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Elisabeth Stock

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What Amy Chua and President Obama Have in Common: Parenting and New Trends in Home Learning

Posted: 02/21/11 12:43 PM ET

This submission was co-authored with Blair Levin. Blair led the creation of the National Broadband Plan while he was Executive Director of the Omnibus Broadband Initiative at the FCC. He is now an Aspen Institute Communications and Society Fellow and also served previously as Chief of Staff to Reed Hundt at the FCC.

The firestorm around Professor Amy Chua's new book on child rearing was no surprise. Chua's book hit a raw nerve because the home learning environment has an immense impact on student success and we parents want to believe we are doing what is best for our children.

President Obama reinforced this message in the State of the Union address saying, "The responsibility begins not in our classrooms, but in our homes and communities... Only parents can make sure the TV is turned off and homework gets done."

Both the Professor and the President's views recognize the importance of the home learning environment. But neither of them even hints at the extraordinary sea change that is now upon us -- one that enables parents and teachers to encourage learning at home even after the homework is done. This revolutionary change is being caused by a remarkable new generation of educational games, videos, and interactives now available online.

Some might expect the advances in digital resources to widen the achievement gap between lower- and middle-income children. After all, wealthier families typically have more formal education, access to broadband, and educational software in their homes. But these new tools and resources can actually have the opposite effect of narrowing the achievement gap, especially when introduced with the right support.

We have recently seen an uptick in home learning, not in upper-middle class suburbs, but in the South Bronx, East Los Angeles, and Dorchester. In Boston, thousands of low-income students have had classroom learning connected to their homes thanks to Technology Goes Home (TGH). In five additional cities across the country, almost 30,000 low-income students have had a similar experience thanks to Computers for Youth (CFY), a national non-profit. Both organizations will be expanding over the next two years: TGH to 4,200 Boston students and CFY to 34,000 students in New York City and Los Angeles.

What has proven effective in both these programs are: (1) providing teachers tools to extend student learning at home; (2) empowering parents and guardians to be strong learning partners for their children; and (3) equipping the family with key educational resources for their home including educational software and a computer that becomes the family's to keep.

A study conducted by ETS found that the CFY program had a statistically significant impact on math test scores. A comparison study with teachers found improvements in students' class effort. Neither outcome is surprising when you meet Dion, an 11-year-old boy in the South Bronx, who goes to CFY's educational portal, www.MyHomeLearning.com, every day to play one of the hundreds of curated educational games, interactives, and videos for students K-12. CFY tags these assets to the core standards and also by subject area and grade. The platform allows Dion to compete with his mom on math games and share the results with his teacher and classmates. Another example is Mrs. Wilson in Atlanta, who used math software to teach herself how to calculate the area of a pyramid -- a concept her daughter, Alexandria, was having difficulty grasping -- and then sat for hours with Alexandria, through countless tears, until she got it. Chelsea Belz, a teacher in New York City, tells of successfully teaching her students how to use software in their homes to practice concepts they learn in class, thereby doubling the amount of time spent learning.

We must heed the President's call to invest in both education and broadband, but to do so in a way that dovetails the two to promote greater learning in the homes of students at all income levels. On education, we should increase from 1 percent to 2 percent the amount of Title I funds designated for family involvement. On broadband, we must push for better infrastructure while encouraging providers to follow the lead of some cable companies, like Time Warner Cable and Cablevision, that are offering deep discounts in selected service areas to low-income families with school children.

Children, parents, and teachers can't do it alone. It is targeted investments by the government with support from the nonprofit and corporate sectors that can help us respond to our Sputnik moment. Our nation can only win the future if we improve student learning both inside and outside the classroom. Reducing TV time is a good first step. Now let's take the next step and harness the power of digital learning and the passion of parents -- Tiger moms and Western moms alike -- to do what is best for our children.