How to Build a More Effective Parents as Teachers Program
I’ve criticized the Parents as Teachers program for, among other things, giving services to kids who don’t need help and sending a stiff bill to taxpayers. I’m probably the only one who’s happy to see Parents as Teachers take a $4 million cut in Missouri’s budget.
I don’t like Parents as Teachers the way it has been run for the past couple decades, but I’m optimistic that it can evolve into a better program. Parents as Teachers could move in one of two directions to control costs and better serve families. It would also be possible to split it into two separate programs with different missions.
Here’s the first route Parents as Teachers could take: Continue to serve all interested families, including wealthy ones, but do away with home visits. A Parents as Teachers educator could be stationed at a public library or in a public school. Parents could make appointments to bring their kids to the educator, and there might be drop-in hours too. Some services could be provided to multiple families at once. For example, an educator could teach a group of parents about activities for toddlers, and only parents who still had questions would consult with the educator one-on-one. Holding sessions in a public building would allow educators to direct parents to other resources (such as children’s books in a library), but its main advantage would be efficiency. Home visits to individual families are expensive — and also unnecessary, because educators give much of the same advice to everyone.
The other option is to model Parents as Teachers on the Harlem Children’s Zone’s Baby College program, providing intensive help to the people who need it most. Baby College serves disadvantaged families by restricting enrollment to residents of a neighborhood; Parents as Teachers could likewise confine itself to poor neighborhoods, or it could limit enrollment by family income. Baby College incorporates home visits, but it also brings parents together for a class one morning a week. The group sessions allow parents to get support from each other, and they also allow Baby College to bring in outside speakers. The once-a-week format means Baby College can reinforce what it teaches in a short period of time, unlike Parents as Teachers’ home visits, which might be spread apart by a few months. A Parents as Teachers program resembling Baby College would still be expensive, but at least it would be targeted, and families would get more out of the experience.