Union wants more parental involvement in schools

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Capital News Service
LANSING— A new proposal that would allow parents to become more involved with their child’s education without risk of losing their jobs would improve educational performance, according to the Michigan Education Association (MEA).
The MEA has called for “parental involvement in education” legislation, said Doug Pratt, director of public affairs for the state’s largest union of school employees.
“The act would require employers to release employees who are parents or guardians of school-aged children to allow them to attend parent-teacher conferences,” Pratt said.
Pratt said that parents and guardians of students should be able to leave work to be involved in their child’s education.
“We are not suggesting that the employer has to pay for the time off, although that would be a very socially responsible thing for them to do,” Pratt said.  “What we are saying is that they can’t penalize employees who can prove that, a few times per year, they are attending parent-teacher conferences or engaging in other critical school interactions.”
Pratt says “critical parent-teacher interactions” include special education, guidance counselor sessions and disciplinary meetings.
Paul Duby, associate vice president for institutional research at Northern Michigan University, said parental involvement is necessary in a student’s life.
“Anytime a parent is involved with their child’s education, it gives the student positive reinforcement,” Duby said.
According to Duby, schools should encourage parents to be involved as much as possible, or else their children may be less motivated.
“My whole educational career is based on positive reinforcement, which is why it’s necessary for teachers and parents to be part of the student’s lives,” Duby said.
Northern Michigan trains and encourages future teachers to communicate with parents from early in the education system, said Duby.
“Teachers and parents have to be there for the students, and we teach that message throughout our teacher education program,” Duby said.
According to Pratt, the MEA is especially concerned about parents who are lower-wage, hourly workers who don’t get much personal vacation time and could lose their jobs if they miss work to attend school functions.
“No one should get fired from their job for wanting to take an active role in their child’s education,” Pratt said.
Iris Salters, president of the MEA, said the purpose of the proposal is to fix how the state takes care of students and teachers.
“Legislators don’t understand what it is like for single-parent families to be involved in their child’s education, so we are doing what we can to improve that relationship,” Salters said.
According to Salters, changes in education should be collective, children have to start doing well early in their education and parental involvement provides a good foundation.
Pratt said, parental involvement is one of the best indicators for success in students.
“They can hold their child accountable for homework and discipline and reinforce school lessons in a home environment. Without basic communication between parents and educators, students can be at a significant disadvantage,” Pratt said.
Pratt said the concept is not in bill form yet, but MEA is looking for lawmakers to introduce the legislation.
(c) 2011 Capital News Service, Michigan State University. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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