Md. must make it easier for parents to get involved

Too many Maryland parents are engaged in a tug-of-war between their family's financial livelihood and their children's education. Sadly, in this economic downturn, financial needs often win the day.

The state cannot legislate parental involvement, but it can do everything in its power to reduce any barriers to it. That is why MarylandCAN: The Maryland Campaign for Achievement Now and the Maryland Developmental Disabilities Council stand together in support of SB 329/HB 567, legislation before the Maryland General Assembly that ensures parents and guardians the right to attend parent-teacher conferences, Individualized Education Program meetings, Individualized Family Service Plan meetings and 504 meetings without penalty from their employer.

Why is this an urgent matter? The Southwest Educational Development Laboratory reports that, regardless of family income or background, "students with involved parents are more likely to earn higher grades and test scores and enroll in higher-level programs; be promoted, pass their classes, and earn credits; attend school regularly; have better social skills, show improved behavior, and adapt well to school; and graduate and go on to postsecondary education."

Significant economic benefits of parental involvement, too, are reflected in MarylandCAN's 2012 State of Maryland Public Education report. By 2018, 77 percent of new jobs in Maryland will be middle- and high-skill positions, though only 44 percent of Maryland adults currently hold a post-secondary degree. Increased parental involvement ups the chances that a student will obtain a post-secondary degree.

Parent-teacher conferences for all students and IEP meetings for children with disabilities are essential in determining how parents and teachers meet the unique educational needs of their children. This parental involvement bill gives parents the same rights and privileges to attend both types of parent-teacher meetings as we give voters on Election Day or when citizens are serving jury duty.

Unfortunately, too many employees, who are working around the clock to contribute to our economy, are disciplined for missing work to attend to their children's needs. Many parents of children with disabilities who want to participate in IEP meetings, and are required to do so under federal and state law, cannot because their employers will not grant them time off. Parent-teacher meeting legislation would safeguard all parents' right to participate in major decisions about their children's education.

The passage of SB 329/HB 567 will give all parents the right to attend those meetings for which schools and teachers so urgently need support. Baltimore City Public Schools agrees on the importance of parental involvement. According to a 2011 report, a major goal of its Office of Engagement is to have 15 percent of the Baltimore City Public Schools parent population at each school attend at least one parent-teacher conference. The office's goals include creating a parent attendance strategy, incorporating outreach to hard-to-reach parent populations, and having parents attend annual meetings. SB 329/HB 567 would ensure the proper steps are taken to meet those parent-engagement goals.

As parents, we both understand the impact parental involvement can have on a child. All Maryland parents should prepare for the day when they will have to make tough decisions about their children — but choosing between going to work and attending a parent-teacher meeting shouldn't be one of them.

Curtis Valentine is founding executive director of MarylandCAN: The Maryland Campaign for Achievement Now, a nonprofit education advocacy organization. Eric Cole is the vice-chairman of the Maryland Developmental Disabilities Council, a public policy organization that advocates for the inclusion of people with developmental disabilities in all facets of community life.

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