Stop blame game; help parents, children achieve education gains

Note: On December 20, 2010, The Courier-Journal, the daily newspaper for the Louisville, KY, metropolitan area, ran the following editorial from NCFL President Sharon Darling on its website. The entire editorial is below.

On Dec. 12, The Courier-Journal ran an Associated Press poll that found parents are the group most blamed for what’s wrong with the U.S. education system. It presents a unique opportunity — not for finger-pointing but for moving the dialogue on parent engagement beyond education circles.

The National Center for Family Literacy agrees that parents are the most important factor in their children’s education. Children spent five times as much time outside of the classroom, so learning shouldn’t be confined to the classroom. But we must move past the tendency of playing the blame game and help parents leverage their important role into meaningful change and improvement.

NCFL has conducted research with parents, which shows they understand and appreciate their important role but feel overwhelmed and confused by the system. The research found parents are concerned that:

Learning is no longer fun for children once they face the pressures of a long school day;

They can’t keep up with their advancing children but realize that they have an important role in helping their children succeed academically;

They aren’t getting the answers they need on how to help their children because they don’t even know what questions to ask or how to navigate the complex education system; and

Financial pressures may prohibit them from giving their children everything they need to succeed.

In this bad economy, there is no more important time to enact these changes but also no more challenging time. Parents and schools alike are overburdened and strapped for money. But change doesn’t have to be painful or difficult. In fact, sometimes lasting change can only occur if it begins with simple steps.

Based on more than 20 years of helping 1 million families across the country achieve educational and economic gains, NCFL has three recommendations for how parents can become meaningful participants and leaders in their children’s education:

  1. Parents can infuse their daily activities with fun learning activities. Time in car pool, a trip to the grocery store, a visit to the park — these are not only things that parents do every day, they are opportunities for learning together. If parents transform their daily routine into adventures in learning, it doesn’t add time to their busy schedules. Instead, it helps involve them in their children’s education and reinforces learning when children aren’t in school in a fun, easy way. To learn how, parents can visit to receive a daily activity they can do with their children.
  2. Help is available to help parents navigate the education system and prepare for college — academically and financially. This can be a daunting task for parents, especially if they haven’t been to college or are new to the U.S. education system. NCFL has prepared the Family Literacy-Community College Partnership Initiative, a comprehensive set of resources to improve the gateway to post-secondary education for families. The free materials will help families understand the importance of earning a degree, navigate the system and better prepare them for post-secondary courses. They will be made available soon at
  3. Schools can more effectively increase parental engagement, which has been proven to improve low-performing schools. Parental engagement strategies should extend beyond the one-time bake sale or enrichment activity. Parents must truly become a part of their children’s school. At the most intensive level, schools can create family literacy programs — and equip parents with basic skills for themselves and to assist their children in education while also ensuring the children get off to a strong academic start.

Engaged parents, dedicated educators and a committed community — all must serve a crucial role in education for our children to succeed and our country to thrive.

Sharon Darling is president and founder of the National Center for Family Literacy in Louisville.