To the Editor:
The Jan. 4, 2006, Commentary “Leave No Parent Behind” in effect leaves your readers behind, telling only half the story of parental opportunities under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. In fact, one of the most critical learning windows for parents, the first five years of a child’s life, was completely overlooked.
Through its work with parents and young children, my organization has learned that if parent involvement in education starts early, parents are more likely to stay engaged. The No Child Left Behind law includes provisions for this early stage— a period when parents are gathering the very knowledge the Commentary authors endorse—through Parent Information and Resource Centers, or PIRCs.
The U.S. Department of Education created the first PIRCs in 1995. These centers were established to provide parents, schools, and organizations working with families with training, information, and technical assistance to help parents understand how children develop and what they need to succeed in school. Today, there are more than 80 PIRCs, in almost every state.
The PIRC program is the only one under the Education Department with the purpose of supporting all parents, regardless of need, risk, or other demographic characteristic. PIRCs are mandated to provide parents with information and facilitate their involvement in their children’s education. These free early-childhood programs undergird the education system, making parents “school ready” along with their children.
It’s true that parental involvement is a key component of the No Child Left Behind Act, and PIRCs are the means by which parents can become involved at the earliest point. They also lay a foundation for parents and schools to become effective partners. Through the efforts of PIRCs, collaborations among parents, teachers, administrators, and other school personnel are strengthened, leading to enhanced learning and improved academic outcomes.
Engaging parents in the educational process is important at all levels. PIRCs give parents the avenues through which to get started, even if school is years away.
Susan S. Stepleton
President and CEO
Parents as Teachers National Center
St. Louis, Mo.