Importance of Parents in Education
a False Excuse for Student Failure
By Thomas F Kelly, P h. D.
The Wall Street Journal recently published an article entitled, “The Secret of a Charter School’s Success? Parents” The article points out that the charter school only accepts students whose parents are committed to supporting their education. The writer attributes that as the primary reason for their success.
I don’t doubt the value of such support. I congratulate charter schools on their very real success. Unfortunately, we also have millions of students who, for a variety of reasons do not and will not have such parent support. One could conclude from the article that they are just not going to make it.
Lack of parent support has served as a convenient excuse in many schools when these students fail. I once had a graduate student in my administrative training class who went on a rant about how he cannot get parent support. Thus implying, “What am I supposed to do?” I responded, “you are in this class because you want to be an educational leader. Is that correct?” He said yes. I said then what are you going to do about it besides complain? He obviously was embarrassed and did not respond.
We are suffering from cause – effect confusion. The effect we all want is high student achievement. The cause we want is the means to cause such achievement. Schools have a curriculum (I call it an instructional program) they use to teach reading, mathematics, social studies, etc. The program is the tools (methods, materials,) the teacher uses to teach. We hear often of teacher effectiveness. In fact, the effectiveness we get (i e achievement) is the product not only of the teacher but also of the curriculum or program effectiveness.
When I became a teacher in 1964 one of the things I was taught is that I would serve “in loco parentis.” Teachers spend about 35 hours a week with students in school. I always believed from 9:00 to 3:00 I was their parent. More important is the question what can I do to serve my students, including those who do not have that support. The education of all students in school is the responsibility of the teachers/schools, not their parents. I am responsible for all my students’ achievement, regardless of their condition at home.
I have worked with many schools that committed very heavily to increasing parent involvement. In the end those parents that could and would be involved did and those who could not or would not remained uninvolved.
Unless and until schools accept unconditional responsibility for student achievement, millions of students will be seriously undereducated at best. Blaming the students, teachers and/or their unhelpful parents will do nothing to enable their success. At the same time those are false reasons for the school’s failure.
The truth is the more effective the school is the higher the achievement of all its students. Effective instructional programs effectively delivered by definition engage all students in learning. If they don’t engage all students, they are not effective programs and need to be modified or replaced. Effective programs do not require any parent involvement or support. While educators cannot control what happens at home, they can control what happens in school.
For example, if a student or class has poor test results in reading the cause can be found in their ineffective reading program. It is not the student that needs to be improved but the ineffective reading program he does not learn from. Student reading achievement is an effect. Its cause is the reading instruction the student is receiving. If we improve that reading program to be effective his reading achievement will increase and will show on reading tests.
The same is true for mathematics achievement which is caused by the mathematics instructional program. Indeed, the same cause – effect relationship exists between achievement in any academic subject and the instructional program used to teach it.
The moral of the story is stop trying to improve the students, parents and teachers and work instead to improve the instructional programs they use. As the effectiveness of our instructional programs increases so will the achievement of our students and success of our teachers and schools. Program improvement is the heart of school improvement.
Dr Kelly’s latest book is “We Can do More and Better with Less, 2019 edition. It provides many examples of successful strategies and practices that cause high achievement by all students. It is the teacher’s job to empower students to learn and administrator’s job to empower teachers to teach. It is the school’s responsibility. This is a win – win – win proposition. Students, teachers and parents all win. It can be done.