Wednesday, March 11, 2009

President Obama Promotes Parental Involvement in Education ...and so do I

President Obama's speech yesterday for education reform was a rallying cry to teachers, parents and students. This proposal to improve our educational system is going to require billions of investment dollars and lots of buy-in from many parties. In the long-term, however, investing in education could prove to be far more lucrative than the zillions of dollars going into the stimulus plan.

In summary, the President's plan has five key objectives:

1. Raise the quality of early learning programs.

2. Encourage better standards and assessments.

3. Recruit, prepare, and reward outstanding teachers.

4. Promote innovation and excellence in America’s schools.

5. Provide every American with a quality higher education – whether it’s college or technical training.

Every one of the above objectives are worthy and important goals. But, the part of the President's speech that made my ears perk up, was the emphasis he put on accountability from both students and parents. Too often, teachers are unfairly expected to be the be-all, end-all in children's education. They are asked not only to be educators, but also to fill the daily roles of guidance counselors, parental figures, mediators, nurses, motivators, chaperones, coaches, etc. The President promoted in his speech that the whole team - teacher, parent and student - must all be committed to achieving success in school. I'm sure that there were teachers nodding their heads in agreement, too.

"Of course, no matter how innovative our schools or how effective our teachers, America cannot succeed unless our students take responsibility for their own education. That means showing up for school on time, paying attention in class, seeking out extra tutoring if it’s needed, and staying out of trouble."

"The bottom line is that no government policies will make any difference unless we also hold ourselves more accountable as parents. Because government, no matter how wise or efficient, cannot turn off the TV or put away the video games. Teachers, no matter how dedicated or effective, cannot make sure your children leave for school on time and do their homework when they get back at night. These are things only a parent can do. These are things that our parents must do. " (insert the sounds of cheering teachers here)

Increasing parental involvement in the education process is not an easy task. My child is fortunate to attend a a school ranked in Wisconsin's Top 10 best, but that high ranking has not insulated it from waning parental involvement. In the past several years, my daughter's local elementary school has experienced declining parental participation in all school activities. In response, the administrators and school staff initiated a program last fall to encourage 100% parental involvement throughout the school year. Every parent received a list of opportunities to volunteer and events to attend, and they were asked to make commitments to a few of the suggestions. The activities ranged from attending parent-teacher conferences to volunteering in a classroom to going to Family Fun Night, etc.

We lead busy lives, and I know that it is not easy to find the time to volunteer at your child's school. However, I strongly encourage you to find or make the time. At the very minimum, you should always attend parent-teacher conferences. These meetings are your opportunity to learn how your child is performing in the classroom.

I encourage you to volunteer in your child's classroom. You will get an up-close view of what they're learning and who their friends are. When your kid sees you volunteering at their school, it is a source of pride to them. It shows that you are interested in their education and most importantly, in them. Your presence and the donation of your time lends importance to the place where they spend 35+ hours of their week.

As parents, we are responsible to not only take an interest in our child's education, but also to extend their education. No curriculum, no matter how thorough it claims to be, can cover every topic to any depth. To the parents who complain, "My school's not doing enough for my child," I would say, WE - parents - must do what is necessary to get our children what s/he needs. If your child needs tutoring or additional help, explore ways to get it. My daughter participates in many of her school's extra learning activities, but as parents, we make sure to nurture interests that may not be covered during the school day.

For example, I don't feel that my 4th grader's curriculum has enough science instruction. As a parent, I create educational opportunities that extend and enhance the acquisition of this knowledge. This can be as easy as unplanned visit to our local creek to its watery inhabitants with nets and our bare feet, or as costly as a week-long summer camp that has a science focus. The "good stuff," real-life learning doesn't have to be complicated or expensive.

On a similar note, if my daughter expresses an interest in something, like naked mole rats (true story), we facilitate the quest to gain more knowledge about the life and times of bare-naked mole rats. Books, websites and DVDs are obtained from the local library to learn everything there is to know about this weird little rodent.

As parents, we are responsible to make sure that are kids are at school on time and ready for the business of learning. The issue of chronic tardiness is mentioned in every monthly letter from our Principal. Too many students arrive to school late. They miss out on important instructions and daily lessons. As parents, it is OUR job to make sure that our children are on time. Just as it's important for parents to be on time to our jobs, it's important for our children to get to theirs on time, too. It is also our parental obligation to make sure that our children are fed and well-rested. It's difficult to learn, if your stomach is rumbling or you're sleeping with your eyes open. Likewise, as a parent it is your duty to instill the importance of education into your children. WE must teach them how and expect them to pay attention, to be polite, and to stay out of trouble while they are at school.

Be a good student yourself. Read every piece of paper that the school and your child's teacher sends home. There is valuable information in there, and it is your parental homework. Model good homework skills to your child, by doing your own.

Be available to answer questions and to look over their homework with them. Know what your child has learned each day. Some great conversations can spring from the simple question, "What did you learn today that you didn't know before?" Have your child read out loud to you. Being able to read is a lifelong skill, and one that I hear kids struggle with in the classroom everyday.

Yes, it takes time to be involved. Being a parent IS a time-consuming job, but it's the job you signed up for, and ultimately, it's the one that holds the most reward. Be your job. All of our futures depend on it.

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