Parents’ Role in Education
A guest post by “RF”
Pgd9politico’s heartfelt post prompts me to add my two cents to this important discussion.
While I can’t claim Ivy League pedigree, I can proudly say I am a product of the public school system that is widely acknowledged to produce the best-performing students in the world. I am also proud that my mother taught in that highly successful school system for 30 years.
In my short time in PG county, I have tried to do my small part to advocate for our children and schools, and I largely agree with Pgd9politico’s observations about the PG county schools. There is no doubt the system could be run more efficiently and we should expect our children to get a better educational experience.
Absent from the whole school system discussion over the last year, however, has been the factor I consider to be the most important one: the crucial role of parents. Based on my son’s experience this past year at Accokeek Academy, I can say that his teachers have been pushing the kids harder than the teachers in his Howard County school last year and the ones in his previous Midwestern school where proficiency levels hovered in the 99% range. Thus, based on our limited experience, the major problem seems not to be in the school or with the teachers – at least when it comes to academic achievement. This leaves parents as the main suspect. And, when Accokeek Academy PTSA meetings are attended by 10-20 parents on average (out of a student body of about 1,200), my suspicions grow stronger.
We as parents really need to step up if we want our children to succeed. We can’t expect teachers to do it alone. This is the line of thought I hear from many teachers across the nation when proposals are made to tie teacher pay to student achievement. Can we really expect teachers to produce miracles when education is not made a priority at home, parents don’t set high expectations, children are not read to at home, and kids are sent to school tired and hungry?
Of course, it is hard to fault parents for not having the time to focus on their kids’ school activities when they are juggling two or three jobs just to make ends meet. But, for most parents, education really should be a priority. All of us may not have the time or interest to volunteer for PTO activities or attend Board of Education meetings, but we should find the time and interest to set high expectations for our kids and devote enough time to ensure our children are well equipped to succeed in their academic endeavors.
Even the most ambitious and capable school reformers can take a struggling school system only so far. For all our children to succeed and get a good education, both the school system AND parents must do their part.
What makes this problem even harder is the fact that private schools provide an escape for many concerned and dedicated parents. Considering that Pgd9politico has made the determination that her children will be attending a private school, her dedication to the PG county public schools amazes me. But, when her kids enter the private school, will she have the time, energy and interest to dedicate to the needs of her kids’ school as well as the public school system? Even if she manages to do that, how many other parents who send their kids to private schools show this level of dedication to public schools?
The private school issue is a classic example of the individual and collective interests colliding. For an individual parent, the decision to send a child to a private school is often a good one. But, taken collectively, I consider these decisions to be a calamity for our children and our communities. Imagine if all these dedicated and committed parents sent their kids to our public schools? Purely from an arithmetic perspective, having these kids in our public schools would surely lift the average proficiency scores significantly. The presence of these kids would likely impact the schools’ educational atmosphere in a positive manner. It is also safe to assume that a parent who sends his/her kids to a private school cares about education and the quality of schools more than your average parent. Thus, imagine the impact we could have if all these concerned parents focused their energies on demanding improvements in our public schools and dedicated their time to helping with those improvements. (Interestingly, in the country with the world’s highest performing students, private schools are nearly an unknown phenomenon.)
Forgetting the fantasy about private school kids returning to our public schools, how do we encourage more parental involvement and caring? – I don’t have any good answers to this crucial question. Board of Education, school administrators and teachers can surely play a supportive role. But the real impetus and drive must come from somewhere else. Maybe we could start with churches. In addition to tutoring programs Pgd9politico mentions, maybe our church leaders need to use their bully pulpit to preach the gospel about the importance of education. Maybe other, more creative initiatives can be developed. No matter what, I strongly believe we must start somewhere. We really can’t ignore the future of all our kids.
A rising tide lifts all boats.