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How About Better Parents?

Posted November 22, 2011 11:37 AM by Dylan Miyake

Thomas Friedman, in an op-ed in the New York Times earlier this week asked the question: Why are we focusing on the teachers? Shouldn't we also be asking the parents to step up and take responsibility for their students? And, of course, the answer is yes, parents should take greater responsibility for their child's behavior. But, I'm afraid that the article misses the point.

Yes, the research shows that kids who are read to on a constant basis from early childhood do better in school. It's also been proven that the "tiger mom" methodology of child raising gets results. (Recent articles about orthodox Jewish families raising doctors and lawyers have also made headlines) "Monitoring homework; making sure children get to school; rewarding their efforts and talking up the idea of going to college," are also all great ideas.

But the issue is that the readers of the New York Times already know this. In fact, they're reading to their kids in utero. They're signing up their kids for Suzuki violin at age three. Petitioning the public schools to offer Montessori programs in Mandarin, etc., etc., etc.

Blaming the parents (or blaming the kids, for that matter), is not going to solve the biggest and most persistent problem with American education. The problem is the achievement gap -- the gap between the privileged children who attend world class schools and the rest of the public education system.

Yes, there has been some noise made recently about resources being drained away from Advanced Placement and other gifted programs, but the reality is that public education's role in American society is to be the great equalizer. We therefore necessarily need to focus on the students that are at the greatest risk and that have the greatest gap to close.

Unfortunately, for many of these students, the parents are absent, uninvolved, or uninterested. Teachers and schools have the incredible burden of not only being educators, but also being in loco parentis. And teachers, try as they might, cannot read to every child in their classroom every night.

There are a number of organizations that are fighting to help with the problem that the article raises. Raising a Reader is a notable one -- trying to get books into every child's home. But we have to face the reality that if a child comes to school unprepared, she still needs to leave the school prepared. Otherwise we have failed the child and doomed her to continue the cycle of poverty.

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