Success in school depends on us all

Published on Saturday, 23 August 2014 22:00 - Written by

What’s the most important thing we can do to ensure East Texas students get the most from school in the coming year?

Bug them about it. Seriously — nag them to do their homework. Ask what they did in school each day. Turn off the televisions and take away the iPads until homework is done. Get to know their teachers. Most importantly, get involved.

Most studies and most statistics agree. The most effective form of “education reform” is parental involvement.

“When parents talk to their children about school, expect them to do well, make sure that out-of-school activities are constructive, and help them plan for college, their children perform better in school,” the National Education Association says.

Schools, too, have a responsibility here. Teachers and administrators must make every effort to build relationships with parents and grandparents.

“When schools engage families in ways that improve learning and support parent involvement at home and school, students make greater gains,” the NEA explains. “When schools build partnerships with families that respond to parent concerns, honor their contributions, and share decision-making responsibilities, they are able to sustain connections that are aimed at improving student achievement.”

Last spring, the New York Times published a piece that disagreed. Keith Robinson, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Texas, Austin, and Angel L. Harris, a professor of sociology and African and African-American studies at Duke, wrote an article titled, “Parental Involvement Is Overrated.” But their study had some serious flaws.

Here’s one “finding” of their study:

“Regardless of a family’s social class, racial or ethnic background, or a child’s grade level, consistent homework help almost never improved test scores or grades,” they wrote. “Most parents appear to be ineffective at helping their children with homework. Even more surprising to us was that when parents regularly helped with homework, kids usually performed worse.”

The authors’ conclusion was simple: “What should parents do? They should set the stage and then leave it.”

In other words, leave it to the experts (such as sociology professors).

Aside from the fact that every other study confirms the importance of parental involvement, the Robinson and Harris study is founded on flawed premises.

For example, the authors start from the presumption that President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act and President Obama’s Race to the Top effort both “promote parental involvement.”

In fact, they both do the opposite. They further federalize public education, moving the accountability further away from parents, teachers, local school districts and the states. And proximity is a necessary part of accountability.

Still, the authors agree on a fundamental truth: “The essential ingredient (of school success) is for parents to communicate the value of schooling, a message that parents should be sending early in their children’s lives and that needs to be reinforced over time.”

As President Obama himself has said, “The bottom line is that no government policies will make any difference unless we also hold ourselves more accountable as parents.”

We can help make the coming school year a successful one for East Texas students. We just have to get involved.