In our nation’s capital yesterday, President Barack Obama reissued his call to get fathers more involved in their children’s lives. Calling for “responsible fatherhood,” the President noted that fathers (Eduflack included) need to be part of their kids’ lives “not just with words, but with deeds.”
USA Today’s Greg Toppo has the full story on the event here
. What’s most interesting are the stats that Toppo offers up from the U.S. Census. About one in three children lived away from their biological fathers last year, and that number leaps to almost two in three (64 percent) for African-American children.
Why is this an issue for Eduflack? Allow me to get on my soapbox for a moment. If we are serious about improving our public schools, particularly for historically disadvantaged students, we need to better engage in the homes. If we are going to improve student proficiency scores, we need parents keeping tabs on what is happening in the classroom and making sure homework is done. If we are going to improve graduation rates, we need parents who are prioritizing that diploma. And if we are going to move more first-generation students onto college, we need parents who nag and prioritize and push their kids to achieve.
So when Obama talks about getting fathers more involved in their children’s lives, he is also talking about getting them more involved in their kids’ schools. He’s reminding them that good fathers can be in the PTA. They can chaperone class trips. They can pick the kids up at school. They can actually know their kids’ teachers and other parents in the classroom. They can talk with their kids about school, and life.
Back in November 2008, Eduflack offered up some education reccs
to then President-elect Obama. The “big idea” of the day was focused on parental involvement, building off of the similar father encouragement efforts the President is still offering today. At the time, I wrote:
I propose you actually establish an Office of Family and Community Engagement, an authorized body at the Assistant Secretary level that can get information into the hands of those who need it most. The most recent regs from ED show that the current infrastructure isn’t getting it done. If you’re serious about greater family involvement, turning off the TVs, and such, make the commitment to Family Engagement (and we do have to think beyond the traditional mother/father nuclear parent family structure). EdTrust has today’s student attaining education at lower rates than their parents. That is a travesty. And the responsibility falls on the family. Parents are our first, and most durable, of teachers. Equip them with information, help them build the paths and help them paint the picture of the value and need for education. Create this new office, have it collaborate with OESE, OCO, and others, and see the impact of effectively collaborating with families and the community at large on education improvement.
So how about it? Obama is absolutely correct. It falls on all of us fathers to be a bigger and better part of our children’s lives. But we can’t ignore the fact that some kids will never experience the benefits of having their biological fathers around them. That’s why we need to focus on family and community engagement. Buying into the notion that it takes a community to raise a child, we need to engage all parental units into tuning in to the education needs facing their family, boosting interest, involvement, dialogue, and results. The U.S. Department of Education has focused on family engagement before. Now is the time to go all in and note that family engagement is just as important to classroom success as many of the content areas on which ED currently focuses.
Can anyone really question that Race to the Top and I3 have a higher chance of success if families are engaged in the process and invested in the outcomes? What about ESEA? Clearly, the families of today’s students can help prioritizing key issues, hold policymakers accountable, and ensure that our expected results are not forgotten once the ink on the reauthorization has dried.
An Office of Family and Community Engagement fits with Obama’s call to fathers yesterday. And it works with EdSec Duncan’s speech to the National PTA earlier this month. And it aligns with the goals and priorities both have offered for our national education agenda. So if not now, when? And if not now, why? The time, the demand, and the attention is there.