Despite urging from many parents and school board president Richard Sussman, a questionnaire seeking parent feedback about their children's school experience was not adopted for utilization by the Board of Education (BOE) at its Aug. 14 meeting. The survey, which took a committee at least six months to develop, was meant to be distributed annually. In general, it appeared the survey failed to gain sufficient support because of an unclear focus about the kind of information the schools wanted to gather, and the actual uses of the responses. However, it did not appear to be a rejection of the concept of having a parental survey.
The proposed parental questionnaire, distributed at the meeting, asked for the teacher's name, along with the grade and school; inclusion of the parent's name was optional. The six questions on the form asked about curriculum/level of work, degree of homework, communication, child's attitude toward school, motivation, and preparedness for the next grade. According to parents who served on the committee, the six questions were culled from about 70. The survey was intended for parents of elementary school children.
Supporters of the survey, some of whom worked to develop it, argued strongly for its use. They contended that it furthered parental involvement in their children's education, which many experts consider beneficial to students. It would also provide a mechanism for parents to express their perceptions, which they otherwise might be reluctant to do, some fearing retaliation. "Don't assume all parents are comfortable coming forward and expressing their opinions," said Daly HSA co-President Lisa Alpert, a committee member. Acknowledging that the survey wasn't perfect but could be revised later, "Professional development is very important in improving instruction, so a survey would help teachers get feedback from parents," emphasized Sussman. "The survey is meant for the building principal too," said former Daly HSA co-President Anne Marie Kaufman. "It would help them address problems."
But those critical of this survey pointed out that this version fell short by focusing more on evaluating teachers than it did in providing a vehicle to enhance instruction. "It began as a way to get parents involved and to be used for educational improvement. Now, it is more teacher-focused ... the way it is structured now, I don't see the meaningful information to improve our educational program ... we've lost our way a bit ... I don't think we have the right instrument yet," said the Superintendent, Dr. Albert Inserra. Many others voiced concerns about how the information would be used once gathered, and worried about privacy. Board member Laura Mogul asked, "What will be done with this information once gathered? There are privacy/security matters." School board Vice President Bob Ferro echoed these concerns, saying, "The problem I have with the survey is this: what are we going to do with it?"
Many also wondered about the usefulness of questions that they believed were vague or too general. "Ask questions pertaining to the curriculum," offered parent Robin Schroeder. "This survey is too general." Parent Dana Friedman and others also suggested that the survey include teacher input. "There is a need for more detail," said parent Bea Helft. "I support a formal way to collect data to help children ... and the form [with use] will evolve."
But even those critical of aspects of the survey still expressed their belief in the value of such a tool. The school board tried several times to find a way to preserve the work already done but alter the questionnaire. Motions to adopt the survey, allow the superintendent to improve it, have administrators develop a plan, or table it for a period of time, even sending it back to committee, were all defeated by a divided board.
Some board members and parents were disappointed with the outcome. After the BOE failed to adopt the survey, Sussman commented, "I guess the survey is dead then." During community comments, Kaufman expressed her disappointment and added that she hoped the board "will revisit this." "I'd hate to see the survey just die and wither," said Alpert. No future date was set for additional discussions of this issue.
(Note: For additional information about the BOE's 8-14 meeting, please see related articles.)