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Virginia Journal of Education

On Point

Public Education's Missing Link

By Margaret Roane

Politicians and the media won’t say it, but we don’t really have failing public schools. Students succeed and go on to college and the working world from every public school in the nation. What we do have are underperforming students in every school; additionally, we have higher proportions of underperforming students in some schools, primarily in economically disadvantaged areas. But here’s the good news: students don’t have to be rich to be successful in school – they need parents who are totally committed to their academic success.
What keeps parents from fully supporting their children’s academic progress? Some are unaware that they have a role in their children’s schooling; they expect school systems to bear total responsibility for their children’s education. Others have good intentions, but don’t know how to help their children be successful in school. Others believe they must master all the subject matter their children are learning in order to help their students in school, so they hesitate to become involved. Some were not successful in school themselves, so they may be uncomfortable around or intimidated by school personnel. Many parents are simply so busy with their jobs and other activities that they don’t make time to check on their students’ progress and respond or intervene appropriately. Some have not established their authority over their children, so they feel that they cannot have an impact because their children don’t listen to them. Still others find it easier to blame educators if their children struggle in school, not realizing that educating children is a team sport – teacher, parent and student working together.

Instead of just focusing on what our schools are doing, let’s put more effort into encouraging parents to do their part. What can parents do to help their students? One of the most important places parents can start is instilling a strong work ethic in their children. From an early age, parents must ensure that their children adopt the habit of completing all assignments on time and studying for quizzes and tests. They must also see to it that students get in the habit of attending school on time every day; poor attendance almost always means poor academic performance.

Parents must get in the habit of regularly communicating with their children’s teachers, whether it’s through scheduled events such as back-to-school night and parent-teacher conferences, or through email as needed. Regularly checking student grades, interims and report cards is another essential parent function; I am always amazed when parents tell me in May they haven’t received a report card all year! Parents must be aware of interim and report card dates; if their students do not bring home these critical progress reports, parents must follow up with school personnel so that they will know how their students are doing, and so they can implement improvement strategies while there is still time in the school year to do so.

Parents can also take advantage of the online tools and applications available to them in many school divisions – tools such as TeacherEase, PowerSchool and Blackboard. These resources can help parents access their children’s grades and assignments online at their convenience, and they can communicate directly with their children’s teachers through such software as well. 

Last but not least, parents have the ability to touch a child’s circumstances by assigning rewards and punishments to ensure proper performance in school. As a school counselor, I spend a lot of time talking to students and encouraging them to do their classwork, complete their homework assignments, and study for assessments, but I do not have the power parents do. I cannot take a student’s cell phone, car keys or video games away when they neglect their assignments, but their parents can. Parents must use the means at their disposal to significantly influence the choices their children make; they must also ensure that students spend time at home completing assignments and studying, something school personnel cannot do. On behalf of school personnel everywhere, I want to thank those parents that do the tasks listed here to educationally support their children, and I commend them for their consistent efforts.

Great parents have great students, no matter where those students go to school. I’ve known students who attended schools that some would label “failing” who have gone on to college and successful careers. Are there teachers, schools, and school divisions that can make improvements? Certainly there are, but the biggest bang for our buck will be found as we get parents to remember that education is a partnership between the school and the home; neither party can effectively educate our children without the other.

Roane, a member of the Hanover Education Association, is a counselor at Patrick Henry High School and the author of Parenting Matters: Raising Successful Kids.


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