To the Editor:
With the start of the new calendar year, tasked with assembling our family’s master schedule I was surprised to discover that the winter Parent-Teacher conferences were not on the ACPS calendar for secondary school students. Thinking that an error of omission occurred I called T.C.Williams where my sons are enrolled, discovering that the administrative staff was also perplexed by their absence. I was phoned back with confirmation that they had never been scheduled
I find parent teacher conferences extremely valuable in aiding and supporting my student's education. Meeting with his teachers lets me know what his performance is like in the class, does he engage with the material presented and with his class mates, are his contributions worthy of his talents — offering context for what the letter grade means and sometimes explaining, and validating the complaints I hear. At this time of year, meeting with teachers allows me to gauge which classes he should consider for his future and if any skills need to be addressed to further assure his success. It is advice and direction offered by the professionals who works with my student consistently that influences our choices.
Because I find them so productive, I began to ask why would Parent-Teacher conferences be cancelled. Every professional in the building, teachers and guidance counselors alike also found Parent-Teacher conferences to be an effective tool of education, lamenting their cancellation, noting that the decision to end them came from central office.
Pursuing the line inquiry, I e-mailed a school board member to further discover the reason behind eliminating the second conference period and was presented with a fascinating response. They were cancelled, I was told so as to accommodate IAP conferences, which had a parent attendance rate of 84 percent compared to a 25 percent attendance rate at Parent-Teacher conferences.
I find these figures dubious at best for two reasons.
The first, is that comparing attendance rates is like comparing apples to cumquats. IAPs are initiated with a phone call from the guidance department directly to the parent, two adults coordinate a time to meet, the parent then comes into the Learning Community Office, a well identified central location. In contrast Parent-Teacher conferences involve a piece of paper mailed home, and then handed to the student to bring around to all of their teachers to assign a meeting time, the student is then also responsible for including room numbers for the individual classrooms assuming that the paper made it to school and was removed from the backpack at all. The inherent flaw in scheduling Parent Teacher conferences is that it is dependent on the student’s investment in the process. There is little incentive for a student performing poorly to connect their parents with their teachers.
The other reason that I am skeptical to the statistics cited to me is that while I have two students enrolled at TC. I have never had an IAP conference though I have gone through four cycles of Parent Teacher conferences.
There were many reasons and questions I had for my son’s teachers, so I went about scheduling appointments to meet with them. After over a dozen emails, three visits to school, a missed phone call over the course of two weeks I managed to meet with all seven of them. In comparison, last October I met with 11 teachers in slightly two hours. I’m glad I’ve met with my son’s teachers because they offered greater insight that immediately shifted our thinking about his classes but I am furious that it took such extraordinary effort on my part to do so making it harder to collect information that will be vital in making choices for my student for his future. By extension it also makes it harder for other parents especially since they have yet to realize that this opportunity will not be available to them this winter.
The board member I communicated with related as evidence of the failure of the Parent Teacher model that there is a teacher who has both AP and regular English 12 classes noting that all of the parents of the AP students come to conferences, and none of the parents of students enrolled in English 12 make it in. I submit that the anecdote better illustrates that successful students have parents deeply involved in their education. I have seen many fathers and parents wearing the uniforms of their jobs attending parent teacher conferences, making the effort to show up sometimes with their student serving as translators because they know that attending these meetings is important. There is a symbolism expressed simply by showing up that their student is worth the effort, a message that is not lost on teachers or students.
With the resources and commitment used to support IAP scheduling there would be a better attendance rate at Parent - Teacher conferences. I urge ACPS to place winter conferences back on the schedule for next year because if the district is serious in seeing students excel then it needs to make it easier for parents to access the teachers not just the grades