Society’s educational problems are not unique nor did they just happen overnight! Americans have been warned repeatedly that their school system that had kept them intellectually above the rest of the world was deteriorating. In desperation, in 1982 the members of the blue-ribbon panel of the National Commission on Excellence in Education were requested by then Secretary of Education Terrel Bell to examine the quality of education in the United States. Their report, “A Nation at Risk,” presented to President Reagan April 26, 1983, defined parents’ roles and responsibilities by declaring that “Parents are the first and most influential teachers and must be actively involved in their child’s education.”
Since then society has bent over backwards trying all the various remedies that could solve its educational woes: new buildings and programs, reams of additional textbooks and new materials. Teachers’ qualifications and expectations have been increased and intensified, curriculums severely scrutinized and updated, and tremendous pressure placed on schools to show improvements in students’ performance; however, the major solution, helping parents assume their responsibilities and holding them accountable, has been ignored. And it still is to this day, almost thirty-five years later.
From all indications, most of the money spent has vanished into a big, black hole right in the middle of America. Our students on all levels are still consistently turning in abysmal test scores, better educated foreign students are still taking over our industries, high school graduates are not capable of performing job requirements, and more high school children are functionally illiterate and dropping out of school than ever before. Instead of a resounding American success story, we have a national disgrace.
So what is the answer? Politicians, over the years, insisted it was to spend more money...just a few more billion here, another billion there, you know, and we can....” So, that’s what they did for the next thirty years, until by the time 2012/13 came along they spent $620 billion on public school education and how many more billions from then to now? And during all this time, they kept cracking the whip over the backs of the teachers and administrators saying, “Fire them, increase their qualifications, have them work longer hours, don’t pay them if their students fail.” But after all this has been done, the schools are still failing more miserably than ever before. Now we know that more money is not the answer and neither are better qualified teachers and schools. So what is left for us to do?
Let’s go back to the original report made back in 1983, “A Nation at Risk,” in which the parents were defined as the first and most influential teachers and must be actively involved in their child’s education.” Why haven’t we encouraged more parents’ involvement? I don’t know...who does? The adage, “Keep trying and you will succeed!” hasn’t worked and won’t, because we keep trying the same things over and over, resulting in continuous failure.
Wake up, America! It’s not up for debate. It’s time we face facts. Why do there continue to be such defined classes: upper, middle, and lower in America? What factors determine who belongs where? Why is it that most of the failing school children come from poor families? And why has this cycle of failure continued year after year in the same poor families, generation after generation, never getting better, regardless of how much money we put into the schools and qualified teachers? Giving benefits to poor families keeps them alive, but doesn’t get them out of poverty.
Why, we should ask, would loving parents let their children fail? Don’t they want their children to succeed and be part of the American Dream? Of course they do, but here’s the problem: The parents of the children who fail in school don’t know how to prepare their children for success; all they know is to raise their children the same way they were raised by their parents, which generates a cycle of failure in each following generation, just as knowledgeable parents raise their children the same way they were raised, which perpetuates a generational cycle of success. And so it goes: the poor continue to beget poor, while the educated middle and upper classes continue their cycles of success.
Teachers are not perfect. They’re fallible human beings like the rest of us; however, society has expected miracles from them. Ponder a typical classroom scenario, whether it be reading, math or language: There are twenty students and one teacher who explains a lesson, gives the assignment and then goes on to give one-on-one assistance. If the class is one hour long and one-half hour is left, how much time would those students get who needed more help to understand the assignment? If there are ten, each would get three minutes, which is not very impressive and not possible. And very seldom does the teacher have the class’ undivided attention with no behavior problems, or corrections to be made that interfere with the students’ concentration and comprehension of the lesson. So, doesn’t it make sense that the students of the parents who send their children to school prepared to learn, then continue to help and support them at home, are those who are better students throughout their school years, graduate from college, and join the upper echelons of society? Meanwhile, the poor students stumble along, doing the best they can without the help they need and eventually drop out of school. At this stage, we must stop blaming the schools and teachers. Parents and society are expecting the impossible from them. Numerous studies by child development experts come to the same conclusion: Parental involvement and home environment are the determining factors of students’ success or failure in school.
Instead of blaming the parents of the poor students, we need to break the cycle of failure that’s plaguing their families. We need to teach those who are willing and able how to lay the foundation for learning at home during the preschool years, so that when the children enter school, a parent/teacher partnership may begin, whereby the teachers can take over and build upon the foundation while the parents continue to support and help from home. This would make all the difference in the world. The sooner we begin, the sooner poor families can advance from poverty into the middle and upper echelons of society, and begin to share in the blessings educated America has to offer.
Every child can be a Top Student, and a happy, successful adult, given the proper beginning and continued support.
Following are my suggestions to begin a massive effort for the REMAKING OF EDUCATION IN AMERICA:
Preschool should begin at age 3.
Government assistance to families should be contingent upon mandatory parent training.
Poor parents could be paid to attend and complete training classes.
All “Day Care” should be rated according to preparing the children for school.
Schools should offer parents a two hour class at the beginning of each quarter to show them what their child will be learning and offer suggestions as to how they can help.
There should be mandatory high school child prep courses for all senior students.
Child prep courses should be part of college basics, or for extra credit. Churches could offer parent education courses and receive government compensation.
- Kathleen Burns Author, Top Students/Top Parents Founder of Head Start for Parents, Inc.