Dear Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis: Stop forcing parents to be teachers

May 19, 2020 7:00 am
Teacher in her classroom

Teacher in her classroom. Photo by Dave Einsel/Getty Images

When I was growing up, my parents never helped me with my homework. I mean never.

I grew up in a blue-collar Cleveland suburb and attended Catholic grade school and public high school, and then went on to college.

With six kids in the family, money was scarce, but we got by. My mother always read books to us and set up activities, from swimming, ice skating, and tennis to craft and art lessons – all for free in our community.

When it came to school, my mother attended the obligatory open house, met my teacher, made sure I didn’t get into trouble and perused my report card to make sure I got good grades.

Neither my mom nor my dad got involved with school lessons. And they never, ever helped me with homework. I had to do my homework, of course, but my parents never got involved.

My mother, age 82 and still living in suburban Cleveland, always said that teachers had the skills, training, knowledge and dedication to teach children,  and she trusted teachers to teach.

In those days, parents weren’t expected to be teachers.

Times have changed.

As a longtime education reporter, I know that “parental involvement” is now a part of the lexicon in the education world, for better or worse.

And right now, the education situation is worse than ever because of the coronavirus.

The pandemic has taken and changed American lives, and parents have been forced to become teachers, even though they’re not trained to be teachers.

Home-school families have long made decisions to teach their children, but the closure of brick-and-mortar schools has thrown many other families into a new and difficult undertaking — remote learning at home.

Teachers are still teaching — remotely, that is — but the school day is not the same, and parents are taking on a monumental and unprecedented role.

The challenges are real:

Parents, some of whom are essential workers and must leave the home during the day, somehow have to help teach kids with remote learning.

Some families don’t have laptops; other kids aren’t going online.

With no in-person contact from teachers, parents face difficulties helping kids with their lessons, such as middle to high school level math and other subjects.

Also, disparities abound, with affluent families able to access top-notch technology and tutors, while disadvantaged families struggle to do what they can. Families with language barriers have even more difficult challenges.

Some parents have high levels of education while others have struggled to graduate from high school.

Overall, remote learning hasn’t worked, and kids will fall behind in 2020-21.

President Donald Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis: What started out as parental involvement has gone overboard. Parents who aren’t teachers shouldn’t be forced to become teachers. Do something about it.

You have at least two solutions:

• Parent pay. The state, federal or local government should pay parents for being teachers. Parents-turned-teachers are doing a job, and they should be paid a stipend, at the very least.

If the IRS can send stimulus checks to the public, the government should be able to get a similar type of check to parents-turned teachers.

• More teachers. The government should immediately add hundreds to thousands of additional teachers to states across the country.

Remote learning hasn’t worked, and a new corps of teachers – on top of the current number of teachers – could give additional help to get kids who have fallen behind and need to catch up on their studies.

That means trained teachers — not parents — would be teaching schoolchildren.

In the next few days, the regular 2019-20 school year will start ending for public schools throughout Florida.

What a relief that will be for parents forced to become teachers during the coronavirus pandemic.

The problem: Parents will probably need to start teaching summer school, depending on the school district.

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Diane Rado
Diane Rado

Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She spent most of her career at the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times and the Chicago Tribune. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and did a fellowship in education reform at the University of Michigan in 1999-2000. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.