Holding Parents Accountable

Except for requiring that children attend school until they reach 17 years of age, West Virginians don’t ask much of parents and guardians in regard to the intellectual health of their sons and daughters.

Unless the kids are given enough to eat, the state may come and take them away.

But feeding their eager little brains is something we don’t worry much about, except in schools. Too many parents and guardians — and an increasing number of grandparents who have become surrogate moms and dads — take little or no interest in education.

A so-called “omnibus education bill” is the controversy of the year in the state Legislature. Republican and Democrat leaders from the state Senate and House of Delegates discussed it Wednesday, during an event in Charleston sponsored by the West Virginia Press Association and AARP.

Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso knows the subject well from his life outside Charleston. Prezioso, D-Marion, retired just a few years ago after a public education career that began in 1971.

When he hung up his red grading pen, Prezioso walked away from “an entirely different (school) system” than that in which he started. It’s the children — and parents — who have changed, he explained.

“When you walk into that classroom, you inherit a child’s family, his background,” Prezioso said. There are new problems, such as the drug abuse epidemic that has affected tens of thousands of Mountain State children adversely.

But in general, fewer adults seem to view education as important, and to do their parts at home to ensure the kids succeed in school.

House Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison, cited “a lack of parental involvement in their child’s academic success.” There are “socio-economic and geographic reasons” why some school systems are failing, he added.

“We’re not going to change it with a silver bullet,” Miley added, in reference to legislative action.

Understand this: Both Miley and Prezioso have their differences with the omnibus bill. They agree with Republican colleagues that state goverment needs to do more to ensure public schools improve, however.

What they’re saying is that no matter how good the school, a child whose parents or guardians are not actively involved in supporting what teachers do will not achieve to his or her potential. Many will fail badly in school and later, in life.

One thing lawmakers can do is ensure public schools have plenty of counselors and psychologists to help children cope with multiple problems, Miley pointed out. “If we could address the behavioral issues, we could go a long way,” he said.

Then he put his finger on the challenge: “Parents need to be held accountable,” Miley said.

Precisely. There are no immediate consequences for parents who tell kids not to worry about their homework.

There is no penalty for insisting that little Johnny or Joannie be promoted whether he or she is ready or not. Teachers and principals grow tired of calling home with complaints about misbehavior and seeing no evidence mom and day have done anything about it.

Until that changes, many children will fail — because their parents have.

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

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