Told you so: Schools need better parents

Studies show children score higher when moms, dads are more engaged in their education. No kidding.

November 30, 2011|Susan Reimer

I occasionally have these moments — not "aha" moments exactly, more like "I could have told you that" moments — when I think that companies or research institutions should have just asked me and I could have saved them a lot of time and money.

I had one of those moments when a special fruit and vegetable detergent came on the market and was selling for something like $6 a bottle. It was supposed to wash away pesticides or bacteria without leaving any kind of a soapy aftertaste, and I knew it wouldn't sell.

Nobody was going to believe that it wouldn't leave an aftertaste, and even if they did, they weren't going to pay $6 for a special soap to wash their food when they don't pay that much for a special soap to wash their babies.

"You should have asked me," I thought when the fruit and vegetable detergent still didn't sell when it was marked down to $2. I could have saved them a lot of work.

I had another one of those ask-me-first moments when I read that an international study of thousands of children from 18 countries revealed that students whose parents read to them as children and who showed an interest in their schoolwork performed significantly better on achievement tests at the age of 15.

Wow. Really?

Thomas L. Friedman wrote about the research in The New York Times and suggested, quite correctly, that perhaps we shouldn't blame the poor performance of American kids on their teachers, that perhaps parents had a role, too.

The research was done by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development as a follow-up to exams given to teen students in the world's leading industrialized nations. They wanted to know why some students did better on the Program for International Student Assessment tests than others.

Beginning in 2006, researchers visited the parents of the students and asked them questions, and five years later we have their conclusions.

Fifteen-year-old students whose parents often read books with them during their first year of school had significantly higher scores than students whose parents read to them infrequently or not at all.

And parental engagement proved to be a significant factor as well. Simply asking about the school day had the same impact as hours of private tutoring, the research concluded, and that was true regardless of the parents' education or socioeconomic status.

Another study described by Friedman was conducted by the National School Boards Association's Center for Public Education, and that report concluded that simply monitoring homework at home was a "more powerful driver of achievement than parents attending PTA or school board meetings, volunteering in classrooms, participating in fundraising and showing up at back-to-school nights."

I could have told them that.

Years of watching my own children and their friends move through the public school system in my community, with its enormous range in incomes, plus a significant number of ethnic, minority, poor and single-parent households, demonstrated exactly what all that research concluded:

It isn't always about the school. It is more often about the parents.

When friends and neighbors with children younger than mine would wrestle with the public-private school decision, I would try to calm them by saying that their children already had an educational leg up — parents who gave a damn, parents for whom education was such a priority that they would jeopardize the family's financial security to pay private school tuition.

"Don't you get it?" I would ask. "You are the ones that matter in this equation. You are the constant.

"Your children will have an uneven collection of teachers during 12 years of school, some inspired and some dismal. There will be years when you think absolutely nothing is happening in the classroom, and you will despair.

"But if you show your children that education matters to you," I would tell conflicted parents, "they are likely to go as far as their brains will take them."

Read to your children often. Show a genuine interest in their school day. And set aside time for homework. These are three simple things any parent can do to improve a child's chances for academic success.

These are the high-priced conclusions of professional educators who are much smarter than me and most, if not all, of my fellow mothers.

And we could have told them that.

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