Recent headlines in our newspaper blare out the results of the Academic Performance Index and the No Child Left Behind.
Interesting, and not surprising, schools in poorer district didn't fare well. And the schools districts in richer neighborhoods performed much better, but not in the eyes of the No Child Left Behind survey. They miss growth goals for low-income students, students with disabilities, English learners, Hispanics, and African-Americans. Ironically, the student body of most schools in disadvantaged neighborhoods consists of low-income students, English learners, Hispanics, and African-Americans. In other words, if we make everything equal, all schools would perform about the same. Yet, we blame the school system, the teachers, and the administration if the students' test scores are below mandated levels.
As a pediatrician, I see many of these students from the day they are born. I can very accurately predict which of my patients well excel in school. Obviously, I can't tell which child is going to be smart or not, but I can tell by the involvement of the parents.
In is no secret, when parents make an effort to stay on top of their child's education and hold them accountable, they perform well. The schools in richer districts have parents with higher education who expect their kids to do well. In poor neighborhoods, parents, with less of an education, are sometimes simply content to see their kids graduate and stay out of trouble. Why, because they have never been exposed to the importance of learning or been encouraged to seek a higher level of education. I know, I was raised in such a background. Education was not a priority; in our home, hard physical work in the fields was the main emphasis. Homework and studying wasn't of concern, nor were good grades.
Unless we get to the parents early on and stress how important their role is we will never succeed.
Migrant Education/Head Start, a federal program, educates parents of pre-kindergarten on ways to help their children with learning, by teaching them first. As a former farm worker, who grew up with adults who had very little education, I never had any help, nor did my guardians understand the importance of my doing homework or studying. As a pediatrician and author of a book, Out of the Fields My Journey from Farm Worker Boy to Pediatrician I have the privilege of speaking to parents and helping them appreciate how important their role is in teaching their kids.
Many successful kids from poor neighborhoods will tell you the only reason they achieved is due to one or both parents being supportive and fully engaged in their education.
In order to insure no child is left behind, the key is full commitment from everyone, from the parents to the teachers, involved in a student's education.
Morris E. Daily Elementary Principal Melissa Dutra, whose school did extremely well in test scores, puts it best, "We teach all our classes at or above grade level, and we expect the parents to help out, she continues, "We have very clear expectation."
I am not in favor of academic testing, but I believe in the concept of No Child Left Behind. But, instead of spending our resources on testing, we need to provide programs to help engage the parents in their kid's education.
Locally, several schools have evening sessions where parents attend and learn how to help their children with homework. These schools have sought out grants to help them fund the programs but, due the financial situation, the money will run out. These kids are lucky. Their parents are willing to give up their evenings, after working all day in the fields, because they understand that these sacrifices will pay dividends in the future.
Recently I participated in the Carmel Authors @ Ideas Festival. After the event. Dave Barry, Ridley Pearson, Scott Turow,and Elaine Petrocelli (who happens to own one of the best bookstores in the U.S), and myself, began to discuss the issue of education and what could we do to improve or help kids from failing.
Looking around the table I realized the answer was right in front of me. They write the books, Elaine provides the means, and pediatricians like me should promote reading. Our consensus was that parents are the key, by encouraging their children to read, they provide the foundation in making sure their child is not left behind.
It really is that simple.