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Parents, too, are in need of evaluations

The statewide plan to make student progress a key when evaluating teachers holding them accountable for the captive audience they have -- makes so much sense that it's amazing it took so long.

But now that it's on the books, it raises an obvious question: If we're talking "accountability," why stop there?

Maybe it's time to have teachers evaluate parents and report some basic data too, such as:

*This is the homework I assigned, and this is the number of kids who did it.

*This is the number of times I called home, and this is the number of times parents called back.

*This is the percentage in my class who came to the parent-teacher conference.

None of that would be to let schools off the hook.

The new teacher-evaluation system that Gov. Andrew Cuomo pushed through will include concrete measures of student achievement. Coupled with assistance for teachers who can be helped and a career change for the others, it can't help but improve Buffalo's woeful schools.

After all, if a teacher has a child in class every day, 180 days a year, and the kid is no further ahead in June than in September, what good is the teacher?

But the reality is that no matter how good the teacher, that task is a lot easier with support from home -- and sometimes impossible without it.

"If the students aren't there, the teachers can't teach them," says union chief Phil Rumore, ticking off appalling statistics such as those showing 26 to 33 percent of high schoolers have missed seven weeks or more this school year.

Parent leader Samuel L. Radford III bristles at the inference behind such figures, and at similar criticisms leveled at poor parents by middle-class scolds who never have to "walk in the shoes of the parents they're talking about."

You can take "walk" literally, since many don't have cars to run back-and-forth to school. The city gets federal Title I funding precisely because of such challenges, Radford notes.

And given a dropout rate long around 50 percent, school has never worked for many parents, raising the question of why they should emphasize to their kids the importance of something that failed them.

Mix in a predominantly minority student body taught by a predominantly white, middle-class staff -- many from the suburbs -- in the nation's third-poorest city, and the disconnect with what others consider normative behavior becomes even more understandable for parents in what Radford calls "throwaway schools in throwaway neighborhoods."

Viewed in that light, it's hard to argue with anything he says.

But that's all the more reason for parents -- especially minority and poor parents -- to get engaged, not sit home. Schools may not always be welcoming, but neither were drinking fountains or lunch counters. Change doesn't just happen; people -- in this case, parents -- have to make it happen.

Radford and the District Parent Coordinating Council have done more than most to spur that change, from pushing for parent coordinators at all schools to the council's latest effort: a homework initiative. He sees the stars aligning with Cuomo's push, as well as Say Yes to Education's Buffalo venture and promising neighborhood-revitalization plans.

"Parents have to rise up now, in the momentum that the governor has created," Radford says.

He's right.

And the best way to make that happen is by shining a spotlight on those who do and those who don't. Not necessarily because it's fair, but because to do anything less would be to let up the pressure at precisely the time when that pressure might do the most good.