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EDITORIAL: Parents Need To Be Active In School

The Telegraph, Alton, Ill.

Sometimes, government gets it right.

Maybe it doesn't have the urgency of pensions or the sexiness of spending cuts, but in signing into law "Bring Your Parents to School Day," Ill. Gov. Pat Quinn is reminding people of something crucial that often gets lost in the everyday shuffle: Parental involvement in education.

What perfect timing, too -- in the waning days of summer break when the return to the classroom is on everyone's mind.

Unfortunately, the legislation that will allow schools to have parents and guardians attend classes and meet teachers and administrators won't go into effect until Jan. 1. Because the legislation sets the first Monday in October as the day to do it, that means the wait will be more than a year.

There are many other ways to get involved before that.

Sure, most schools have nights throughout the school year when parents and guardians can meet with teachers and find out how their child is doing. There are plays and performances dotting the school year calendar as well. But these are mere glimpses into the school experience. It's a surface-only view of something that goes much deeper.

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School has changed drastically in the time since most parents attended -- more than just no longer writing with rocks, teenagers will tell you. Classes were smaller, respect was greater and distractions were fewer. That's not a knock on today's school-age generation, it's just a reality of changing attitudes. Children today are more likely to go home and log-in to the latest multiplayer role-playing game than to open the Algebra II book and finish their homework.

Just as parents must compete with technology, so must teachers. The same tools that have allowed them to teach more effectively and communicate more directly can also be a detriment.

Text-messages and Alertify calls can certainly go a long way in keeping parents informed about the goings-on in the classroom, but nowhere near the level that opening the lines of communication can. Those lines might be parent to child or parent to teacher, but they create a necessary involvement in education.

A University of New Hampshire study found that schools would have to spend an additional $1,000 a pupil to match the benefits that come from parental involvement -- that's on top of the $11,456.70 on average spent on each Illinois grade schooler and $15,138.22 spend on each high schooler.

The benefit to the student is even stronger. A national study found parental involvement can be a better indicator than test scores of how well a child will do.

Simply put: Students are more likely to succeed if their parents take an interest in what's going on.

Now is the perfect time to start, too. Introduce yourself to teachers and administrators; check in with them from time to time, even if just an email message to make sure everything is going OK; make homework a requirement for computer time; check over your child's homework -- even if you have no idea of the answer yourself.

A deep sigh or rolled eyes might greet the effort at first, but deep down children will appreciate the support. So will the teachers and administrators.

In the end, so will your child's future. ___

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