A Washington Post poll this month revealed, once again, that D.C. residents put the most blame for their failing public schools on apathetic and uninvolved parents. Many Americans feel the same way about the same school troubles in their areas. They are wrong, but in such a convoluted way that it is difficult for us parents to get a good grasp on what role we play in making our schools bad or good.
Do unsupportive parents create pathetic schools or do pathetic schools create unsupportive parents? It is the most frustrating of chicken-and-egg questions. Many education experts will say it is a bit of both, but that’s a cop-out. Most of our worst schools are full of low-income children in our biggest cities. No one has yet found a way to revive those schools in any significant way by training the students’ parents to be more engaged with their children’s educations. It is too hard to do and too unlikely to have much impact on the chaotic school district leadership.
What has worked, again and again, is the opposite: Bring an energetic and focused leader into the school, let that person recruit and train good teachers and find ways to get rid of those who resist making the necessary changes. Great teaching makes great schools, and once you have a good school, parents become engaged and active.