From my experience, parents want their kids to have a great education, and most are willing to pitch in.
On a good day, it might mean helping them study for a killer algebra test. On a bad day, it’s a more thankless task: helping them reevaluate priorities, prying fingers from the high tech keypads, smartphones and controllers stashed under every pillow.
Education is a complex topic, which deserves and is getting much discussion. But as a parent, I think understanding our stake in the process is an increasingly critical conversation, one that doesn’t always get air time.
I’d like to frame the question like this:
With school districts grappling with troublesome finances and even more troublesome test scores, what roles can and should parents play in the education process?
K12 Education today functions like an ‘ecosystem’. Most of the many interdependent stakeholders (teachers, students, parents, administrators, legislators, policy makers, text book companies) work diligently, but not always in tandem. No one entity has full control of the process. Across the diverse stakeholder groups are multiple, often conflicting objectives. Each depends on the others in the food chain for the system to function, but there is little optimization taking place.
Across the education ecosystem, too often it’s become a challenge of survival.
You may have seen “Waiting for Superman” and learned that across the nation, drop out rates are accelerating. Or maybe you saw “Race to Nowhere” about the pressure schools and parents are together putting on children, and how we must reevaluate how to define success. A more extreme example is the “Parent Trigger” where states allow parent-led coalitions to takeover problem schools.
While education leaders have much to do in sorting this out, parents have an important voice. We often forget that kids acquire language, behavior, and foundational learning skills before they set foot in a public school. Approaches will vary, but parents have the first crack at making learning a priority, and must work ever harder to sustain that. Schools, in turn, must understand what the family is experiencing, to effectively participate in an open collaboration.
Let’s tee up a few discussion topics to help us get at the core challenges of Parent Engagement.
Q1. What is the ideal role of parents in the education process?
Q2. How could we, as parents, help in a meaningful way? Here are some starter ideas, to get you thinking (do these resonate?)
- quality time on foundational skills (especially pre-K)
- finding creative ways and times to teach (story, play)
- fostering respect for knowledge and learning
- focus on resilience
- focus on mastery (deep learning) over performance (test scores)
- focus on critical thinking
- making innovation in education a priority
Q3. Who helps parents navigate these challenges, and should schools play a role in supporting them?
Q4. Can parents and teachers find the quality time required?
Education is undergoing some much needed transformation. From multiple sources, we can see innovative schools working diligently on new approaches. But time is short. And that’s an issue on many levels.
I sense that kids today start kindergarten well behind the power curve, leaving parents with few choices and many frustrations, and often no sense of what they could be doing to help.
No silver bullets here. But that’s all the more reason for the conversation.
As always, please share your thoughts as comments, I’d love to discuss your perspective.