Condoleezza Rice trusts parents.
In a dinner keynote at the 2014 National Summit for Education Reform, the former Secretary of State addressed the misconception that somehow parents – particularly poor parents – are not capable of making good education choices for their children. Rice mentioned the normal system of a zip-code determining the quality of education of a child; “I know what that movie looks like” she said, adding that instead, she would “trust the parent or an advocate for that child.”
The narrative surrounding education reform in America often focuses on race and poverty. Minorities living in impoverished communities and attending poorly funded schools continue to perform below average, dragging down the international benchmark scores of the United States…or so the story goes. While it is true that minorities living in poverty due tend to do worse on standardized tests, research from the 2012 PISA global test shows that the United States also has a below-average share of top performers in mathematics and that those top-performers are under-performing compared to top achievers in other nations.
As it turns out, placing a child in an elite American private school may provide that child with a better education than what might be offered in an inner-city school but it provides no guarantee that the child will receive an education anywhere near the education powerhouses of the world. Race and poverty are indicators but they’re only half of the story.
The bad news: America ranks 27th (below-average) in the world in the PISA rankings for mathematics. The good news: Parents in the U.S. are better educated than in most other countries…the US ranks 6th highest among OECD countries in the percentage of 35-44 year olds who have attained tertiary education (post high-school.)
America’s 15-year-olds are unlearned compared to a great many of the kids in the world, but their parents are smarter than most other parents in the world. In America, we tend to relegate parents to the role of supporting actor while teachers take center stage. Parental involvement means showing up at PTA meetings. But if our parents are smart. and our students are underachieving, doesn’t it make sense to encourage parents to take on an active role in their child’s learning?
Engaged Parents Are the Key
We should allow parents to make choices regarding their child’s education; we should equip parents with tools and tips for engaging in their child’s academic development; we should encourage them to be involved in their child’s learning.
Imagine a country where every parent reads to their young child regularly. This simple activity has been shown to have incredible results in creating strong readers.
Imagine a country where every parent talks to their adolescent about politics, current events, and the latest movie that the adolescent watched. This kind of parental engagement results in students who are excellent readers and who value and enjoy reading.
This is the vision of what could be, a vision of what should be the reality in the United States of America.