According to studies by the National Coalition for Parent Involvement in Education, students whose parents are involved in their education are more likely to:
- Earn higher grades and test scores.
- Enroll in higher-level programs.
- Pass their classes and be promoted.
- Attend school regularly.
- Adapt well to school, have better social skills, and even show improved behavior.
- Graduate and pursue postsecondary education.
While parental involvement during the elementary school years is fairly strong, it tends to drop off dramatically when those children go on to middle and high school. There are several reasons for this:
- Many parents feel that their children should do their homework alone, or that if parents aren't experts in a subject matter, they shouldn't try to help.
- Middle and high schools tend to be bigger than elementary schools, and less personal.
- The structure of the school day can also be a problem for parents - instead of one teacher that parents can contact, students have multiple teachers who don't know them that well.
"Of all the choices we as parents will make in our lifetime, decisions about our children's education are among the most important," says Rose Fernandez, parent advocate and founder of the National Parent Network for Online Learning. "Schools need to do more to get parents involved and parents need to raise the bar on what they expect of their schools, the teachers and themselves."
Fernandez says schools that succeed in engaging families from diverse backgrounds share three key practices:
- Focus on building trusting, collaborative relationships among teachers, families and community members.
- Recognize, respect and address families' needs, as well as class and cultural differences.
- Embrace a philosophy of partnership where power and responsibility are shared.
"If a school district doesn't establish parental involvement as a priority, if it doesn't define what it means, then parents need to take action," suggests Fernandez.
The ABCs of Parent Involvement
If you want to be more involved in your child's education, but aren't sure how, try implementing these ABCs.
Ask - Ask children specific questions about the school day. What projects are they excited about? What did they learn in a particular class? How did they feel? What were the highs and lows of the day? Ask, and then really listen to their answers.
Advise - You can't do homework for them, but you can help them establish a study routine, figure out how to use their time wisely and organize their notes, papers and supplies. Show them how to break large tasks into smaller ones so they won't be overwhelmed. And you can help them figure out how to research and get answers for themselves.
Advocate - You know your child better than anyone. If you see that your child is struggling - or isn't challenged enough - you can talk with teachers and counselors to get the help or additional resources they need.
Balance - Schoolwork is important, but it's equally important that students learn how to lead a well-rounded and balanced life. Encourage your child to join a club or sport, or participate in other extra-curricular activities. After-school activities can help their academic and personal development.
Be Proactive - Getting involved early in the school year can help head off some potential problems. But if problems do arise, don't wait to take action. Initiate dialogue with your child and with the teacher or counselor so that together you can find the best solution.
Build Relationships - Get to know the teachers and administrators at your child's school. Build relationships with other parents, and get involved on committees that affect the school. You can be a much stronger advocate for your child if you have relationships with the people involved in their education.
Create Space - Make sure your child has an appropriate place and environment in which to study. There needs to be room to spread out books, good lighting, and necessary tools such as dictionaries or calculators. Some students need a very quiet environment while others do better with some background noise. Suit the study space to your child.
Challenge - Don't let your child settle into "cruise control" and do just enough to get by. Find out what he or she is interested in and challenge them to stretch their minds in that subject. If your school doesn't offer a subject your child would like to study, or if the classes aren't sufficiently challenging, consider other options such as an online course for enrichment or extra credit. For example, K12 has a wide range of individual courses including foreign languages and college-level AP classes.
Communicate - Keep the lines of communication open with your student and your school. Make sure your child knows your expectations - and when you are proud of his or her efforts and achievements. Stay on top of school communications tools such as newsletters and bulletins. Go to parent-teacher conferences, and make sure you have contact information for teachers and counselors at the school.
Other Options to Help Your Child Succeed
Traditional brick-and-mortar education isn't always the best fit for every student. The National Center for Education Statistics reported that school districts across the country had an estimated 1,816,400 enrollments in online education courses for the 2009-2010 school year.
Whether it's for a single course or full-time enrollment, there are several reasons parents choose online learning for their children:
- The option to take AP and Honors courses.
- Filling an academic void with art, music or other vital subjects not offered locally.
- Resolving scheduling conflicts.
- Retaking courses to catch up with peers, build self-esteem, and graduate on time.
- Taking language classes not available at the local school.
"I enrolled my children in Wisconsin Virtual Academy, an online learning school which offered a high-quality, personalized education program," said Fernandez. "It had a rich mixture of online and offline teaching tools, integrated lesson plans, and assessments to make sure my children mastered a particular area before moving on at their own pace. It met the needs of my children, and made it easy for me to get and stay involved." You can find out more about online learning at www.K12.com.
The bottom line for parents is that you can make a difference in your child's education. From small day-to-day interactions to bigger decisions about where and how your child learns, you can be a champion for your child's education - and they need you to take up the cause.
Ask the Right Questions
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- Find out about teacher expectations of student performance. What percentage of the grade comes from tests, homework and class participation?
- Find out about the school's stance on communication with parents. Are there regular check-ins with your child's teacher, either in person or via email? Is parental involvement in the education process welcomed or discouraged?
- Find out how individual learning needs are met. Are there individualized education plans for students who struggle? How are the needs of gifted students met? Are there paraprofessionals available in class?