Editorial: Get involved, good grades
Op-Ed · February 15, 2013

Parents positively involved in their child’s education can make a positive impact on their child’s grades, regardless of the accomplishments of the school district as a whole.

Some stories about West Branch schools in the past year may be troubling.

In June, the Times reported on state test scores that show only 69 percent of third graders proficient in math, some 18 percentage points below where the state wants schools to be by 2014 in compliance with No Child Left Behind. Reading and math are the must fundamental subjects on which every other academic study is based — science, social studies, writing, etc.

In that same story, we learned that 74 percent of third graders are proficient in reading, about 13 percent lower than the state’s Annual Measurable Objectives minimum goals.

Then, in July, the Times reported that less than one-third of students who took the ACT test met all four college readiness benchmarks, and that only 25 percent of graduates who took the test are prepared.

On Monday, West Branch Board of Education members made their arguments about school reform and state funding. Board President Mike Owen did not want the two tied together, insisting the school needs to know what financial aid it will get from the state before West Branch is required to turn in a budget. Board member Deb Schreiber said school reform and state funding should go hand-in-hand — how can the school district know what money it need without knowing what the state will require of schools?

The board then approved a resolution by a 3-1-1 vote supporting 4 percent allowable growth — the amount the state will allow all public schools to increase its spending — and that all of it be funded by the state budget. Owen, Richard Paulus and Kathy Knoop voted “yes,” Carolyn Harold abstained and Schreiber voted “no.”

Superintendent Kevin Hatfield said he hasn’t run the numbers yet, but even if the state gives West Branch the entire 4 percent, it may only amount to another $30 in funding to spend on each child.

So how much of an impact would positive parental involvement in a child’s studies help? Try more than 30 times that amount.

“Parental effort is consistently associated with higher levels of achievement, and the magnitude of the effect of parental effort is substantial,” University of New Hampshire researcher Karen Smith Conway told after a 2008 study. “We found that schools would need to increase per-pupil spending by more than $1,000 in order to achieve the same results that are gained with parental involvement.”

That, parents, ought to rock your world. You are extremely valuable to your child’s education.

Harvard University’s Family Research Project in 2005 found that parental involvement was not limited to middle- or upper-class families, either. Here are some of the ways parents had the biggest influence on getting and keeping a child’s grades high:

• A large investment of time, like reading and communicating with their children, as well as parental style and expectation. This “had a greater impact on student educational outcomes than some of the more demonstrative aspects of parental involvement, such as having household rules, and parental attendance and participation at school functions,” read the study.

• The study also found that parents who set their own high expectations and expressed them clearly to their children had a greater impact than those involved parent-involvement programs. The parent-involvement programs, however, were more effective than no involvement from the parent at all.

Right now, West Branch schools are trying new approaches to getting every child to succeed, like reteaching efforts focused on groups of pupils who are falling behind. At Monday’s school board meeting, West Branch Education Association President Mary Buol was among other teachers talking about “Professional Learning Communities.”

One of the core beliefs of PLCs is that a single pupil no longer belongs to a single teacher.

“The students are ‘ours’ now,” she said. The idea is that teachers, regardless of what they teach, may find they are best suited to help certain pupils through particular areas of difficulty, so they should.

But schools cannot mandate parent involvement. Parents need to understand that they themselves may be the teacher who can best reach their own child because they know — our ought to know — them so much better. But to do that they must take the initiative.

Parents need to communicate with teachers, help children with their homework, teach them how to break down large assignments into more manageable pieces, review their work and make sure it gets turned in on time, make sure the children are fed properly and get plenty of sleep, and that they know you care about them and their education.

Studies show these efforts will — not may — get those grades up and keep them up.

West Branch teachers are trying, and doing pretty well. However, parents are essential to a child’s success.

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