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Thursday, May 22, 2014 12:01 am

What parents need to know about schools

Teacher Appreciation Day, field day, spring concerts, sports competitions and awards ceremonies, plays, debates, school applications and testing, testing, testing. They are all part of that familiar end-of-school-year rhythm, which has started for most and will play out through the school year’s end, and the hopeful promotion of our babies to their next level in school.

Would that it were so simple - and pleasant - for all families!

While most of us will experience these milestones with joy and a twang of bittersweet as they signal the progression of our kids and their growing up, others find that these experiences mask the real issues surrounding the school experience – namely, success for their children and their particular kind of learning. Indeed, in a nation where less than 40 percent of our children are barely proficient in reading and math, and where even the highest performing schools pale in comparison to those of previous generations and even other countries, there is much more work to be done than our rewarding volunteer work at the school or park would suggest.

For every parent in a school or educational setting that is meeting the needs of their child nearly 100 percent, there are at least 10 who are scratching their heads at their daughter’s demise in math class, their son’s sudden lack of interest in English, the suggestion that Johnny needs a tutor or that Marcie is distracted or seems bored.

Once, parents just naturally assumed that these problems were a result of their own kid’s deficiencies, of their own family’s failures in some way. A generation of tutoring companies and support organizations has accumulated a small fortune as parents took the guilt upon themselves to solve. Then, an interesting thing happened. Just 15 years ago, technology and the Internet made it possible and easier to share stories, and parents around the country began learning that their problems were not theirs alone, and that their own reading and math woes, their own sense of resignation over their child’s behavior, may have more to do with the standards set by the school and its staff (often low and fuzzy), the poor quality of instruction, the lack of accountability, and, for children of color, what was once called the “soft bigotry of low expectations.”

Such was the birth of the parental empowerment movement, and that movement today is flourishing as a result of parent-led reforms that have grown from organized dining room table conversations to full-fledged school networks leading and demonstrating that every part of the learning process matters and that content and instruction can drive a child to succeed or fail.

Just as technology is transforming every element of our day, it is transforming parents’ ability to drive their child’s education. The progress made in just 20 years since organizations like the Center for Education Reform were born is extraordinary. Parents became activists and turned their community’s schools around. Educators bonded with other educators and started whole schools devoted to themes and ideas they always knew would work for kids. Some of these individuals went on to become policymakers, and more and more talent flowed into the education system, creating a generation of parents and educators who’d long felt there was something more they could expect.

Parents with power, teachers with power and schools with accountability can now be found in nearly every state, and most communities. Such assets are improving student learning, accelerating growth and captivating a nation. But progress is still not ubiquitous or evenly distributed. And the forces that fought these initial reform efforts still loom large.

To truly ensure that all schools work best for all children, we must take 20 years of lessons learned and move those lessons into every community. Every parent knows that history is the best teacher, which is why before any parent engages in working to ensure their child gets the best education possible, they need to be armed with enough information to succeed.

History is just unfolding, but there’s good news for anyone wanting to help make it. Lessons learned and stories of ordinary people like you are available and easy to find. Many of these compelling stories can be found in Education Reform: Before It Was Cool, a new anthology for those who want to read firsthand about the greatest contributors to the movement to make our nation’s schools work better for all children.

Read about the pioneers, and join the new revolution to make parent power a reality in all children’s lives.

Jeanne Allen founded the Center for Education Reform (CER) in 1993 and serves as the organization’s senior fellow and president-emeritus. Allen is the editor of Education Reform: Before It Was Cool, available on Amazon.

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