by Freddie Allen

WASHINGTON (NNPA)—When parents pull into the parking lot of their child’s school in the morning, drop them off, and wave goodbye, they may also be waving goodbye to their child’s future academic and career success. Research shows that when parents limit their involvement in their child’s education to the front door of their schools, they also limit the educational opportunities for their child.

ENGAGED—Byron Garrett urges more parental involvement in academics. (NNPA Photo/Freddie Allen)

“Research shows that family engagement is one of the leading indicators of academic success,” said Byron Garrett, chair of the National Family Engagement Alliance and former CEO of the National Parent Teacher Association. “So where you see students doing incredibly well you also see their families directly involved in the educational process.”

School children spend more than 70 percent of their time away from the classroom. According to a report by the Michigan Department of Education, when parents are actively engaged in the education process, students achieve higher grades and test scores, and self-esteem and lower rates of drug and alcohol use. Research also shows that school attendance increases and suspensions decrease. Parental involvement also trumps socioeconomic status when it comes to predicting the long-term, academic success of children.

Yet, as the evidence for the importance of parental engagement in the educational process continues to mount over decades, the cost of doing nothing, failing our children and allowing them to dropout is even more significant.

An October 2011 report by the National Center for Education Statistics, found that the average high school dropout drains almost $240,000 from the U.S. economy during their lifetime, because they contribute less in taxes, they use more social services, like Medicaid and welfare programs, and they commit higher rates of crimes.

“The economic impact of children not graduating from school is crippling our economy,” Garrett said.

For some parents, however, coming home to math problems and essays on colonialism may seem overwhelming and unfortunately their children are the most vulnerable in the classroom.

The “Lost Opportunity” report by the Schott Foundation for Public Education found that Black students were more likely to attend “poorly-resourced, low performing schools (42 percent),” compared to White students (15 percent). White students are more than twice as likely (32 percent) as Black students (15 percent) to have access to “well-resourced, high-performing schools.”

Garrett said, “In communities of color you find that students are in schools that are under-resourced, with higher concentrations of low-income families. You also find the lowest levels of family engagement for a variety of reasons. So, for a busy parent working two jobs or balancing schedules or a single mom having to navigate a system, even scheduling a [parent-teacher] meeting becomes more complex.”

Karen Mapp, a lecturer and researcher at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, said that it’s wrong to assume that parents aren’t more involved in their child’s education, because they don’t want to be. Interacting with teachers and school administrators can be intimidating and scary for parents who had limited success in their own academic careers. “A lot of times it’s that they don’t know how and they don’t have the confidence.”

Mapp addressed a mixed audience of parents and educators during a 2012 lecture on student achievement for the GEMS Education Company. She suggested that parents focus on building networks with other parents and practice role-playing in different situations to build confidence in talking to their children and the school staff. For their part, school administrators and teachers must learn how to engage parents and build trusting and respectful relationships and expose parents to the various roles that they can play in their child’s education at school and at home.

“My mom was a PTA mom and she went to all the meetings,” Garrett said, but he credited the quality time his parents spent with him at home and the high expectations for success that they instilled in him for making all the difference. “It wasn’t just because they showed up on campus, that was part of it, but it wasn’t the leading factor.”

According to research conducted by Reginald Clark, author of “Family Life and School Achievement: Why Poor Black Children Succeed Or Fail,” when parents expect more from their children their children do better. Conversely when students achieve less, their parents expectations are also lower.

“We need our young people to recognize the value of getting a quality education and how that can help them improve their station in life and pursue their dreams,” Garrett said. “That requires family members, that requires community leaders and organizations, that requires the staff at the school and at the district, and not just the teachers, but all the staff including those bus drivers and cafeteria workers and support staff. It’s a collective effort that all of us have a shared responsibility to ensure that our children get a quality education.”

(Freddie Allen is a Washington correspondent for the NNPA.)

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