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A bill that would allow teachers in low-performing school districts to grade parental involvement on student report cards has passed the Mississippi House, but it now includes a controversial amendment that would also require daily homework, instruction in cursive writing, and a professional dress code for teachers in those schools.
The Parental Involvement and Accountability Act, which was proposed by Rep. Gregory Holloway, Sr., D-Hazlehurst, aims to improve parental involvement in schools, Holloway said. It would “grade” parents in districts that have been rated a C or lower by the state. Teachers would rate parents as “unsatisfactory,” “needs improvement” or “satisfactory” on their involvement in their children’s education.
At the last minute, Rep. Omeria Scott, D-Laurel, added her amendment, which includes the bulk of her Own Mississippi Save Our Children Act, legislation she has sponsored multiple years since 2005, and which died in committee when it appeared this session. Scott, who is black, introduced a bill this year with language that describes African-American children as “out of control” and says that their parents do not know how to handle them as an argument for why failing students and schools should be required to make the changes proposed in her bill. The current amendment does not include that description but would require many of the same provisions for struggling districts.
The amendment added a new dimension of responsibilities for parents, teachers and students. Should the bill become law, teachers would be required to assign at least five vocabulary words each week, give out nightly and weekend homework assignments and assign monthly book reports in each subject. All students would also be required to dress in school uniforms, among other stipulations. The House adopted the amendment.
Holloway doesn’t support the amendment, which he says would just add additional responsibilities and duties for teachers.
Holloway says his bill to grade parental communication with teachers has received national attention—mostly support from those who agree with its broad concept. The idea for the bill came from his research while chairman of the Education Improvement Subcommittee.
“We traveled extensively out of the state,” Holloway said. “We went to high-performing and low-performing schools. We wanted to see what the high performing schools were doing that the low-performing schools didn’t do. We found out that parental involvement was very evident in high-performing schools, and low at low-performing schools.”
The bill has not received universal support, however. Forty-three representatives voted against the bill and 75 voted for it. Rep. Dana Criswell, R-Olive Branch*, voted nay. He argued that as teachers are, technically, his employees, he doesn’t believe they should have the right to “grade” parents.
Holloway says the bill isn’t about teachers. “It’s about parental involvement and accountability,” he said. “There are forms children come home with, and if the parent never checks the backpack to see if there are forms, to see if they have homework to do, see if they’re physically, mentally [and] socially prepared each day to go to school to learn—we’re trying to put teachers and parents together to find out problems.”
With the control of standards by which to assess parent involvement in the hands of the districts, he says, and a repealer in place intended to gauge the success of the program after three years, Holloway has a lot of faith in its passage, but thinks the amendment distracts from the purpose of the bill.
“There’s nothing punitive about it,” Holloway says. “It’s just a wake-up call for parents, just to say, hey, you need to do better.”
But “doing better” might be an oversimplification for some Mississippi parents. With cyclical poverty as a barrier to parental involvement and student achievement, some worry that the bill could further burden parents having a hard time.
Co-author of the bill, Rep. Kabir Karriem, D-Columbus, says that should the Senate pass the bill and it return to the House, he would argue against any changes to the bill that might punish parents for receiving an “unsatisfactory” grade. And though he agrees with some parts of Scott’s bill – the part that suggests students should know cursive writing so that they’re able to sign their names – he doesn’t believe that it’s the legislature’s job to enforce such detailed requirements for schools.
“There’s no cookie cutter approach to education, and I think once the state recognizes that, the better off we will be,” Karriem said in an interview with the Jackson Free Press. “Each district has its own issues to face to make educating conducive to that district. This is just a small step in asking parents to participate in what they (educators) are doing.”
Sierra Mannie is an education reporting fellow for the Jackson Free Press and the Hechinger Report. Email her at sierra@jacksonfree press.com. For more education stories visit jfp.ms/education.
*Correction: This story has been updated to correct Rep. Dana Criswell’s district. It is Olive Branch.