Feeling the Pressure: Getting Parents Involved in Education

A recent Pew Research study reports that two-thirds of the American public think parents are not putting enough “pressure” on their children to study hard.  Over 20 countries were surveyed and the U.S. is more likely than any other country to report that we were not putting enough pressure on our students.  Interestingly, China was almost the complete opposite in reporting the belief that they put too much pressure on students (68%).  As a country we are starting to recognize the important role that parents play in shaping and promoting their children’s educational achievement.  In fact, this same survey indicated that, in 2006, 56% of the US public thought parents were not putting enough pressure on their children.  In five years the trend has increased by 8 percentage points.

Years ago, Susan Hall and Louisa Moats wrote Straight Talk About Reading, in which they argued for conceiving of literacy achievement as a shared responsibility.  If we are going to compete with other countries and have every child graduate from high school prepared for the rigors of college and career, parents will have to play a larger and vital role in supporting their children’s educational attainment.  My belief is that all parents want to be good parents and want a better future for their children.  While it is fairly easy for some parents to get involved in their child’s education, many parents, especially our low income parents, have trouble figuring out how to be involved.  Due to time constraints and perhaps their own lack of educational success, they become passive observers instead of active participants in their child’s education.

As we think about this latest Pew Research, educators and policy makers need to think through how we can best enlist and encourage active parental involvement.  “Pressure” is not what we really need.  For most of us pressure has a negative and stressful connotation (see, for example, these common meanings for the word ‘pressure’). What we really need is for parents to create an environment at home that supports academic achievement.  To accomplish this shift in parental expectations and involvement, we will need to conduct a comprehensive and concerted campaign of education and support of parents.  Through PTAs, PSAs, teacher conferences, pediatrician visits, community meetings, library sessions, and many other outlets, we need a crisp message for parents on what they can do to promote their child’s achievement.  The critical importance of school attendance, of devoting space and time at the home for homework,  of turning off the TV and reading, and the use of public libraries, to name just a few, all need to be part of the message.

It is also incumbent upon educators to build or introduce parent friendly tools and resources for parents to use with their children.  Here at MetaMetrics we’ve attempted to do just that with tools like ‘Find a Book’ and Math at Home.  ‘Find a Book’ allows parents and students to match themselves to book of interest at their own individual reading level.  Built around research demonstrating both the importance of targeting readers at the right level and of allowing students to self-select their own reading material, ‘Find a Book’ allows users to indicate their Lexile reading level as well as the topics on which they prefer to read.  Students can then select titles of interest within their own reading range and create book lists to print or save.  Best of all, ‘Find a Book’ links up with public libraries, allowing students and parents to immediately see which books on their list are available through the public library, as well as the closest branches that carry those titles.  ‘Find a Book’ is free to use.  Check it out here.

Math at Home functions in a similar way.  Based on the Quantile Framework for Mathematics, Math at Home allows students to select free, targeted math resources to help augment their textbook lessons.  Like ‘Find a Book’, Math at Home is built around the idea of targeting students at the right mathematical level.  Parents or students simply select the textbook lesson(s) they wish to supplment and they are immediately presented with a range of resoruces targeted to the individual student’s level.  Users can then create multiple resource lists for use over the summer or all year long.  Math at Home is also free to use and available here.

It’s our hope that an increasing number of parents will elect to be involved in their children’s education and that educators will welcome participation from enthusiastic and caring parents.  We also hope to see more tools and resources available that help supplement and codify the lessons learned in the classroom, tools that families can use as a way to prepare students for life after graduation.

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