Better parenting, better students

Published 10:36 pm Thursday, April 19, 2012

While there has been much debate recently on the proper level of funding for Suffolk Public Schools, there is little legitimate debate that public education is one of the most important endeavors of a municipal government.

The degree to which money contributes to the success of public education is a point that itself is open to argument. Some will say the approximately 2-percent funding gap that Suffolk City Council proposes for the school system’s budget will cause irrevocable damage to school programs, to school faculties and — ultimately — to school students. Others see a school budget of $50 million or more and think there must be ways to save money that won’t result in closing the doors of opportunity on the next generation.

What both sides can — or at least should — agree on, however, is that by many measures Suffolk’s public schools cry out for improvements. Dropout rates are a good example. While there has been a positive trend in the statistic in recent years, two of Suffolk’s public high schools still have double-digit dropout rates. At Lakeland High School in 2011, 12.5 percent of students left school permanently without earning diplomas. King’s Fork High School had marginally worse results, losing 13 percent of its students before they graduated.

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School administrators have taken seriously the challenge to improve dropout rates. And King’s Fork, which works in a variety of ways to partner with businesses and community organization for the betterment of its students, took a unique step among Suffolk schools this week by inviting business and community leaders to the school for a roundtable discussion on dropout rates.

Tellingly, the top suggestions for overcoming the problem had little to do with money and much to do with getting the community more involved in education, beginning with parental involvement and beginning well before a child appears for his first day of kindergarten.

Sentara Obici Hospital’s Lori White said summed it up well: “You can’t blame the kindergarten teacher, because if (children are) not ready when they start kindergarten, they’re going to be behind all the way.”

There is no more important message to educators and to families with children in or headed to school: Parents need to be involved with their children’s education. Involved parents check homework, help with flashcards, set television limits, encourage reading and look for ways at home to reinforce the lessons their children are learning at school.

Without parental involvement and engaged children, throwing money at a child’s education is no more helpful than throwing it away. When children have no personal conviction that there’s a reason for them to work, they choose not to work. And when there’s no parental imperative in play, there’s little reinforcement of the lesson that education provides hope for a better life.

Parental involvement in education helps break cycles of poverty, criminality and hopelessness.

Still, though, billions of educational dollars each year are targeted at children and teens who will find no reason on their own to care about their education and furthermore will be given no reason to do so by their parents or guardians.

Perhaps school systems around the nation — including Suffolk’s — should find a way to divert some of that scarce educational funding toward educating modern parents on their important roles in their children’s lives.

Though better parenting will not guarantee better students, insufficient parenting will all but guarantee worse ones.