Education Opinion

Family Engagement Matters

By Stu Silberman — May 27, 2014 3 min read
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The following post if from guest blogger Cory Curl, Prichard Committee member.

There is a good chance that eighty percent of the pocket money I earned when I was growing up went for purchases of Dutch mints - my vision of the perfect candy. A minty sugar sphere, surrounded by a layer of dark chocolate, sealed up with a coating of pastel mint shell.

I think of parent and family engagement in public education much in the same way that I do Dutch mints.

The minty sphere is how parents and families help children learn at home. The next layer is how they help their child’s school. And the hard coating is how parents and families advocate for education in their communities.

Helping children at home. Parents, families and other caregivers at home have tremendous influence on student academic achievement - particularly in reading, where the U.S. has made so little improvement over the last decades.

According to Amanda Ripley’s wonderful book, The Smartest Kids in the World, examination of results and parent surveys from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) shows that 15-year olds whose parents read to them every day or almost every day when they were young children performed better in reading than kids whose parents did not read to them as often. This is true across countries and even across income levels. It’s important that parents ask young children about the book as they are reading, and ask them questions that require them to think independently - in other words, to communicate to their children that reading and learning about the world is important.

As kids get older, Ripley reported, they do better in reading when their parents discuss movies, books and current affairs with them. In fact, parents who simply read for pleasure - for themselves - have children who are more likely to say that they enjoy reading.

Reaching to benefit the whole school. How can parents and families help their child’s school? My perspective is that the best things parents and families can do are to help their children learn at home, and to help other families do the same. In Kentucky, the Governor’s Commonwealth Institute for Parent Leadership (GCIPL), is a treasured resource to help parents learn about the education system and how to be education leaders. Most importantly, GCIPL guides parents in putting in practice what they have learned - and many end their training by launching a program in their child’s school or districts to help other parents.

Programs like GCIPL are also transformative in that they help parents and families understand what questions to ask administrators and teachers in their child’s school, to whom and how to ask the questions in order to both support the school’s efforts and spark action to make changes when needed.

Advocating for all children. When I was growing up in Kentucky, I knew of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence as a force to be reckoned with - the organization that pressed for, and got, groundbreaking investments and reforms for public education. I heard about meetings of the state’s leading business and civic leaders at the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill that set the vision and course for change. What I didn’t know, until I became a committee member, is that many of the pioneers who led the Prichard Committee were, in fact, parents - parents who knew that their children and their neighbors’ children and children across the Commonwealth did not have the opportunity for a good education and who weren’t going to sit down until that changed.

GCIPL and other programs like it give parents and families the know-how and opportunity to continue the charge, to not rest until every single child has what he or she needs to be successful in school and in life. It also connects parents into a powerful network. Another thing I have learned about the Prichard Committee’s history is that the parents who made it all possible became fast friends, and lasting friends - their courage and influence was magnified because they could lean on and inspire each other.

Last week was the application deadline for this year’s GCIPL Fellows cohort. I can’t wait to see what this class of fellows will do - from building their capacity to advocate for all children (the pastel coating that seals it all together), to helping other parents (the rewarding chocolate layer) and supporting their own child’s learning at home (the mint sphere, the center of it all)!

The opinions expressed in Public Engagement & Ed Reform are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.