be more likely to support it.

Disincentives have their place, too, and criminalizing all ineffective parents isn’t necessarily the answer. Perhaps we should consider mandatory parenting classes, less substantial child tax credits, and community service hours for those whose children commit crimes or drop out of school due to behavior and/or academic problems. Researchers at the Prevention Research Center in Arizona studied the long-term effectiveness of parenting programs and found considerable evidence that such interventions positively impact children’s health and development demonstrated from one to 20 years after the program was delivered.

Why aren’t we encouraging more of this?

Americans are tired of underperforming schools and recognize we cannot continue to blame teachers. Overworked and underpaid educators only see these children for a short amount of time each day and cannot possibly undo years of neglect, abuse, or denial in their toughest pupils. Administrators and students alike need real help from moms and dads. And in every study conducted on violent and criminal youth, there exists some evidence suggesting a troubled home life plays a part.

We continue to ignore the importance of effective parenting at our peril.

National Coalition for Accountable Parenting, a new advocacy group formed to encourage effective parenting and empower the public to hold parents accountable, is helping to bring this important issue to center stage where it belongs. NCAP is committed to teaching parents, regardless of gender or circumstance, the necessary skills to raise children not only effectively, but in a way that brings honor to themselves and their family.

Working with progressive groups in every community to raise awareness and support effective parenting is the best way to influence this trend toward holding moms and dads accountable. NCAP is also lobbying school districts to add more information to K-12 report cards, which can then be used to reward everyday heroes who are raising good kids.

Parents are the most powerful force on earth. Our laws and policies must take a step toward recognizing that.

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