Should Schools Let Parents Choose the Teacher?
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When Dawn Carrigan, principal of Longfellow Elementary School in Portland, ME joined the school nine years ago, one of the first things she did was to stop the practice of parents requesting their kids’ teachers. At the time, more than 20 families hadn’t gotten their first pick and didn’t know why. “I didn’t want to be the judge of whose request was valid or not valid,” says Carrigan. Now, parents complete a questionnaire that addresses kids’ interests, learning styles, and more and Carrigan uses the information to set up class rosters.
In Northbrook, IL, Scott Meek, principal of Northbrook Junior High School, also asks parents for information about their kids’ learning styles and interests via a letter, and Meeks is glad to accommodate specific requests. Of course, organizing the 625 Northbrook Junior High School students into homerooms, academic classes, and electives is no small task, and inevitably some requests don’t get met.
Scheduling hundreds of students is a coordination challenge, to say the least, and fielding parent requests can be overwhelming for principals. And, while parents want the best for their kids, Carrigan thinks that sometimes parents request teachers that they think are "better" than others, based on popularity, but little concrete information. Sometimes landing a teacher with a different style can be good for kids, Carrigan says, because kids should have a variety of classroom experiences. “I think we do kids a disservice when we don’t let [them] figure out how to work with other teachers,” says Carrigan.
On the other hand, says Bryan Hassel, author of Picky Parent Guide: Choose Your Child’s School with Confidence, when it comes to teachers, “there is quality and there is fit, some teachers are better than others, and some teachers are a better fit for your child than others.” That fit can be everything from how your child’s learning style matches up with the teacher’s teaching style to how advanced your child is in a subject. Whether you agree that parents should be able to request teachers or not, research supports parents’ ability to evaluate their school’s teachers.
Achievement vs. Satisfaction Lars Lefgren, associate professor of economics at Brigham Young University, and Brian Jacob, professor of education policy and economics at the University of Michigan, analyzed data from 12 elementary schools and 256 teachers during the 2005-2006 school year to learn just what parents were looking for in a teacher when it came to student achievement and satisfaction. “Parents have an idea of which teachers are good,” says Jacob, “and they try to pick teachers who are good in achievement and satisfaction.” But in lower-income schools (those with a higher percentage of students who received free or reduced price lunch), parents were more likely to choose teachers who ranked high on student achievement. In higher-income schools (with a smaller percentage of students who received free and reduced lunch), parents favored teachers who had high satisfaction ratings.
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