By Bob Hildreth
Among the items ignored by educational reformers is parental engagement. Little has changed in how parents engage with schools since public education first began. And yet recent studies have shown parents to be key in how their children are academically socialized, i.e., the nuts and bolts of learning.
Teachers expect parents to help get homework done. This is a poor use of parents. Parents don’t want to do homework because they are not very good at it. What they are good at is inspiring their children, convincing them that they are smart, inculcating aspirations to play sports, make a speech, do well in school, or go to college. And that in turn maybe the best way to get homework completed.
Teachers call parents, text them, send home notices and brochures, and invite them to school functions. They try to meet with parents, especially those whose students are in trouble. Despite all this many parents seldom show up, leading to teachers going through the motions but expecting the same poor results. Insane? Districts hire parent liaisons to call parents and visit them in their homes. This seldom moves the dial on parent attendance.
In sum, teachers ask parents to do what they don’t see themselves as good at (homework) and ignore those things parents do naturally (aspirations). In frustration they forget parents and like martyrs take on all the burden of a child’s education.
A recent study of Professors Nancy Hill and Diana Tyson found that “involvement pertaining to homework assistance and supervising of checking homework was the only type of involvement that was not consistently related with achievement.” At the same time, “parental expectations for children’s academic achievement predict educational outcomes more than do other measures of parental involvement.”
The community surrounding the school is where aspirations are born and fostered . They reflect ethnicity, language and culture. Some may be strong and others may need nurturing. But when good, they provide a setting for parents to speak freely and frankly to teachers, to own the agenda, and to feel and be effective.
One way of building communities is for parents to do something outside of the classroom, things over which they can take personal control. Inversant, a Boston non-profit, encourages low income parents to save for college and to learn about college through monthly meetings. To do this, Inversant offers to match savings 1:1 and monthly meetings with a developed curriculum, accompanied by meals, and ravels. Parents in the Inversant program have opened one thousand accounts and saved over $800,000 dollars matched to $1.6 million. Monthly meetings have been transformed into true communities.
Without connecting with their communities schools effectively wall themselves off. Those left on the other side of the wall are the parents. By comparison, if teachers and parents worked together they would immeasurably expand and empower the resources for raising our children. Hey reformers, let’s look at parental engagement again. Past failure is no indication of future success.