Class time is paramount

Parent-teacher conferences have value, but less than preserving instruction time

The problem with cutting government budgets is that, once all the little things have been trimmed, reductions invariably start to take away services that are important to someone. That's certainly true in education, and the loss of parent-teacher conferences is a prime example.

The Medford School District should take steps to restore this vital link between parents and schools, but not at the expense of instructional time, which is already too short.

An $11 million budget shortfall last year led district administrators and the teachers' union to agree to cut eight non-instructional days from the teachers' contract. Those days included parent-teacher conferences for the two-year length of the contract. The conferences previously were held during Thanksgiving week.

Parents and teachers were expected to stay in touch on their own, without the structured conferences. That's a fine goal, and probably didn't affect students whose parents already are heavily involved in their schools and strongly supportive at home. It's the students who need extra help who lose out.

The education advocacy group Stand for Children is circulating a petition and plans to ask the School Board and the union to consider reinstating the conferences in next year's budget and in the new contract, which will be negotiated beginning early next year. We support that, with a couple of conditions.

First, if money is still so tight that restoring conferences would cut into class time, class time must be the priority. Oregon still holds the dubious honor of having one of the shortest school years in the nation, and instructional time must not be allowed to erode further.

Second, parent-teacher conferences are not equally valuable to all students and to all parents.

Let's face it: high-achieving students from supportive homes whose parents already make contact with their teachers will get along fine without a once-a-year sit-down with a teacher. Other students, who may be struggling to keep up and may not be getting the support they need at home could benefit greatly from face-to-face contact between parent and teacher.

If the budget outlook is still precarious, maybe reinstating conferences for some but not all students could be a temporary solution.

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