Q: Our son attends first grade at the local public school. At the beginning of the school year, all the parents were basically told that we are expected to go to the school’s parent website every day to keep up with our kids’ homework assignments. In addition, the “Parent Portal,” as it’s called, also lets us know what we are expected to help with at home. In effect, we are being made responsible for what, in our estimation, is a teacher’s responsibility. We are expected to know the material, monitor homework, and see to it that every assignment is not only done, but done properly. I’ve talked to several other parents who are not inclined to cooperate, but we all feel like we’re caught between a rock and a hard place. Advice?
A: A very good friend of mine with three school-age children says, “These parent portals bring a whole new level of crazy to parental over-involvement.” From the get-go, my friend let her children know that they were wholly responsible for their homework assignments and that their job was to make sure she and their father never had to get involved.
These parent homework portals take advantage of ubiquitous parent anxiety — borne largely by mothers who seem to think that their children’s grades reflect the quality of their parenting — regarding school achievement and successfully turn many parents/moms into micromanaging enablers. In so doing, teachers transfer a significant amount of responsibility for academic instruction to the home.
It is a fact without exceptions that enabling weakens. In this case, it weakens a child’s sense of personal responsibility and is, therefore, self-fulfilling. The more the parent enables, the more enabling the child in question seems to need. “I can’t!” becomes a frequent complaint.
This practice is supported neither by history, current research, or common sense. In the 1950s, when parent involvement in homework was generally very low to non-existent, student achievement at every grade level was significantly higher than it is today. Consistent with that statistic, recent research finds an inverse relationship between parent homework involvement and student achievement, a relationship that holds regardless of student ability or demographics. Finally, commonsense will confirm that the more personally responsible a person is, the better a job he or she will do, regardless of the task.
Why, in the face of this overwhelming evidence, do schools persist in pushing a policy that makes no sense? The answer has to do with the rigidity of bureaucracies as well as administrative obsession with achievement test scores. The sad fact is that this counterproductive policy is not going to change any time soon.
So, what’s a parent to do? Do what my friend has done. Simply do not cooperate with the policy, but do so in a way that does not draw attention. Let your children know that they are responsible for their homework and that there will be consequences should they require you to get involved. That is not to say that you should not provide the occasional example, check and give feedback on the occasional assignment, or answer the occasional question, but the operative word is and should always be “occasional.”
Visit family psychologist John Rosemond’s website at www.johnrosemond.com; readers may send him email at firstname.lastname@example.org; due to the volume of mail, not every question will be answered.