"As the national debate on public school reform continues to loom large, with its inherent finger-pointing, a new enemy has recently emerged – parents. An Associated Press-Stanford University poll says 68 percent of adults believe parents deserve heavy blame for what's wrong with the U.S. education system – more than teachers, administrators, the government or even the teachers' unions."
By Anne Foster
This new version of the blame game reminds me of people who get up in an airplane at 30,000 feet and then decide the pilot may be incompetent. It's useless and too late. Rather than blaming parents for what's wrong with education, we should instead be helping them and training them to hold their schools accountable for their children's education – and to be partners in the process.
Finding one group to blame reminds us that many people are looking for silver bullets – the one culprit to blame for bad schools and the one solution for successful schools. Truth is there are no silver bullets – for either blame or credit. Successful schools exist because of a combination of factors that work together – quality teaching, professional development, adequate financial resources, safe facilities, community support and parent engagement. Failing schools exist because of a lack of these things.
Certainly, parents have a part in successful schools. There are certain things that are just plain good parenting – making sure kids get enough sleep, proper nutrition, monitoring homework and reading daily with kids. When parents do these things, children go to school ready to learn. When they don't do these things, the challenge is much greater for the school, the children and the educators. We can all agree that there are parents who wouldn't win parenting awards, and our society needs to encourage positive parenting skills. Many schools already are doing this, but they can't do it alone. They need help from others in the community.
But to blame parents as a group for any failure in education is simplistic and untenable. In fact, writing off parents as a whole represents a woefully misinformed viewpoint. Some parents are considered suspect because they are poor or do not speak English. I have met a great variety of parents, and although they would express it in many different ways, they all have hopes and dreams for their children and want them to succeed in school and in life. Parents live along a spectrum, and the more educated parents are better able to assume their rightful role in their children's schools and education. But other parents are capable of being brought along and connected with schools as well. Many schools are reaching out to them with some notable success and bringing them into a partnership with the school that focuses on the academic success of their child and the entire school. These parents are proving able to be involved with school reform, school improvement and advocacy.
The poll also found that a majority of parents believe schools have improved since they were in school and that their children are getting a better education than they did. Schools that are succeeding are doing so in part because parents are a positive force. We need to build on that and take that message to all parents. Schools need to keep reaching out to parents, particularly those who need guidance on how to help their children in school.
But blame parents? No – they deserve better than that, and so do their kids. Parent engagement is an important part of quality schools, but it is only part of the whole. We must make sure all of the pieces are in place.
Anne Foster is a former school board member in Richardson ISD and is National Executive Director of Parents for Public Schools. Anne Foster can also be heard on Education4and2Podbean.com, an educational podcast resource center for the engaged parent and dedicated educator