A Blueprint for Reform, The Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the next big idea for the nation’s school systems that the Obama Administration wants Congress to implement, when you really think about it, is simply a mechanism to provide access to quality elementary and secondary educational opportunities in as many communities as possible. I applaud the president’s efforts to de-emphasize standardized testing. I commend his administration for realizing that the input from local school districts is more important than ever. But I think the bill we really need would be called “No Parent Left Behind.”
My buddy, who has a 7 year old son and a 10 year old daughter, told me a story this morning.
“I guess I must be saying ‘what are the facts?’ more than I thought,” he told me, after I’d joked how much a lawyer says “what are the facts?” in a given day.
“I’m in the middle of trying to help my daughter sort out a problem she was having,” my friend continued, “when my son piped up.”
“Daddy, we don’t have a fax.”
“What are you talking about, son?”
“You’re always asking somebody about the fax, but we don’t have fax.”
His sister jumped in. “No, no, no, not fax — he means facts.”
So my son asked “What are facts?”
His sister glared at him. “In-for-ma-tion. Facts are in-for-ma-tion.”
My son stared back at her, nonplussed, and said, “Oh. You know daddy always wants infor-ma-shun.”
The moral of this story? It is the parents who drive the educational process, in both word and deed.
President Obama’s mother was a college professor. I imagine he saw her preparations, and he may have seen her interactions with her students, but I doubt that his mother was as involved with her students parents as the millions of elementary school teachers across the country used to be when I was growing up. As I child, I used to watch my mother, an elementary school teacher, make out her lesson plans for her classes in a special notebook. The pages were printed with a grid for her to fill in the lesson objectives for each day, the specific concepts that were going to be introduced, and the activities that would be utilized to demonstrate and reinforce each objective.
At least once or twice a week, she would get on the phone after dinner and call the parents of students who were having problems in class, or had been absent for a few days without contacting the school. The comments she often made about the parent’s lack of interest in their child’s progress after hanging up the phone are as clear in my mind today as they were thirty years ago.
The real linchpin of any reform effort are the parents like those my mother used to call, who were either not interested in doing anything beyond what the school provided, or were themselves ill-equipped to be of any help if they were interested.
The political will that the Obama Administration is willing to put behind this effort to improve education in America is admirable. Words like rigorous, aggressive, innovative, and accountable can be found on almost every page of “A Blueprint for Reform.”
But until we as a nation can muster the parental will to be rigorous in regularly assessing our children’s strengths and weaknesses in the classroom, until we as a nation can be aggressive in involving our children in enrichment activities outside the classroom, until we as a nation can become innovative in finding ways to keep education the number one priority in a time-challenged world, until we as a nation are willing to hold ourselves accountable for cultivating information-rich home environments, we as a nation are destined to continue to see more and more children from all backgrounds whose futures are going to be left behind before they even get started.