I was recently mulling over my abilities as a parent to prepare my kids academically. I've noticed that, since my oldest went to preschool, I've begun to rely on his teachers to provide practice with letters and numbers. Then yesterday I sat down with my oldest to write a letter to Santa. And it appears that his letter writing skills haven't advanced much at all since he enrolled in pre-school. Things may have even deteriorated a bit since this summer, when we were doing more at home.
What does this mean and what does it have to do with the above post? First, while school is an important place where kids can learn a lot - particularly about socializing - there is NO REPLACEMENT for the specific attention and direction that a parent can provide a child. I write a lot about effective teaching, but do I really think even the most effective teaching can make up for a lack of parental attention to academic skills? No.... I don't really think so. A great deal of learning happens when a parent sits down with a child to read, write, review homework, etc. Even the best teachers have limited ability to instruct 20 kids at once and make sure they're forming good habits. It's my responsibility as a parent to turn off the TV and make sure my child knows the difference between a 3 and an E.
Does this mean it's hopeless to try and improve schools and teachers? No... far from it. What I truly believe is that schools and teachers could be a lot more efficient, effective, innovative, and successful than they currently are. But, it would be a mistake to rely entirely on schools getting better to improve the existing achievement gap. I guess, if we needed to choose between improving schools and improving parenting, improving schools might be easier. But why do we need to choose? We can certainly improve the status quo of public education from both sides of the issue and would probably be more successful for it. It's time to stop ignoring the 16 hours per day when kids aren't in school and find ways to better engage parents and communities.