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Chalk Talk

Ever wonder what "parental involvement," that fuzzy buzzword of education reform, really means?

Public Agenda, a New York-based research organization, has just shed light on a concept that is touted as a boon to learning - although it leaves many teachers with images of pushy parents storming school gates, and some parents befuddled as to what exactly they're supposed to do without inciting educator wrath. (With reason: the No. 1 area where teachers are open to parent input is in lunch-menu selections.)

But the report (www.publicagenda. org) raises at least one flashpoint where deeper parent-teacher networking is in order: homework. Many teachers feel undermined by poor parental monitoring, citing students who don't do their homework as a serious problem in class. More than half want parents to make sure homework is done.

Parents' responses are decidedly ambivalent. They want their kids to feel good about time spent together. Homework, often a battleground, can get in the way of that. Parents are tired as well, and may resent several hours of assignments. And, they add, older kids in particular must learn the consequences of slacking off.

All this drives at discipline as a key issue. What will help schools, the report suggests, is not parents in school halls on a constant basis, but the raising of well-behaved kids who want to learn.

The trouble lies in parental confusion over how best to proceed in the face of what parents say is an unsupportive culture. But in an era of high-stakes tests and accountability, it's an important dialogue to open up for parents and teachers alike.

*E-mail newcomba@csps.com

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