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Gary Stager on One-sided Parent Contracts

Here's a list of promises I think schools should keep

The back-to-school commercials each summer fill me with dreadful flashbacks of my own days as a student. As a parent, the end of summer is signaled by a last-minute desire to squeeze in a bit more family fun and the arrival of a large ominous envelope from the local high school. The package contains countless documents commanding our immediate attention and signatures in triplicate.

This enormous collection of murdered trees contains countless rules, regulations and a list of innumerable sanctions the school intends to visit upon my child. As if this draconian catalogue of crimes and subsequent punishments were not bad enough, I am then expected to sign the documents, implying that I agree with them.

This recent and disturbing phenomenon leaves me with many unanswered questions. What if I don't sign the forms? When did the local public school become a gulag? Was there a public meeting in The Hague at which these rules and sanctions were compiled and democratically agreed to? Is this the best way to start a fresh school year? Can I have Johnnie Cochran look over the documents before I affix my signature?

Cooperation will be valued over competion; arts will get as much attention as sports.

If the school expects parents to sign-off on a list of ways school discipline may be enforced, perhaps I can circulate a list of expectations for how I expect the school to educate my child. It only seems fair.

So here's my list, in no particular order:

School to home communications will be proofread and spell-checked

Teachers will take reasonable steps to maintain expertise in their subject area

Homework will be purposeful and only assigned when necessary to reinforce a concept, engage in a long-term project or as the result of work not completed in-class

Children will be encouraged to play

Classroom libraries will be stocked with interesting books

Students will not be treated as numbers

Teachers will discuss current events with their students

Students will be encouraged to talk about books they read, not just create mobiles and book reports

School personnel will publish their e-mail addresses and respond to e-mail promptly

The school district Web site will be updated more often than every five years

Class sizes will be 20 or lower

Teachers will attend at least one professional learning event outside of the school district per year

Teachers will not talk down to children

Punishment will be viewed as a last resort

The school will offer rich visual and performing arts opportunities for all students

Curriculum will endeavor to remain relevant and connected to the world

Classroom rules will be developed democratically

There will be formal and informal opportunities for parents to interact with teachers

The principal will be accessible to students and parents

Administrators will make an effort to interact with students in positive contexts

Student diversity will be valued and celebrated

Cooperation will be valued over competition

The school will refrain from sorting, tracking, streaming and labeling children

Students will play a large role in all aspects of the life of the school;

Authentic forms of assessment will be used

A modern functioning computer will be available whenever a child needs one

Teachers will embrace opportunities to learn with and from students

The school will take teacher input seriously

Teachers will feel supported and encouraged to take risks

Effective models of professional development will be designed and include the participation of the principal

Equal attention and resources will be applied to the arts as to sports

Gary Stager,, is editor-at-large and an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University

The Coalition of Essential Schools offers 10 common principles for schools concerned with