Opinion
Families & the Community Opinion

Improve Education From Day One: Leverage Parents

By Bill Jackson & Leanna Landsmann — January 21, 2009 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Barack Obama, who becomes the nation’s 44th president this week, is getting plenty of advice on which goals to tackle first in this ugly economy. Most ideas call for urgent action and carry a big price tag.

When it comes to education, however, there is one high-impact, low-cost lever we hope he and his choice for U.S. secretary of education, Chicago’s accomplished schools chief, Arne Duncan, can pull immediately to boost student achievement: parent power.

President Obama has a good start. During the campaign, parents and teachers cheered when he said the magic words: “Turn off the TV, read to your children, check their homework, and send them to school ready to learn.”

Many parents heard what they’d been thinking, and teachers were thrilled that someone so persuasive was singing their song.

Parents are the first teachers of the nation’s nearly 55 million school-age children. Research clearly shows that many of these students’ foundational skills and attitudes toward learning have already been shaped by the time they get to kindergarten.

We look forward to the morning President Obama walks into a morning press conference and says: “Sorry I’m late. Today was my turn to drill the girls on their spelling words.”

Children are deeply influenced throughout their schooling by parents’ expectations, behavior, and support. Many studies show that parents have at least as much impact on their children’s academic success as teachers do.

Mr. Obama can use the full weight of the presidency to unleash the transforming power of this latent resource. For too long, schools have assigned parents the role of fundraiser and bake-sale booster. Let’s launch a national campaign that draws them more deeply into their children’s education.

Here are four ways this can be done, and how Mr. Obama and his team can help:

First, work with states to develop national K-12 education standards that define what it takes for young adults to be successful. Communicate those standards in plain language to parents and citizens everywhere. Many of the current state standards and uneven assessments are unfair to students and often misleadingly reassuring to parents. National standards—focused on what matters most—will be a powerful rallying cry that everyone can get behind, including parents.

Second, leverage new technologies to show parents how their children are progressing. Show them what it looks like for their children to be academically “on track,” and how they can support their children’s learning. We all have heard horror stories about parents who are suddenly shocked to learn that the reason their 8th grader is having trouble in science can be traced to her reading at a 4th grade level, which means she has to scramble to catch up. New Web- and cellphone-based technologies have the power to keep parents updated on progress daily and draw them into deeper involvement and support—and at a very low cost.

Third, use the presidential bully pulpit to make it cool to do well in school. Kids show great excitement about Mr. Obama’s presidency. The day after his election, one high school junior snapped up a newspaper to keep for her future children. “I love Obama!” she exclaimed. Why? “He’s just like me!” Because she was white and blonde, it seemed worth asking, “And how is that?” The girl explained: “He’s smart. Like me. Now I won’t get teased for good grades. He’s skinny, like me, and he’s from a messed-up family but he made it to the White House. So can I.” Now there’s a child who will not be left behind.

Fourth, be “parent in chief.” Parents took note when the young president-to-be called his daughters from the road and asked about their homework. Attending a parent-teacher conference the day after he was elected also sent a splendid message: We may have been up all night, but this is important. That he didn’t delegate this to Mrs. Obama set a great example.

The so-called chattering class logged a lot of broadcast airtime about where the Obamas would be sending their daughters to school. But their choice of the private Sidwell Friends School may not be as important to the girls’ academic success as the involvement the president and first lady continue to have in their daughters’ education: the questions they ask, the reading they encourage, the support they give, and the high expectations they set for academic performance.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the January 21, 2009 edition of Education Week as Improve Education From Day One: Leverage Parents

Events

School & District Management Webinar How Pensions Work: Why It Matters for K-12 Education
Panelists explain the fundamentals of teacher pension finances — how they are paid for, what drives their costs, and their impact on K-12 education.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
Strategies for Incorporating SEL into Curriculum
Empower students to thrive. Learn how to integrate powerful social-emotional learning (SEL) strategies into the classroom.
Content provided by Be GLAD
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Leadership in Education: Building Collaborative Teams and Driving Innovation
Learn strategies to build strong teams, foster innovation, & drive student success.
Content provided by Follett Learning

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Families & the Community Parents Call Chronic Absenteeism a Problem, But Most Can't Define It
A new poll sheds light on parents' views on chronic absenteeism and acceptable reasons to miss school.
3 min read
Empty desks within a classroom
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Families & the Community What Happens to the Lost-and-Found Mound at the End of the Year?
Most schools deal with lost-and-found piles as the school year ends. Some work with outside partners to recycle items for students in need.
5 min read
Dark gray laundry basket full of childrens' items with a white sign that reads "Lost Property"
iStock/Getty
Families & the Community Opinion What Student Impacted You Most as a Young Teacher?
Paying attention to students and their families can provide some of the most valuable lessons to teachers.
2 min read
Mike Nelson reads to his students.
Mike Nelson reads to his students.
Mike Nelson
Families & the Community Q&A How These District Leaders Turned Family Engagement on Its Head
Two Leaders to Learn From share insights on what family and community engagement entails.
7 min read