Parent involvement in schools

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(Host) As the new school year gets underway, commentator Madeleine Kunin reflects on tests, achievement and parental involvement.

(Kunin) The first days of school are always exciting. Children walk out the door and down the path or on to the school bus with high hopes. Parents are eager to ask, “How was it? Did you like the teacher, did you make friends in your class?”In these early days of new sneakers and fresh t-shirts there is an optimism about learning which defies all the studies which claim declining scores of American students in all fields.

But this year, there is a blip in the downward curve – a new statistic that tells us that SAT math scores are the highest in 35 years. That upward trend has occurred despite the fact that a record number of students took the SAT’s – the only equivalent we have of a national test.

The bad news is that girls still do less well in math than boys. The good news is that verbal scores improved as well.

How do we continue to build on these improvements and make sure that all students improve, including those from rural areas and large cities? Each year, a new study suggests a new strategy for school success. Under the federal program “No Child Left Behind,” the panacea is testing.

That has sparked a wide debate about cost and effectiveness. Let’s push that debate aside for a moment and focus on a sure thing. It’s simple, it’s proven and it doesn’t cost much money.

It does cost time. It’s called parent involvement. When I was Deputy Secretary of Education I visited schools around the country, poor schools, and affluent schools. The one common denominator that good schools had was parent involvement not only helping with homework, which is important, but coming to the school as a volunteer, meeting the teacher, working with the children.

Some schools had a special room set aside for parents, welcoming them with open arms. Other schools were more resistant.

As a parent, ask to visit the classroom, and if possible, ask your boss for a few hours off from work to visit your child’s school. It’s as important to show up there as it is at the dentist’s office. If education is important to the parents, here’s a chance to show it. Children will work so much harder if they know that their parents care.

This is the time when we can take the excitement and curiosity about the first days of school, and extend into a year long adventure.

This is Madeleine May Kunin.

Madeleine May Kunin is a former governor of Vermont.

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