Are Unmarried Parents the New Normal?
A recent article at Parenting.com points out that kids with unmarried mothers and fathers are becoming more common than children with divorced parents. Findings from the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia indicate that children are twice as likely to have unmarried parents living together than divorced ones. “Divorce used to be the biggest issue facing kids, when in fact, having cohabiting parents is the more common scenario,” Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project, told Parenting.com.
While the article points out that celebrities, such as Angelina Jolie and Kourtney Kardashian, have all but erased the stigma that used to be associated with children out of wedlock, an unmarried parental unit is not as stable as a marriage. The National Marriage Project reported that two-thirds of children will experience the break-up of cohabiting parents by the time they are 12-years-old while only one-quarter of married couples with children of the same age will divorce.
What, if any, are the implications of these findings for our schools and society?
Public Wants Local School Boards to Run Schools
An article by Michele Molnar in Education Week reports that parents and taxpayers look to local elected boards of education to run and improve their public schools. At the same time, the public wants federal and state governments to disseminate learning standards and ensure equitable funding. These were the findings of a study by researchers at Michigan State University based on 40 years of public opinion polls.
With all of the emphasis on federal government initiatives such as No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, it’s important to remember that our public schools are locally controlled. According to the article, more than 90,000 locally elected school board members serve on about 15,000 boards of education in the United States.
It goes without saying that if parents and taxpayers are counting on their elected representatives to run their school districts, they ought to be engaged and involved in the process. Attend board meetings, read local media coverage, and check out school board minutes!
Bullying Specialist Hired Following Complaints
Speaking of local boards of education, the Rochester, N.H. school board voted unanimously last week to hire a "student safety and behavior support specialist" to address bullying and harassment at the Rochester Middle School. This is a brand new position in the district, according to Principal Valerie McKenney. She said she developed the position following community complaints about student behavior.
Last month, a mother and grandfather spoke at a school board meeting about their concerns for their middle school student. The mother told the school board that her child had been severely damaged by teasing and even pulled into a closet by staff, which she believed to be inappropriate. When she asked to see surveillance footage of the incident, her request was denied.
Superintendent Michael Hopkins told the board that the middle school administration will still meet with parents to address behavioral issues with students, but the specialist will work to investigate initial complaints that come in from students, and work with 40 to 50 students that are consistently engaged in bullying.
The new bullying and harassment specialist will receive a teacher’s salary. Was the creation of this position an admission that the existing administration can’t handle all of the bullying in this school? Is this money well spent? Parents at the Rochester Middle School will have to decide.
Conflict of Interest Paid for by Taxpayers
According to the Huffington Post, a Virginia education reporter, who reported on the Alexandria Public Schools for the online media outlet, Alexandria News, was hired as a consultant for the same district to help it improve the district’s public image. She was paid to help with spin control on an independent audit that revealed mismanagement in the district’s capital improvement budget. She also drafted a district-wide and school communication plans, and occasionally wrote press releases. The reporter no longer consults for the district.
Superintendent of Schools Morton Sherman said he did not consider the reporter’s role in the district a conflict of interest. According to the Alexandria News, he has spent more than $4 million on consultants since becoming superintendent in 2008.
The use of consultants in school districts across the country has aroused concerns and is an issue that should be monitored by the public in these difficult economic times. Parents and taxpayers should also be alert to conflicts of interest in their own school districts.