Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Sounds Right...Now What?

By Gary Baker

The Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, recently published a study on the home life of successful students. The results of the study were hardly surprising. Successful students tend to have more involved parents. They read to and with their children more often, encourage effort in classes, monitor homework, and generally participate well in school functions. What is more surprising is that NY Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman seems to believe that, based on these findings, teachers in the public school system should be granted some kind of dispensation with regards to their responsibilities.

As a person with a great respect for education and a good number of friends in the teaching profession, I’m not the type that likes to pile on teachers. Many are doing a fantastic job under difficult circumstances. At the same time, I recognize that there are many areas in public education where improvement is possible, and no purported reason or excuse should go unchallenged. While the study may be valid, it reveals nothing that is new to the world of education. As long as there have been children in school, there have been parents that were more and less supportive of their effort. Some fought tooth and nail to get public education for their children,and some fought just as hard against it. As with many policy matters, most people fall somewhere in between.

I suppose that it is possible that parents, on average, are less involved now than they were in the past. Parental involvement in school is not a direct function of available time, but some time is a necessity. With the growth of single parent families and dual income families, many aspects of family life have suffered. If the family meal is gone, it isn't likely that "Science Night" is going to get too much priority.

If the conclusions are valid, however, then what?Does this suggest solutions? Can the school system make “good” parents out of“bad” parents? Can the teachers and administrators manufacture the required time and interest? And if not, then what is the benefit of the study? When push comes to shove, the parents are still the ones paying the bills, both at home and at school. It's hard to believe that schools having such a difficult time directing students will be more successful directing parents.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld once stated that "you go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time." I have no doubt that perfect parents would lead to great advances in student achievement, but we aren’t about to see the many time soon. Best to concentrate on what we can accomplish with the parents and students that we have right now. For teachers, that should mean focusing on class, not home.

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