George A. Sprecace M.D., J.D., F.A.C.P. and Allergy Associates of New London, P.C.

Grades Show Parents Must Do Homework
by, Rod Watson

    You're out on the lake when your boat springs a leak and you start taking on water quickly.  Do you:
    A. Curse the manufacturer and then the Coast Guard for never being around, or
    B. Row like heck?
    In one sense, that's where minority parents find themselves as another set of numbers comes out showing nearly twice as many white pupils as minority pupils passing the latest state exam.
    Before cursing the school system, the state and the testing company, minority parents have to ask themselves if they're rowing as hard as they can.
    And it's a question Buffalo school officials might want to start asking as well - the way they're asking it in Chicago, where some parents are being graded along with the schools and the children.
    There are lots of reasons why only 39 percent of African-American and Hispanic students showed proficiency when fourth-gade English exam scores were released last week, compared to 73 percent of white students.
    Lousy facilities, low-paid teachers and lack of supplies in urban schools - where minority students are concentrated - are among the key reasons for the gap.
    "In New York, if you're poor, you're not likely to have the best teachers, the best resources, the best technology ... and the list goes on," says Robert M. Bennett, a Buffalo resident who is on the state Board of Regents.
    That is indisputably true, and people such as Bennett - who is cochairman of a state task force on closing the gap - have been fighting against long odds to correct the inequity.
    But it's also true that while that fight is critical, there's a lot that parents - even impoverished ones - can do on their own to close that obscene gap.
    After all, it doesn't take money to make a child turn off the TV and do homework.
    It doesn't take money to take a child to a museum or a library - provided the county retains neighborhood libraries - and set an example that education matters.
    It doesn't take money to call a teacher or visit a school and thereby send a message that, the kid's progress is important.
    Those are things that set the tone for how a child approaches school - and often how the school responds to the child.  Yet, while officials here keep track of student and school scores, there's little systemic effort to track how parents are doing their job.
    In Chicago, by contrast, some schools are giving parents grades based on such factors as whether they monitor homework, meet with teachers and prepare their children for class each day.  It's a recognotion that parents - regardless of backround - can have the greatest impact on a child's education.
    There's no such formal effort to track parent involvement in Buffalo or the rest of New York State.  There should be, and Bennett said he has requested information from Chicago officials on how their program works.
    Not that Buffalo officials aren't aware of how important parents are.  Yvonne Hargrave, the disftict's new chief academic officer, is trying to get that message out while recognizing that parents also must feel comfortable dealing with the schools and be treated with respect.
    There's also the recognition that grading parents without giving some of them - such as single parents struggling to make ends meet - the support they need would be unfair.
    But it's time to do both.  For instance, it's time to start tracking the success of students whose parents attend the marvelous Howard Lewis Parent Center downtown and then replicating that parental-education effort throughout the district.  And it's time to have some kind of more formalized effort to monitor parent involvement in all of the schools not just on committees, but in actively overseeing their child's education.
    In the meantime, black and Hispanic political and civil rights groups and churches that don't have parental-involvement campaigns could start them.  Protesting outside the Walden Gafleria because of allegations of discrimination is good.  But even if racism disappears, without better test scores, minority students won't be able to open a business in the mall, get a job in the mall - or even earn enough mone to shop there.
    In the end, though. there's no reason for parents to wait for schools or outside groups to get them involved in their child's education.  After all, whose kid is it?

Rod Watson (Buffalo News)

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