Connecting Families And Schools To Help Our Children Succeed
The day-to-day reality of the American family is different today than a generation ago. Parents and children spend far less time together and almost all parents face an on-going struggle to balance the demands of their family life with their jobs. At a time when parents are under tremendous pressures that make them less able to participate in their children's lives, there is a greater need for them to be involved, particularly in education.
Parents recognize this need. According to a Newsweek--PTA poll, some 40 percent of parents all across the country believe they are not devoting enough time to their children's education. This issue - one of the biggest and most important affecting education today -will only be solved through a joint effort involving parents, schools and the community.
Schools must respond to the needs of parents and provide the supports necessary for them to be involved in their children's learning. At the same time, parents need to slow down their lives, stress the life-long importance of getting a good education, and serve as role models for their children.
Research confirms that, regardless of the economic, racial, or cultural background of the family, when parents are partners in their children's education, the results are improved student achievement, better school attendance, reduced dropout rates, and decreased delinquency.
Parents and families can make a big difference in the education of young people. The U.S. Department of Education is committed to dealing with this issue by emphasizing the importance of family-school partnerships in its major legislative initiatives: GOALS 2000 and the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). In addition, Secretary Riley is asking parents to become partners in a national family involvement campaign. This joint effort will connect families, schools, and communities to enable all children to meet high standards.
The Family-School Connection
People who have worked with families and schools have suggested a number of concrete actions that parents, schools and communities can take now to help all children learn.
As their children's first teachers, parents and families can:
1. Schedule daily homework time. Establish a time each day for your child to be engaged in academic work. Review it regularly. Provide a quiet, well-lighted place for study. Cut off TVs and radios. Also, discourage phone calls during work time. Encourage your child's efforts and be available for questions. Spend time discussing what she has learned.
While schools have the responsibility of assigning meaningful work, students have the responsibility to complete it. Time spent on academic work at home is directly related to achievement.
2. Read together. Read with your child and let them see you and older children read. Take your child to the library to get a library card and help them find books on their interests and hobbies.
Studies show that when parents read to their children or listen to them read on a regular basis, achievement improves. Taking the time to read with children is the most successful way to encourage kids to read and is critical to a child's education.
3. Use TV wisely. Establish a TV watching budget and help your child choose programs for viewing. Select programs to watch together and discuss.
Parents need to use TV wisely by both limiting the amount of viewing and helping children select educational programs. When chosen carefully, some television programs can help increase interest in learning.
4. Keep in touch with the school. Don't leave it up to the school to let you know how and what your child is doing. Stay aware of what your children are learning, what their assignments are, and how they are doing. Make a point of visiting the school and talking with the teachers. If you can't visit, schedule a phone call. Don't wait until there is a problem.
Research on the performance of high school students has shown that parents who are consistently informed about their children's progress can contribute to higher achievement. The partnership between parents and teachers is key to creating a climate at home and at school conducive to learning.
5. Offer praise and encouragement. Encourage your child to put in the time and effort to complete assignments, to work hard.
Encourage him to persevere. Cultivate a warm and supporting home atmosphere while also setting and enforcing standards for school work.
Parents play a dominant role in influencing a child's confidence and motivation to become a successful learner. Parents should encourage children to complete assignments as well as introduce them to enrichment programs and outside experiences that will enhance their self confidence and broaden their interests.
6. Talk to your teenager. Talk to your teenager. Know who your teen's friends are and keep tabs on their whereabouts. Support your teens in their school and extracurricular activities. Keep them involved in family activities.
Continue to set and enforce rules. Stress their importance as a role model to younger siblings.
Children and parents can learn a lot about each other just by talking. Parents should communicate their values openly with their teenager. By talking about the importance of values such as honesty, self-reliance, and responsibility, parents are helping their children make good decisions.
Schools Connecting With Parents
In order to make real change in our schools, parents must be directly involved in the education of their children. However, in order to sustain this involvement, there must be support from the schools, community, business, and governments.
In the effort to connect schools with parents, schools can:
1. Encourage families and teachers to establish learning compacts. Compacts would define the goals, expectations, and shared responsibilities of schools and parents as equal partners in student success. The agreements should be simply written in English or the native language of the parents where feasible. Compacts, used in conjunction with other school strategies, can strengthen the ties between families, students, and teachers; and establish a stronger environment for learning.
2. Train school staff. Good schools value parental involvement and reach out to parents. Too often the school contacts parents only when there is a problem. In developing a partnership, training will be necessary for principals, teachers, and other school staff, as well as parents, to help all collaborators acquire the skills needed. Sustaining the partnerships is everybody's job.
3. Design homework that engages parents in the process. For example, long-term assignments would involve parents in the learning process in such ways as helping families construct family trees, recounting the family history, and describing their daily work.
4. Give parents a voice in decisions. Parents should be involved in decisions regarding their children's schooling. Schools can open options for parents to become involved individually and collectively in making decisions about goals and standards for their children and their schools.
5. Extend school hours. By staying open in the afternoon, evening, and on weekends, schools can allow students and families to engage in recreational and learning activities and provide adult education programs and training in parenting.
6. Create parent resource centers. Set aside an area in the school that invites parents to share their parenting experiences with other parents and to work with teachers and other school staff on school concerns.
Communities Connecting Parents and Schools
Communities can support the connections between families and schools in many ways. Communities can:
1. Contribute to the education of our next generation through volunteer time. Members of the community and local businesses can support family involvement by broadening the learning environment. Volunteers can assist in the schools either for special events or on a regular basis through tutoring or mentoring. Family and community involvement should be developed and sustained in support of student development through all grades. Also, by getting involved in a local community board, community members can have an impact on the local policy agenda.
2. Play a role in supporting the development of children and their families. Make community resources available to schools and families. Community organizations may reach out to families by providing services such as child care, after school programs, assistance with homework, parenting education programs, or youth and family counseling programs. Inviting education officials to address civic groups and congregations on school policies and positions is another way to sustain the partnership.
3. Support flexible scheduling time at work and special programs for parents to participate in their children's schooling. Employers could devise model time release programs that allow parents the time to volunteer in their children's schools without docking them for leave time. In addition, special programs on parenting and helping children with school work could be offered during lunchtime seminars. "Bring your child to work days" can also reinforce what is taught in the school with real on-the-job skills.
How the U.S. Department of Education Will Help
To begin the process, the U.S. Department of Education has launched GOALS 2000 that directly involves parents in standard- setting and bottom-up reform. The legislation also encourages collaborations across education and community services to assist families in supporting their children's education. The Administration's proposal for reauthorizing the federal elementary and secondary education programs would create compacts in Title I schools to enable parents and teachers to discuss common expectations and mutual responsibilities for their children. Parents in Title I schools will have a significant role in planning and implementing school reform and schools will afford parents opportunities to participate in parenting and other training programs.
The U.S. Department of Education will move forward with this campaign in several ways. It will:
* Reach out to organizations that represent the interests of teachers, principals, and parents and engage them in a national media campaign to create better relations between home and school. The Department is scheduling meetings with the PTA, the teachers and principals associations, and the Chamber of Commerce to find out what they are currently doing and how these activities can be coordinated and brought under a broader umbrella. Televised town meetings, print media coverage, national talk shows, periodic national surveys, and formal programs are just a few of the means to be used to convey the parent involvement message to the American public.
* Connect with other agencies for the campaign. The Department will call upon other government agencies in addressing issues of family involvement. For example, the Head Start program within HHS, the concern with youth violence within the Justice Department, the School-to-Work interests of the Labor Department, can each be strengthened with closer collaboration, knowledge, and strategy-sharing among the organizations. The opportunity to use HUD housing projects as places to offer homework rooms and the National Park Service to provide learning experiences for families in the "great outdoors" can also be pursued.
* Make the Department of Education an exemplary family- friendly work site. The U.S. Department of Education, for example, has started a "Parenting in the Workplace" program which presents noon-time parenting seminars and produces a yearly Parenting Fair. The agency is also reviewing its personnel policies for changes that would encourage greater family participation and make it a model for the workplace.