Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Guest Blogger: Alexis Lauricella - Founder of PlayLearnParent.com

This week's blog is a real treat. Alexis Lauricella - founder of PlayLearnParent.com and Postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern University - shares her insights and research on parent involvement in education. Specifically, she reviews the Family Engagement in Education Act (2011) and suggests ways in which parents can improve their students' academic performance.

The Crucial Role of Parents in Education
It’s pretty clear that the education system as a whole in the United States is struggling to provide youth with an adequate, let alone quality, education. For decades, the US government has enacted policies and programs with the goal of “fixing” our education system by creating new rules and procedures for schools and teachers. Only recently, after decades of continuously failing schools, a new bill was introduced to the House of Representatives that recognizes the crucial role that families, and particularly parents, have on children’s academic achievement. The goal of the Family Engagement in Education Act of 2011 is to provide incentives for schools and districts to engage parents in children’s education with the hopes of closing the achievement gap. This bill is clearly only in its infancy, but the message is clear: parents and families are crucial factors in the academic success of children.

The teachers and school systems clearly can’t do it all on their own. Government funding and regulation are attempting to “not leave any children behind”, but unfortunately, kids are getting left behind and no one is coming to pick them up. Recent reports from the Annie E. Casey Foundation (Fiester & Smith, 2010) indicate that 67% of all 4th grade students are not proficient readers and these numbers are even higher for African American and Hispanic children. Literacy isn’t the only issue. Students are also performing poorly in Science and Math, especially compared to children in other countries (Fleischman, Hopstock, Pelczar, & Shelley, 2010).

The US school system undoubtedly needs considerable work and there is no quick-fix answer to the problem. But, parents can help, and even when children in are highly competitive, wonderful academic institutions, parents have a responsibility to be involved and help their children academically. No one expects that parental involvement will fix the achievement gap or the failures of our education system as a whole, but their involvement is crucial!

Research demonstrates that parent involvement does help- significantly! When parents are involved in their children’s education, their children perform better academically and socially (Henderson, 1987; Jenyes, 2003). This doesn’t mean that parents have to volunteer at every school function or become the president of the PTA in order for their child to reap the benefits of education. There are thousands of fun, creative, and easy ways to get involved in your children’s educational success. Here are just a few:

Parent-teach Conferences. Parents can take the lead and work directly with their children’s schoolteachers to determine ways that they can enhance their child’s education at home. Parents can take advantage of the one-on-one time that is provided during parent-teacher conferences to determine what concepts will be taught in class that year and how to can expand upon these concepts at home.

Get Creative. The technological advances of the past decade have provided many new ways for children to learn. Take advantage of quality websites that offer educational worksheets or activities related to a particular topic your child is studying at school. Search for videos (either online or at your local library) related to the concepts your child is learning in school; maybe having the information presented in a new way will help your child learn. Take learning outside the classroom by bringing your child to the library to find related books on topics covered in class, to a museum to see a related exhibit, or even to a park where you can find real world examples of the science concepts being taught in class.

Combine subject areas and interests. If your child is learning multiplication tables in school but really loves to write, work with your child to write a story about multiplication problems. Similarly, if your child loves baseball encourage her to keep scores and calculate batting averages while you watch a game or ask her to write a newspaper article about the game you watched together using some of the new vocabulary words from class. Supplement their learning with private SAT tutors who tutor in multiple subjects, combining school preparation and SAT preparation all in one.

Teachers will educate and work with children at school, but parents need you to help; to expand upon the learning that is occurring in school and help your children prosper and succeed both academically and socially. It would be ideal if teachers and school administrators facilitated and encourage parent involvement with or without incentives provided by the potential Family Involvement in Education of 2011 bill. However, until this bill passes or other action is taken to encourage schools to include and incorporate parents, parents should take the lead and find ways to get involved!

For a list of all works cited, please contact Matt Steiner at matt@launcheducation.com.

Alexis R. Lauricella is a Postdoctoral Fellow working with Dr. Ellen Wartella at Northwestern University. Dr. Lauricella earned her Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology and her Master’s in Public Policy from Georgetown University. Her research focuses on young children’s learning from media and parents’ and teachers’ attitudes toward and use of media with young children. Dr. Lauricella is also the founder of www.PlayLearnParent.com, a website that translates relevant child-development research for parents.


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