First, educate the kids

It’s possible to create a good school for low-income students without parent involvement, argues Jay Mathews in the Washington Post. Parents will support the school when it proves itself, not before.

Low-income parents may often be distracted just trying to make a living, but they know what works. Once they see a school keeping its promises, they provide the kind of support found in suburban schools. But it’s important to remember that good schooling must come before parental support, not the other way around.

Poorly educated parents may not know how to support their children’s learning. It’s a role they need to learn from their kids’ teachers and school leaders.

Flypaper’s Andy Smarick agrees with Mathews and points to the Education Next article on paternalistic schools.

About Joanne


  1. Schools need to reach out to the parents and community. Note I didn’t say individual *teachers*; it needs to be a school-level effort.

  2. In my experience, parental involvement in the 40s-60s was pretty much limited to occasional chaperonage of field trips, maybe bringing treats for birthdays/holidays and perhaps some drill with math facts and spelling words (if needed). Teachers did the teaching and the (occasional, at best) project was able to be completed by the student, perhaps with some supervision.

  3. It strikes me that this is a catch-22: the schools and teachers are complaining that parents aren’t supportive of their efforts (and support does not necessarily equal involvement; it could be as simple as parents backing up teachers when the kid is in trouble, rather than saying “No, my child is an angel and would never do anything wrong!”) and parents are saying they’ll support schools when the schools are “successful.”

    Someone’s gotta budge or things will continue on as they are.

  4. Margo/Mom says:

    All good observations. Despite the nostalgia (and the membership rates in the PTA), I don’t know that the substance of “parent involvement” for the time period we yearn for was any more profound than that of today. I agree with ricki, that schools are often looking for “back-up” when they have levied punishments, but this can be a very thorny issue. As I frequently explained to my kids when they complained about something like the teacher “blaming the whole class” or naming the wrong kid, sometimes teachers are less than omniscient–and require some understanding indulgence in their efforts to do their job. I particularly stick up for substitutes, as I did that for a while.

    On the other hand, schools can be very wrong-headed from an institutional stand-point when they do things like handing out suspensions, expulsions, or responding to infractions. It is not particularly helpful to get a command letter (or voicemail) to show up at a particular time (always in the middle of the work-day) because of a generically-worded infraction (insubordination, for instance), where my child and I will be allowed to “present our side.” Said child is not allowed on school grounds until that time. If we’re supposed to be working together, this is a poor way to act on it. The parents of any other involved students are always scheduled for a different time (maybe–no one is supposed to be allowed to discuss how the behavior of other involved students is handled). We are all treated as if we are toxic waste–better separated. Together, who knows what might happen?

    Frankly, schools would be more likely to get the support of parents if the choices for responding to behavior had some flexibility and some responsiveness to them. Some form of “removal” seems to be the primary means of response, and it seldom results in changed behavior. I always feel as if (and some educators have actually articulated this) the intent is to get the parents to levy an effective punishment while the child is out of school–something so horrific that it will overcome the several days of vacation time that the school has just provided. I always wonder if teachers are allowed to take three days off to stay home with their children and make sure that they get up early, do all their assigned worksheets and bust up rocks, when THEIR kids are being punished (or are their kids universal angels?). What if kids who fight had to come up with a resolution to whatever they were fighting about (or put in some time on the wrestling team)? One of my favorite responses was to the geek prankster who was able to infiltrate the “cards” of the opposing football team’s card section to give a rah-rah to the wrong team. The wise principal required the student to put his considerable organizational skills to work elsewhere. There really are options that parents can support–it’s hard to support an option that blames parents and levies punishment against them as well.

  5. “Low-income parents may often be distracted just trying to make a living, but they know what works.”

    Low-income parents are more often distracted by the liquor store, cigarettes, and lottery tickets. Schools the best place for kids whose parents are perhaps well-meaning, but out of it.

  6. Margo: parents of kids with a conflict are separated for a reason; they often like to fight, too. After a couple of parents got into a all-out brawl in the parking lot one time (that included the kids), our building put an end to having them in together.

    Our kids are not angels any more than anybody else’s. If our kids get suspended, we have to figure out how to deal with it just like you. If my kid ever does anything to get suspended, you absolutely bet your bottom dollar one of us will be home busting her fanny for the full duration and making her absolutely miserable. Really, I don’t like what you’ve insinuated.

  7. Margo/Mom says:


    Sorry you don’t like the insinuation. I don’t like the insinuations attached to the supposition that parents need to be held isolation from one another because they are dangerous. I don’t like the insination that schools must punish parents in order to get their attention–because they are uncaring or incompetent, or, as Kate throws in, pre-occupied with liquor, cigarettes and lottery tickets.

    As a parent, I don’t especially appreciate the notion that teachers are free to abandon their classroom duties to stay at home when their children are on punishment–or to take them to DisneyWorld (as I have actually experienced) when THEIR district has a break time that is different.

  8. Lightly Seasoned says:

    LOL. It’s good to see that the idea that we are hung up in the closet after school is still alive and well into adulthood.

  9. M/M: I think the issue with suspensions is to prevent class disruptions. One child, or group of children, should never be permitted to disrupt learning opportunities for the rest of the class. If that means special classes or schools for the chronically disruptive, so be it.

  10. Margo/Mom says:


    And I think the issue with suspensions is to show that the adults are powerful and can force their will on others (and that teachers can “get a break” from kids when they want). There are far better means of prevention. What do you think should go on in those “special classes” or “schools for the chronically disruptive,” and why can’t these things become a part of what is going on in regular schools? It’s an important question, particularly if the “special classes” serve to segregate students with disabilities–creating a “more restrictive” environment. If the restriction is truly required to provide the needed services, that is one thing. Far more often, the “services” are limited, and sometimes dangerous or illegal (ie: kids who have died in seclusion or as a result of “restraint”).

    I know that the “prevent class disruptions” is a frequently sung song–but it doesn’t hold up particularly well against any research into anything approaching best practice.

  11. I kicked a kid out today just to show everyone what a powerful adult I am.