Education Opinion

Parent Accountability in Learning

By Walt Gardner — November 21, 2011 2 min read
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Sometimes it takes a public intellectual to drive home the importance of what should be so obvious about student learning. I was reminded of this after reading Thomas L. Friedman’s column in The New York Times (“How About Better Parents?” Nov. 20). He confirms the indispensability of parental involvement in their children’s education by citing the findings of a study conducted by a team of PISA researchers.

As readers of this column know, the Program for International Student Assessment is closely watched because it tests 15-year-olds in the world’s leading industrialized nations on reading comprehension and on their ability to apply their math and science knowledge to solve real world problems. The PISA team interviewed parents of 5,000 students “about how they raised their kids and then compared that with the test results.”

They found that students whose parents often read books with them during their first year of elementary school posted significantly higher scores in PISA 2009 than students whose parents read with them infrequently or not at all. This advantage was independent of the family’s socioeconomic background. These findings were echoed in a recent study by the National School Boards Association’s Center for Public Education.

Teachers have long known about the importance of parental involvement in student achievement, but their views were seen by corporate reformers as excuses for their lack of effectiveness. During the 28 years that I taught in the same high school in the Los Angeles Unified School District, I could accurately predict which parents would show up at Back-To-School night. They were almost always the parents whose children were excelling in my classes.

There’s a saying that knowledge is power. I disagree. I say it’s the use of knowledge that is power. What good does it do to possess knowledge but not apply it? In other words, how do we get parents to read to their children? This question takes on an urgency in these changing times. For one thing, many households depend on the income from both parents merely to survive. As a result, both father and mother are too exhausted when they return home from work to read to their children. For another, an increasing number of parents do not speak English, or are barely literate. It follows that they’re not likely to read to their children, or read with the correct pronunciation.

Nevertheless, the challenge of getting parents involved is at least out in the open, thanks to Friedman’s column. I hope that his remarks will be given the recognition they deserve in these contentious times in education.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check 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.