What matters is what parents do.

On Friday, March 12, 2010 Bill Maher did one of his signature New Rules bits in the Huffington Post as well as on his weekly show Real Time with Bill Maher on HBO. The title of the piece was New Rule: Let’s Not Fire the Teachers When Students Don’t Learn — Let’s Fire the Parents which in my mind really nails the essence of the Public School Debate. Mr. Maher said, “According to all the studies, it doesn’t matter what teachers do. …. What matters is what parents do. The number one predictor of a child’s academic success is parental involvement. It doesn’t even matter if your kid goes to private or public school. So save the twenty grand a year and treat yourself to a nice vacation away from the little bastards.”

So my question why isn’t anyone pushing Parent/Family/Community involvement or engagement in public education? Politicians, left and right are all about “charter Schools, failing schools and blaming teachers”. They say that charter schools are part of the solution, yet according to most studies of charter schools they are on average no more effective overall than traditional public schools. You would not know it by what is being said by the education reform advocates. Why would we want to set up a separate charter system that is no better than what we have when there is something else that has proven conclusively to work…parent engagement? Failing schools is the other big lie, yes we have had failing schools both charter and public and we have successful schools both charter and public but once again what works in all schools, failing or successful, charter, public or private…it is parent engagement. Why aren’t the reformers telling us this?. Why do we only hear about the failing public schools?
And then there is “blame the teachers’. Could this be “a little union busting”? If you have a child in our public schools you know that your child’s classroom teacher is your partner and that partnership is the key to your child’s success. Yet the reformers are saying your child’s teacher is bad. I say as a parent if you are engaged in your child’s education there are no bad teachers, your child will learn more from some than others. If you get involved your child will do better no matter the skill of the teacher.

So what does it mean to engage parents, families and the community?

  • Recognize that all parents, regardless of income, education or cultural background, are involved in their children’s learning and want their children to do well.
  • Design programs that will support families to guide their children’s learning, from preschool through high school.
  • Develop the capacity of school staff and families to work together.
  • Link activities and programs for families to improving student learning.
  • Focus on developing trusting and respectful relationships among staff and families.
  • Build families’ social and political connections.
  • Embrace a philosophy of partnership and be willing to share power.
  • Make sure that parents, school staff, and community members understand that the responsibility for children’s educational development is a collaborative enterprise.
  • Build strong connections between schools and community organizations.
  • Include families in all strategies to reduce the achievement gap between white, middle-class students and low-income students and students of color.

So why aren’t more parents involved? In one survey parents over 1/3 of the parents said no one asked them. So consider yourself asked. Get involved. It is time to quit all the posturing about charter school, failed schools and blaming teachers. Once more “What matters is what parents do. The number one predictor of a child’s academic success is parental involvement. It doesn’t even matter if your kid goes to private or public school. So save the twenty grand a year and treat yourself to a nice vacation away from the little bastards.”

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March 14, 2010 | 10:08 PM

It’s amazing to me that parents have to be “asked” to be involved in the lives of their children and it’s amazing to me that things like parent and family involvement have to be “pushed” for people to take action. These are our children! Come on, seriously? Why do they have to be asked or encouraged to be active in their lives? It’s pure and simple common sense that says that everything begins at home. While schools, churches, athletics, etc all have influence and a place in a child’s development and well being, the fact is that the home is the hub, not the other way around. It’s all too often these days that more and more parents are pushing their parental responsibilities off on the schools or other community organizations and expecting them to assume the burden of teaching them everything about life but when the child fails, rather than looking at themselves as the missing link, teacher’s get punished and people demand more action in the schools and other children and family service area when all the really need to do is make time at home and get more involved. We are becoming far too reliant on government and community services to do everything for us which only gives them more power over us. Then people want to sit back and complain when they lose rights or things don’t go to suit them, like their children’s educations.

March 15, 2010 | 1:50 PM

AYon- absolutely terrific comment. I agree with everything you said. Having spent a lot of time the past few years at a public elementary school, I have seen first-hand how many parents have become comepletely disengaged with the activities of daily living for their children. I see it as a co-dependent type of situation. The legislature has mandated that schools perform certain functions that used to be carried out by parents. This is how the responsibility that was once held by the parents has changed to the schools and now parents completely expect that it’s the school’s job to ensure their children are taught discipline, fed, receive homework help, etc. It’s time for public schools to raise the bar for parents. With the severe cuts to education, many of the roles the school has taken on need to be diminished and the onus needs to be put back on the parents. The problem with this kind of thinking, however, is the “if we don’t do it, who will?” question that many in the community ask. Right now, with that attitude, we’re basically pulling the rug of responsibility out from under parents and are rescuing them before they need rescuing. I don’t think that’s the best solution.

It’s difficult to get some parents to put their children’s needs before their own. Some won’t do it, but many will. If you expect the parents to give their children breakfast instead of automatically doing it for them, perhaps many will step up to the plate. We’ve made it too easy for them to not have to worry about it. I believe most parents love their children and will take care of their basic needs if you call on them to do so. I have a sister in law who stays home. Her children go to a title 1 school where everyone at the school gets free and reduced price lunch irregardless if you qualify or not. They have after school homework sessions where the kids do their homework and the school keeps them after school for free. My sister in law, who could easily afford to pay for their meals and could easily prepare them and also could easily help her children do their homework after school – doesn’t. Why? Because in her exact words, she says it’s “because the school will do it for me and it’s free!” I think there are a lot of parents like her out there that think, whew! I don’t have to bother with the rigors of having a child in elementary school because that’s the school’s job to worry about that. Of course there are always the kids whose parents will never step up. I feel those are the students that the schools should focus their limited resources on. The schools can’t afford to continue what they’re doing. They need to nip this in the bud, because after all, it’s the schools that created this whole co-dependency mindset in the first place.

March 15, 2010 | 8:20 AM

“Why do we only hear about the failing public schools?”

because only in the public sector are employees GUARANTEED a job no matter their performance.

and you are incorrect, parents are fired all the time, the agency doing the ‘firing’ is called CPS

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