Schools Require Parent Participation

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It should come as no surprise that some schools require parent participation if their kids attend the school.  In California, it appears that the standard is 30 hours per year.  At least one school requires that 10 of those hours be in the classroom.

But apparently this is news to the San Jose Mercury-News [sic].  Today’s edition includes an article with this headline: “Report: Charter schools that require volunteering are breaking California law.”  The article reports on a “study” by a group called Public Advocates.  They looked at a sample of California charter schools and concluded that 30 percent require parent participation.  The report characterizes this as “required volunteering,” a phrase that is about as value-loaded as you can get.  My guess is that the authors are playing to the recent ruling by the California Department of Labor that declared volunteer work in the wine industry illegal.

Factually, the headline is incorrect. A 2006 legal opinion in the California Department of Education specifically says that charter schools are allowed to require parent participation.

[pullquote]Therefore, the District believes it is every family and guardian’s obligation and responsibility to volunteer at least 30 hours per year at the student’s school site, of which 10 of those hours should include volunteer time to the student’s classroom.[/pullquote]

The bias is clear for anyone who thinks for a minute. Are there public schools that also require parents to “volunteer?” A quick Bing search yields some interesting answers. The entire Alum Rock Union Elementary district, with about 13,000 students in San Jose, strongly encourages parent participation →

And one school in that district, the Adelante Dual Language Academy, says:

Remember that your commitment is 30 hours for the school year. Hours are collected 3 times during the school year (October, January and May) EVERYONE is expected to work towards this goal! Principal makes the final decision on all volunteer assignments.

I don’t have the time to research this issue thoroughly. It strikes me, however, that an enterprising reporter might want to look at this. To help, click here to download the entire list of California public schools. (This is a 5 mb download. Note that this list includes schools that are closed. Filter out the non-blank cells in column W to get only schools that are still open.  To get the original Excel workbook from the Department of Education website, click here. The file name is pubschol.xls. My version converts this file to .xlsx format and adds a couple of columns for information about required participation. If you update this Excel workbook with additional information, please e-mail me a copy.  I’ll update the master copy here and post the updated version for others to download.)

If you’re interested in some other stories on this subject, the New York Times ran one in 2010. “School to Parents: Volunteer, or Else!” by Kathrine Mieszkowski May 10, 2010 3:49 PM.  And the San Francisco Chronicle reported on a survey of about 1,000 California parents on this subject.

Charter schools are legal in California.  The state education code as well as voter-passed propositions, have consistently shown broad public support for them.  There are rules about the types and amounts of support a local school district must give each charter.  Instead of fighting charter schools, perhaps folks should consider the model advanced by San Carlos.  That town (where I once lived) has basically turned their entire school system into charter schools.


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About Tony Lima

Retired after teaching economics at California State Univ., East Bay (Hayward, CA). Ph.D., economics, Stanford. Also taught MBA finance at the California University of Management and Technology. Occasionally take on a consulting project if it's interesting. Other interests include wine and technology.