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Image by Paul KiserThere is a major problem in America’s educational system and that problem is obvious to anyone who spends time in the classroom. Consider this scenario:

Student X is one of the youngest in the class and started the year slightly behind (academically) her older classmates. Student X lives in a moderate, stable family environment with a modest income. The parents of Student X volunteer at the school and her Mom helps in the classroom once a week. Student X is expected to do her homework soon after coming home from school. One of the parents of Student X is available while she does her homework to answer her questions and assist her as needed, but the parent does not give her the answers. Her parents are in regular contact with her teachers and stay aware of her strengths and weakness. Student X receives constant encouragement to focus on learning.

Student Y lives in a two parent environment; however, one of the parents works 60 to 80 hours a week. Student Y is involved in a variety of non-school activities that take up several hours of after school time. One parent tends to be the mode of transportation from activity to activity, but doesn’t always wait for Student Y. Homework for Student Y is a ‘if we have time” priority, and Student Y’s parents have little contact with the school. Student Y’s parents are never sure what to expect on his report card and are often caught be surprise when there is an issue with a grade.

The absent parent in a child's education cannot be replaced by all the computers in the world.

The absent parent in a child’s education cannot be replaced by all the computers in the world.

Which student do you think will do well on a Standardized Test? Which will student has a better chance to succeed?

The fact that is often overlooked when discussing America’s public schools is the role that parents play, or fail to play in their child’s education. This is not a ‘blame’ issue, but it is a reality that must be included when politicians discuss how they want to ‘fix’ our schools. Parent investment in their child’s education is vital for her or his success in learning. Parents who, for whatever reason, fail to be committed to support and promote learning at home risk destroying the commitment their child will have in the classroom.

So the question is whether or not we need a two-tiered school system based on the parent’s commitment() to their child’s education. I believe that most good teachers can tell which students have committed parents, and which do not, so dividing students into two groups should be easy to accomplish.

Several studies have identified the advantages a student with involved parents has over a student who does not.(¹)(²)(³) In addition, a lack of parent involvement may require additional resources from the school to take up the slack of the parent who is not invested. If a teacher has to spend extra time to help that student who didn’t do their homework and master the needed skill, then the rest of the students pay the price because they can’t move forward until Student Y catches up. Even a child who is academically behind is less of a burden on the school when their parent is actively invested in the school.

Dividing our schools based on parental involvement makes sense…on paper, but like all quick fixes there are problems created by the fix that negate it. Identifying students with absent parents avoids the real problem, which is making parents aware that their investment in education is vital for their child’s success.

A Parent’s Place in Education
Despite the need for parental involvement, there is a limit to a parent’s engagement in their child’s education. Unless a parent also has a degree in education, the teacher is the most qualified to take the lead in the classroom. Parents should see themselves as interns in the school.

Even in fundraising, the parent’s role should be subservient to the school and its staff. Parents who decide for the school what projects and programs should be funded risk interfering with the objectives established by those who have an understanding of the larger view.

This should not cause a parent to wait to be asked to become involved. School administrators and teachers focus should be on the students, not on directing parents. This requires that parents and the school create an environment of trust and respect that is facilitated by timely and effective communication.

Professional Development for Parents?
One problem that faces parents is that most of us are not trained in the skills of helping a person learn. In addition, parents may not understand the objectives of the teacher; therefore, they may not know how they can support the in-class work when the student is working at home.

Schools are financially strapped for resources, but if politicians really want to help our educational system, maybe they should consider how schools can pay for parent development seminars (and/or webinars) that will support the objectives of the teachers and the school. By improving the at-home learning environment politicians might actually take a big step in ‘fixing’ our public schools.

We may not need a two-tiered school system, but we certainly need to accept that the failure of a student in school may indicate the failure of a parent, not the teacher or the school.

(I was reminded this week about the difference between someone who is involved and someone who is committed. If you’re eating a bacon and egg breakfast, the chicken was involved, but the pig was committed.)