Connecticut School District Wants Report Cards for Parents

Parents in Connecticut might be the ones getting the report cards if a proposed plan makes the grade at a Manchester public school district.

Steven Edwards, a Republican member of the Manchester Board of Education who’s up for re-election Nov. 6, wants parents to be evaluated on a handful of what he says are objective measures — including whether their children have done the homework and eaten a good breakfast.

"I tried to design something modest [measuring] things that virtually everybody would agree parents should do to help their kids," Edwards said. "We don't have our staff making any subjective evaluations."

The idea has angered parents, and the local PTA vows to fight the plan.

"People are going to be extremely offended by it," said Jackie Madore, president of the Manchester Parent Teacher Association Town Council. "I don't feel the report cards on parental skills is the way to go. ... It's going to be the parents against the Board of Education, basically."

Edwards says parents aren't properly preparing their kids for school. He's proposed evaluations on whether parents get their children to class on time, ensure their kids have completed their homework each night and attend the twice-yearly parent-teacher conferences about the children’s report cards and academic progress.

The other two categories — which Edwards admitted are more a matter of interpretation — would give parents a positive or negative grade depending on whether their children seem to have been fed an adequate breakfast and are appropriately dressed for the weather.

"If a student complains that he or she is hungry and the teacher can hear the student's stomach grumbling, why? What's the story? How can we help with that?" explained Edwards, who has 13-year-old and 10-year-old daughters in the district.

Edwards said he'd like to see teachers and school administrators give the parents a pass or fail check — not in a printed report card like their children get, but during the biannual parent-teacher conferences.

But the local PTA says the plan doesn't reduce the need for communication between parents and teachers.

"To sit down in November and in March for 15 or 20 minutes with your child's teacher isn't enough," said Madore, who has a daughter in fifth grade and two sons in high school. "You need more teachers, administrators and Board of Education members reaching out to parents."

She said the draft she's seen of the policy had parents receiving scores in each of the categories, not just checkmarks.

The Connecticut board of education hasn't taken an official position on the subject, and ultimately such decisions are up to local school officials. But the head of policy services at the state level said he’d like to see energies focused elsewhere.

“The issue of grading parents is very difficult,” said Vincent Mustaro of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE). “I would rather see local boards of education work with parents in terms of what their role is and assisting their child rather than grading them. I don’t know what that achieves.”

The Manchester school district is also against the idea.

"The way Mr. Edwards has presented it, I'm opposed to it," said Manchester superintendent Kathleen Ouellette. "There are other types of assessments at schools that are not as intrusive. There’s a lot we already do, anyway. This can be very intimidating and will probably anger some parents if it's not administered in a sensitive way."

Ouellette said she'd rather see a more positive parental outreach approach, one that doesn't alienate already over-stressed mothers and fathers.

Manchester isn't the first school district to consider issuing report cards to parents. Chicago tried it — and failed. So did a district in Lebanon, Pa., which wound up broadening the concept into a larger program to get parents more involved.

Edwards, who has been talking about implementing the reverse report cards for the past year, said his policy isn't nearly as far-reaching as Chicago's — which graded moms and dads on things like how much quality time they spent with their children. His plan, he said, aims to help parents who need it the most.

"This becomes a way of identifying who needs extra help and using resources to reach out to these parents," he said. "It's not meant to be punitive in any way."

Edwards, who's running for a third term on the board, denied that he's pushing grading parents as an election-year issue to win votes. Feedback, he added, has been across the spectrum, with principals and parents generally opposed and teachers mostly in favor.

"The reaction is mixed," he said. "I recognize this is a controversial issue."

There are about 7,500 students in the 10 elementary schools, one middle school and one high school at the Manchester district, whose student population is about 52 percent white and about 48 percent nonwhite.

Half of the elementary schools are Title I, meaning they're funded by the government and serve a lower socio-economic area. Many of the kids are from single-parent households or homes where both parents have to work long hours to make ends meet, according to Madore.

She adds that for some parents, time and transportation restrictions would affect whether they get good scores on their report cards. She said she doesn't think that's fair and plans to inform parents of the proposal by word of mouth — then devise a plan of action to quash it once the new board is installed.

"I'd be ticked," Madore said. "They're telling you what to do with your kid."