National/state newspaper editorials from business interests rightly complain about the unpreparedness of many high school graduates for occupational and higher education success. TED talk experts on the web speak to the “crisis” in public education and offer highbrow solutions.
But from my point of view, most editorials/experts either omit or barely mention the most important and OBVIOUS variable affecting student achievement: PARENTS! In the absence of good parenting, very few students achieve.
If you want a rock-solid barometer with which to predict success in individual public schools, here it is: Parental responsibility. I don’t mean parents who fancy themselves as advocates for their children in the sense of forcing others to do more or pay more. I mean parents who roll up their sleeves and spend hours at night and on weekends helping their children learn, providing them enriching experiences, and insisting that their children get the work done. If there are enough of those parents in a community, the public schools shine. In such communities, most kindergarteners come to school already knowing the alphabet (or are reading). Their brightest and hardest-working 12th-graders go on to Harvard and Berkeley (as in Pearland). Others get good jobs with good futures in skilled occupations. The PTAs in those communities exist to HELP teachers, not complain about them. In turn, kids graduate with the sense that achievement is their own responsibility, not someone else’s.
In the school district I previously served, one of the moms berated the schools for serving pizza and potato chips instead of more nutritional lunch fare. This mom was at least 50 pounds overweight herself but apparently believed she was a victim of greedy potato chip companies. We had her child for 8 hours a day on 5 days of the week. She oversaw her child for the other 16 hours of the day, 24 hours a day on weekends — and for 24/7 in the summer. Moreover, we never prohibited her or any parent from preparing/bringing a lunch from home. Therefore, she merely shifted her responsibility for obesity to the public schools. (And incidentally, the state and federal governments are now taking the same approach by mandating school lunch menu choices.)
But my definition of the most outstanding PARENTAL INVOLVEMENT is NOT serving as a “helicopter parent,” making sure that no other child, teacher, or school does anything to displease you. It is not serving as a “snowplow parent,” blasting all obstacles out of your children’s way so they never face difficulty. Instead, it is making sure YOU as a parent are doing enough for your children, mostly by constantly placing the responsibility for learning and behavior squarely on their young shoulders and on yours, often at night (in those torturous episodes called homework).
What are the realities most affecting ideal parenting now — in the midst of this public school criticism?
- Divorce: About half of current marriages in the U.S. end in divorce.
- Poverty: American poverty can best be described as single, unmarried, or divorced moms raising kids alone.
- Education: The educational level of the parent(s) more often reflects the educational attainment of their children.
- Work: Parents with difficult jobs are so busy that the education of their children is placed solely on the backs of teachers.
- Priorities: Sports, cheerleading, and other school activities are deemed most important — though remotely connected to academics and test scores.
- Blame: Parents believe their children and themselves are “victims” needing public schools to do more and more and more.
- Morality: Our increasingly lawless society rejects God and substitutes pleasure as its highest reward.
And please don’t exaggerate IQ or privilege as primarily responsible for the different outcomes among students. As research has revealed, the most successful students are those with GRIT, who work hard and persevere through failure before achieving success. Such students are most often inspired by one or more loving parents guiding them.
Now if many children and parents seize the opportunities available (AP courses, SAT Prep, career/technical courses, foreign language, music, drama, athletics, tutorials, etc., etc., etc.) and excel, are others really barred from such accomplishment? In truth, public schools now offer more individualized help and a greater variety of learning opportunities than ever before. Hard-working students can now earn 60 hours of college credit and even an Associate’s Degree through public schools. But there is an old saying that captures the problem: “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”
So where are the best-rated schools? Where do you find top students going to the top universities? Look for communities in which education is highly valued, where there are parents reading to their kids before kindergarten, where stability and meaningful occupations are embraced through hard work, and where there are more churches than bars.
Our Pearland students collectively achieve more than most communities on standardized tests. Yet there aren’t a lot of kids born with silver spoons in their mouths here. We are a middle class community valuing education and hard work with above-average educational attainment among our adult population. A few miles north, this is not so, and school ratings are predictably lower. Frankly, schools and students serving dysfunctional families must work harder to achieve the same results.
Why? When the public schools assume the parental burden, the system begins to collapse of its own weight, needing funds and resources far beyond that required for others. In short, there isn’t enough money to adequately substitute for parental responsibility.
I salute the majority of parents in Pearland ISD who help their children learn and who teach them personal responsibility and a work ethic. Frankly, without such parents, our best efforts aren’t enough.