A Kentucky state legislator, Rep. Adam Koenig, has introduced a bill that would impose fines on parents who don't attend parent-teacher conferences. [Source]

Rep. Koenig is certainly right that parental involvement in their children's education is important, but this hardly seems the right way of encouraging it.

It might be better to use a carrot, rather than a stick. Instead of imposing on parents we should be empowering them, by expanding school choice. That could include magnet schools, charter schools, vouchers, tax breaks for private schools, and support for homeschooling. Giving parents real choices about their children's education would be more effective that just forcing them to show up for a meeting.

A law like this (if adopted) would seem to be a case of the government punishing people simply for not being very good parents. We should be wary of any policy that involves the government interfering with the autonomy of the family in that way-by deciding what it thinks a "good" parent is, and punishing people who don't live up to the government's standard.

Obviously, government has to intervene when parents abuse their children, by beating them, for instance, or neglect them by failing to feed and clothe them. But missing a parent-teacher conference hardly seems to rise to that level. Koenig reportedly compared the fines to those imposed on parents who fail to insure that their children attend school. But we shouldn't be treating parents like children by making the parents go to school.

On a practical level, it should be noted that face-to-face parent-teacher conferences are not the only means of communication available between parents and the school. They can use the phone, email, or even handwritten notes to and from the teacher. For families with two working parents or with younger children at home, or for single parents, it may be very difficult to find time to go in for a parent-teacher conference, yet they may still be very involved in their children's education. We simply shouldn't impose a one-size-fits-all solution.