The Problem With Education: Parents

Oh boy. The Waiting for Superman crowd won’t be happy with this. Of all the thousands of studies trying to fix blame for the sorry state of education in this country, here’s one that actually makes sense and reflects the reality of just about every classroom in the USA.

First, the back-story. It’s standard practice these days for policymakers and policy wonks to point the finger of blame squarely at teachers and teachers unions. Hey, if John and Jane are sucking the educational tailpipe, it can only be the fault of the miscreants at the front of the classroom and those organizations who represent them. Right?

Well, no. Completely wrong — as anyone who has actually stood in front of a classroom knows only too well. Yes, there are bad teachers. They should be doing something else. Maybe selling bonds on Wall Street. And yes, unions at times protect the bad — along with the excellent, while putting a check on administrators who many times take great pride in changing something — or someone — just for the sake of changing.

Anyway, here’s an Associated Press article, “Parents get a demerit for U.S. school woes.” It highlights the results of an Associated Press-Standford University poll that holds parents responsible. Ouch. Imagine that. Here’s from the article:

Blaming teachers for low test scores, poor graduation rates and the other ills of American schools has been popular lately, but a new survey wags a finger closer to home.

An Associated Press-Stanford University Poll on education found that 68 percent of adults believe parents deserve heavy blame for what’s wrong with the U.S. education system — more than teachers, school administrators, the government or teacher unions.

Only 35 percent of those surveyed agreed that teachers deserve a great deal or a lot of the blame. Moms were more likely than dads — 72 percent versus 61 percent — to say parents are at fault. Conservatives were more likely than moderates or liberals to blame parents.

And more:

The problems children and their parents deal with inside and outside school every day are growing, said Julie Woestehoff, executive director of Parents
United for Responsible Education, a Chicago advocacy group.

Children are tired, they’re hungry and they need someone to help with their homework. Some kids face violence at home or in their neighborhood. Some parents are trying so hard to keep a roof over their family that they can’t help with school.

And get this:

A variety of research in past years backs up the poll respondents’ sense that parenting plays a key role in school performance.

One in 10 kindergarten and first-grade students misses a month of school every year, which can put them behind their classmates for years, according to Attendance Counts, an advocacy group. By ninth grade, missing 20 percent of school is a better predictor than test scores that a student will drop out, said Attendance Counts director Hedy Chang. In the poll, 41 percent said students not spending enough time in school is a serious problem.

Exposing kids younger than 2 to too much television can cause them to develop language skills later, researchers at the University of Washington have found.

Hungry students do worse on standardized tests and are absent more often, according to several studies that have connected poor nutrition with students who have trouble concentrating.

OK. We need excellent teachers. But that ain’t going to happen as long as we blame them for all the problems associated with the educational system in this country. And as long as we measure their performance without considering factors outside the classroom.

Hire people to teach who are committed to excellence and helping students succeed. Pay them a salary in line with other professionals. Give them the support, training and mentoring they need to achieve the best results.

And recognize that in the long run without parents taking responsibility for the education of their children even Superman will have a mighty tough go of it.


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