To the Editor:
In their Commentary (“What About Parental Involvement in Parenting?” Oct. 20, 2004), Maurice J. Elias and Yoni Schwab say that “parental involvement in parenting is the foundation of effective parental involvement in the schools—and of student success.” I agree. But why stop there?
Laws that mandate and support standards-based education are on target in requiring schools and families to work together in substantive ways. All students must learn more, and educators cannot make this happen without help from beyond the schoolhouse door. It is a new day for parents and teachers, and for the work they must do together.
As we hold students and teachers to higher standards, we must also have higher expectations for parents. They must be part of the process of improving education. They must know if academic progress is being made. To do that, they have to look at and understand school achievement data, ask questions, and even take action to improve achievement. Holding a school accountable and partnering with educators to help the school improve is ultimately the responsibility of all parents. This is the definition of true public accountability.
Admittedly, not all parents are ready or able to do this yet. But many are, and many more can be, with training, no matter what social, financial, or emotional challenges they face.
Our Commonwealth Institute for Parent Leadership in Kentucky has seen parents from all income and education levels, some facing an array of family challenges, use their involvement in schools as a way not only to spend time with their own children, but also to improve the quality of education that other children receive. They analyze school results and identify school needs. They work with educators to involve other parents in tutoring and mentoring programs, to create transition activities between elementary and middle school, to provide hands-on student experiences with science projects or student-led conferencing. The list is long and growing.
These parents understand that their involvement “beyond parenting” helps their child as well as others. They are forming incredible partnerships with schools, in ways they did not think possible—until, that is, someone expected it of them.
More parents than we know are ready to go even further in getting involved in education. That is why it is critical that we keep expectations high for our parents and their work as partners with schools.
The question is not: Are we asking too much of parents? The question is: How can we help them do what our schools—and our society—need for them to do?
Beverly N. Raimondo
Center for Parent Leadership
Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence
A version of this article appeared in the November 17, 2004 edition of Education Week as For Parents, Asking Too Much, Offering Too Little