In Atlanta, we’re in the midst of finalizing a school board election that has gained national attention. You’ve probably heard, we’re the school district that has failed scores of our low-income students through the largest cheating scandal in our nation’s educational history.
At any rate, there are a number of candidates who ran on a platform of education reform. Given the contention these days between education advocates on both side of the isle, some claiming to speak for students, others speaking for teachers, here’s my question: who is speaking for the parents (particularly fathers)? And are any of these folks talking about the same thing?
As a parent myself, and educational advocate with Teach For America, I know how difficult it is for parents to navigate the minutia of school district expectations for their child. When your kids are young, you’re their primary advocate. How do you know when your child is being cheated out of an excellent education? As fathers, we’re already at a disadvantage because society rarely expects us to be heavily involved in child-rearing.
Here are 5 tips to prepare you to be an equal partner in advocate for your child’s education:
Tip #1: Know your end game
This simply means, know what opportunities you want for your child. Every parent typically wants what’s best for their child, however not every parent knows what’s possible. If you really want your precocious son to attend that Ivy League school, then he’ll need the academic rigor necessary to prepare him. Does your public school offer that?
Tip #2: Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the academic rigor of your child’s class
A lot of parents assume that their child’s teacher knows best. Sometimes that’s wise, but other times it’s not. Take a look at the assignments your student is completing. And then go to wherever your state has standards posted for each grade level. Most states have begun to adopt Common Core Standards so this should serve as an initial guide of what your child is expected to learn in each grade. Your job is to hold your child’s teacher accountable, through partnership, for teaching your student at the highest level possible.
Tip #3: Spend time in your child’s class
Nothing cements a partnership better than face time. I can tell you from teaching experience, the parents I worked best with were the ones who were present. We were able to more easily communicate and be on the same page about our expectations for their student. Even now, I serve as a classroom helper for my daughter’s pre-k class, and just simply being there makes a ton of difference. I’m sending a message to both my daughter and her teacher that I value her education enough to take time off for field trips, or participate in after school activities. You’ve heard the old adage, actions speak louder than words. Well, this is one action that will echo for years to come.
Tip #4: Know the quality of your child’s school: Do your research on what an excellent school looks like
It’s so difficult to have a clear picture of what a quality educational experience looks like (particularly if you didn’t have one yourself growing up) unless you see it in action. Your job is to find such as school and if possible, observe a class in action, talk to a parent there, and research what makes this good school tick. Websites such as Great Schools, School Digger, and US News High School Rankings all allow you to search and find schools based on criteria such as parent feedback, test scores, and other elements that determine the quality of a school.
Tip #5: Get involved in your local school governance
At the end of the day, sometimes the challenges at your school are more systemic and go above the pay grade of your child’s teacher or principal. If moving isn’t an option and you’re committed for the long haul to making change in your child’s school, then perhaps you should consider getting involved in your local school governance structures. This could mean becoming a member of a local Parent Teacher Association (PTA) board. For more information visit The National Parent Teacher Association to learn how to get started. It could also mean running for school board yourself or supporting a specific candidate you care about. Here’s a great resource for thinking about how to choose a great school board candidate from GreatSchools.org: How to Choose a School Board Candidate.
Ultimately, it’s our responsibility to ensure that our children have a great education. Don’t be fooled. The number one determinant of how well a child does in school is how active the parents are in their education. Be the difference maker for your child.