Educators and parents are an essential team for helping students achieve their full potential.
But some politicians want to drive a wedge between parents and their children’s teachers in hopes of securing short-term political gain. If left unchecked, these dangerous ploys — in which political extremists create artificial controversies — can cause long-term harm to our children and our state’s future.
The latest move came last week, as state House Republicans introduced a bill to create more bureaucratic red tape for schools and require them to publicly list every planned field trip, reading and writing assignment before the start of the school year.
This type of information, which is developed by educators over the course of the year to meet student needs, is best shared directly with parents at parent-teacher conferences and other individual communications. Publishing it online — where strangers with unknown motives could access it — is a dangerous idea.
Educators and parents should tune out these election-year tricks and vicious political rhetoric and instead work to forge stronger relationships. After all, numerous studies show students whose parents are actively involved in their education achieve better grades, greater social skills and a much higher likelihood of lasting success.
When families and educators are needlessly placed at odds — by partisan politicians, social media trolls and cable news talking heads — it’s our children who suffer. Instead of sowing division between educators and parents, lawmakers should commit to giving educators and families the tools needed to form an even stronger bond.
For example, parents could use more flexibility from their employers. Education is a critical ingredient for economic success, so employers have an incentive to grant occasional time off for parents to attend parent-teacher conferences or volunteer with their child’s class.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 10 states and the District of Columbia require employers to grant some unpaid leave for school activities. Michigan is not among them. Recognizing the importance that school participation plays in employee morale and economic vitality, some employers offer parents a day or two of paid school involvement leave, on top of vacation or personal time. That’s an idea worth replicating.
Meanwhile, educators need more time to build relationships with parents. Reducing the endless stream of bureaucracy, paperwork and standardized tests can provide educators time to build meaningful relationships with students and families alike.
Similarly, we must ensure Michigan has enough educators — a constant challenge due to our acute shortage of trained teachers and education support professionals. Too many are leaving the profession due to insufficient pay, overwhelming stress and a lack of professional respect. Fewer college students are choosing education as a career. The unwarranted political attacks and added bureaucracy just make the problem worse.
Our state’s leaders must take decisive action to solve the educator shortage. That means better pay for both veteran and starting teachers, retention and signing bonuses, reducing student debt and treating educators as the professionals they are.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has announced a plan to invest $2 billion in various efforts to recruit, retain and respect educators. Her bold proposal will help keep good teachers in the classroom and attract more young people into education. We’re asking state legislators to set aside partisanship and support this proposal — for the sake of our students, educators and families.
It’s time to come together. We can’t let partisan politics or Facebook-fueled furor inflict further damage to the essential relationship between teachers and parents. Instead, we must work side-by-side to strengthen this critical bond and build a brighter future for Michigan students.
Paula Herbart is president of the Michigan Education Association.
Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Ray Curry, Teamsters President James Hoffa and Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart.