- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 19, 2004

Around 10:30 a.m. on Feb. 2, gunshots rang out inside a D.C. public school. Within minutes, hundreds of parents had turned out, with most of them jostling before the TV cameras and demanding that police allow them inside the building. Many reporters wondered when was the last time that many parents had shown interest in the school. The “parental involvement” scene was indeed very deceptive.

Are you involved — really involved — in your child’s school?

I don’t mean merely joining the PTA, an organization that long ago lost its nerve and its verve, and replaced them with political pimping. Beaming and clapping at one of your third-grader’s plays don’t count. And those few minutes you shared with the teacher when you picked up report cards last advisory don’t count either.

So, let me ask the question another way? Does your child view home, school and community as one? If your answer is no, then guess what?

Research shows that the more involved parents are with their children’s schools, the more likely the child will want to go to school and do well in school. That fact cuts across socioeconomic lines. So, it’s not a “white” thing.

The Web site of the National Education Association — the teachers’ union that thrives on excuses and political pandering — offers access to study upon study that says parents should be seen and heard when it comes to schooling. One such study concluded, “When parents come to school regularly, it reinforces the view in the child’s mind that school and home are connected — and that school is an integral part of the whole family’s life.” The operative word being, of course, “regularly.”

The parents of the school where the shots rang out had not shown such a collective interest in many, many years. The school reportedly has a student body of 1,300, and the overwhelming majority of its parents are no-shows at scheduled meetings and conferences — even at extracurricular activities. In fact, the norm in too many urban school districts is this: Schools mandate that parents pick up report cards, but parents don’t show up; students fail to meet basic academic and attendance criteria; so, instead of being in the school system, teen-agers likely become part of the juvenile justice system.

Parental involvement is even more critical for high schoolers, research shows. “[P]articularly for students who have reached high school,” another study says, “the type of parent involvement that has the most impact on student performance requires their direct participation in school activities. Showing up to mug for TV cameras or to raise Cain with school officials and the mayor does not count.

The shooting occurred at a mostly black public high school, in a mostly black part of town that also happens to be situated smack in the center of the poorest quadrant of the nation’s capital. The majority of the teachers and administrators at the school are black. The security guards at the school are black. Most mentors and volunteers are black. The school, Frank W. Ballou, used to be a “good” school with an unrivaled math-science program — and it still has many students who excel in academics.

But as parents became less involved in their children’s academic lives and more dependent on the health, education and welfare policies to raise their children, Ballou consequently became a typical troubled urban high school — plagued by low test scores, violence, gangs and school officials who just don’t care.

Since the shooting, many students who are doing well at Ballou no longer want to attend that school. Who can blame them? The new federally funded voucher program, which starts next school year, provides them and their parents a way out. Also, the faith-based community has stepped forward, promising guidance, mentoring and counseling to Ballou families on a regular basis — and it’s a good thing, since theirs is the way of the cross.

The bottomline: It takes more than a good school to educate our children. The ultimate challenge of turning around hard-scrabble schools rests largely upon the shoulders of parents. Here’s hoping they will be seen and heard in the months and years to come.

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