Saturday, November 13, 2010

Framing My Educational Thinking as a Parent

Last night I had the honor of addressing the New Hampshire State PTA Annual Conference.  I believe what the PTA does is so important for our schools.  In the last fifty years there has been unequivocal research that clearly and consistently aligns parent involvement with student achievement and school success, yet in the same time not one educational reform effort that focuses on student achievement has included parent and community involvement within its parameters or recommendations.  Currently, if a school is one “in need of improvement,” it must create a plan of how to improve, but it does not need to involve parents or community in this plan. 

This means it is up to us—dedicated parents and teachers—to make this happen.  The lack of parent involvement is a huge concern for teachers.  Teachers often think that parents don’t care.  I disagree.  I have yet to meet a parent who does not care.  Parents who don’t make wise decisions?  Sure.  Parents who don’t know what good educational practices are?  Of course.  Parents who aren’t sure how to help their struggling child?  Yes.  But parents who don’t care? There aren’t many out there. In fact, when parents are asked why they do not become involved with their child’s education, they tend to cite four reasons that should give us pause:

1.  They are usually only asked to help in big situations and don’t have time.
2.  They are uncomfortable in schools because they are intimidated by school officials and are often reminded of their own past negative experience
3.  They lack the resources or know-how to help their child.
4. They don’t hear from schools unless there is a problem with their child’s behavior or performance, therefore feeling that their role is one that intervenes when difficulties arise.

As I spoke with parents last night, I was again reminded of the sentiments that come up in Waiting for Superman.  Parents want our schools to serve our children the best they can.  They want bullies to be squashed.  They want gifted kids to be pushed.  They want struggling kids to be supported.  They want curriculum to be consistent.  They want to be communicated with by their children’s teachers.  And they want to support us.  They want to be part of their child’s education and they don’t want red tape, unions, “rules,” or other educational bureaucracy to interfere with that. 

These are the outspoken parents—the ones who are willing to give up a Friday night for a PTA conference.  We need to remember that there are more parents out there who do not know how to articulate these desires, and it is our responsibility to reach out to them and involve them in our classrooms. 

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