Parents and education

If teachers are one of the keys to a successful education system (see Schools and Competitiveness), another key is involved parents. There is a fear that parents don’t always see the value in education. For example, according to a recent study in Michigan – “Your Child” Parent-Teacher Survey:

only one in four Michigan parents believe that getting a good education is essential to getting ahead in life.
Other key findings include:
* Nearly half of parents don’t think everyone should have a college education nor do they trust the judgment of teachers and professors.
* Three out of five define the success of their children without reference to education or the ability to support themselves.

The immediate response to these findings was summarized in a Detroit Free Press editorial, “Parents’ Low Expectations Frustrate Education Reform”:

Educators have taken a lot of criticism in recent years. But it’s now clear that their effectiveness has been limited by uninterested parents. State law and common sense give parents the fundamental right to direct their child’s education. But many parents have shoved off all the work on others, who cannot possibly carry the load by without parents as partners. State and local leaders need to convince parents that education should be more of a priority.

However, I think we need to take the summary of these findings with a large grain of salt. I am not sure that everyone should have a college education — there are many vocational and other types of training that are useful. And I am not completely surprised that parents define success for their children in non-educational and non-financial terms. “Be happy” was the number one answer in the survey; “education/degree” was number two.
82% of the survey agreed with the statement: “Parents need to be fully involved in their child’s education. Teachers and schools can only do so much by themselves.”
13% agreed with “Parents need to communicate with their child’s school from time to time, but it’s up to the teachers and
schools to let the parents know if there’s a problem.”
only 4% agreed with “Parents are responsible for making sure their child is dressed and ready for school. The teachers and schools are responsible for the rest.”
That doesn’t sound like a group of parents that “have shoved off all the work on others”.
Nor do I understand the finding that claims that patents don’t think education is important. On the question “How important do you think having a good education yourself is for getting ahead in life?” only 2% said it was unimportant. 21% said it was essential and 51% said it was very important. 20% said it was fairly important.
What they don’t have is confidence in the educational system: 48% said they had complete or a great deal of confidence. 51% said they some, very little or no confidence.
And while half of the parents don’t think everyone should necessarily go to college, those findings don’t apply to their own children. Only 3% said their child will not attend college. 9% said their may or may not attend college. 87% said their child would definitely or probably attend college (60% in the definitely category).
That doesn’t sound like a set of parents who don’t understand the value of college. 95% of the parents what their children to get some form of post-secondary education (vocational school or community college – 8%; at least a few years of at a 4 year college – 8%; a bachelors degree – 37%; an advanced degree – 42%).
One of the most interesting finding in the study was that parents understand the difference between “school” and “education”:
only 2% agreed with the statement: “Education is something that happens when a person is in school, and it’s done when you leave school.”
24% agreed with “Education can happen throughout your life, because
there are always opportunities to take classes.”
34% agreed with “Education can happen throughout your life if you
know how to educate yourself.”
38% agreed with “Education happens automatically throughout your life, whether you’re in school or not.”
That last answer is undoubtedly extremely troublesome to the education professionals. In other words, 2/3 of the parents surveyed believe that education is something that an individual does — not something that happens in schools.
More on this point later.

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