Educators would have us believe that it is. Of course, lots more money wouldn't hurt either.
Teachers know what they see in the classroom. When teachers see a kid who's failing, the also see a kid who inevitably is disengaged and unmotivated and/or started school far behind his peers. If only this kid had gotten and/or would get more parental support (forcing kids to do homework, providing motivation, being a good role model, etc.), he'd succeed.
Perhaps this is the case in their educational fantasy land--the land where all teachers are Socrates and teachers' lounges are paved with gold.
In the real world this is a pipe dream. In the real world, student achievement is mostly governed by student IQ. And, unfortunately, IQ is inherited. So when we see lower achieving kids, we tend to also see lower performing parents.
Let's see how this plays out in three hypothetical, typical families:
The Winthorpes: Affluent and college educated. Their children tend to be smarter than average and successful in school.
The Six-Packs: Average and high school educated. Their children tend to be of average intelligence; some succeed, others don't.
The Valentines: Poor and uneducated. Their children tend to be below average in smarts and student performance.
Let's see how parental involvement plays out for these three families. See if you can spot the cruel irony.
The Winthorpes, being educated themselves, are the most likely to value education and provide parental support to their kids. They are the most capable of providing such support because they are highly educated and have more resources. Their kids, though probably not as smart as their parents (regression to the mean and all that), tend to require the least amount of parental support. The kids will also be the easiest to teach. So we have the best parental teachers paired with the most capable students. This is a recipe for academic success. Though tending to be rare, if it turns out that a Winthorpe kid wound up at the low end of the gene pool and struggles in school, the Winthorpe family will be the most capable of picking up the slack. As a result, most Winthorpe kids will succeed academically.
The Six-Packs, being moderately educated, also tend to be capable of providing parental support, though not as capable as the more educated Winthorpes. They also tend not to have as many resources available, further reducing their capacity. Their kids are also more likely to be struggling in school than the Winthorpe's kids since they are probably not as smart. As a result the Six-Pack kids are more difficult to teach and are in more need of parental support. Here we have average parental teachers paired with average students. So, if the six pack kids struggle in school, it will be more of an effort to provide parental support to them than it would be for the Winthorpe kids. The problem is compounded because the parents aren't as capable teachers and won't be able to pick up the slack as well. It's a toss-up as to which of the six-pack kids will succeed or not. Such is your lot when you are average.
The Valentines are the least educated and are the least likely to value education and be capable of providing parental support to their kids. They also are the least likely to have the resources to obtain outside support for their kids. The Valentines are the most dependent on the schools for educating their kids. To make matters worse, their kids tend to be the least smart (though usually smarter than their parents) and tend to require the most parental support. The kids will also be the most difficult to teach. So we have the worst parental teachers paired with the least capable students. How's that for a double whammy and a recipe for academic failure. When the Valentine kids struggle in school, and most of them assuredly will, they have the least capable familial support system available. And, to the extent that the Valentine parents are even capable of providing meaningful support, they get stuck providing it to the least capable kids. As a result, most of the Winthorpe kids will fail academically.
The kids who are going to struggle the most in school will comprise mostly the Valentine kids and the lower half of the Six-Pack kids. And, by "struggle" I mean they aren't learning as much as they should be at school. So now what do we do?
For the most part, schools think they're doing all that they can with these kids, though there's ample evidence that they are not. If you ask a random educator how to solve this dilemma, you're mostly going to hear three answers:
- We need more money, even though school funding has increased dramatically after WWII with almost no effect on student achievement. At 2006 funding levels there is a random correlation between educational spending and student achievement.
- We need smaller class sizes, even though class sizes have reduced considerably over the years with no discernible effect on student achievement. Even the most optimistic of (scientifically valid) research on class size indicates the effect size would not be educationally significant. This leaves us with the excuse currently favored ...
- We need more parental support, even though when we get that parental support it'll come from the Valentines and the lesser six-packs--the parents least capable of providing that support. And when the Winthorpe's provide it we'll mock them as helicopter parents.
Our educators must really believe that when they cry for parental support the highly educated Winthorpes will be coming to their rescue. They don't realize that the Winthorpe kids aren't usually the ones in academic hot water. And, they don't seem to realize that they themselves are the highly educated Winthorpes that society has sent to do the job of educating the least capable for us. And, somehow even though they've failed at the task and in doing so have sucked most of the resources out of the system, they still believe that the second string team of uneducated parents are needed and will be able to clean-up the mess they've left.
Oddly enough, educators don't understand why we've stopped coming to them for solutions and have saddled them with an accountability sytem. NCLB is society's shot across the bow. The message is: schools start doing your job and stop blaming everyone else.