Parents, step forward

When I moved to Washington, D.C., a number of years ago, I learned one thing very quickly about the school my children would attend. Get involved, neighbors told me – but don't overdo it. The reason? The principal was not of a mind to spend time each day fending off overeager parents – something she could easily have done in that section of town had she not gotten the word out about behavioral guidelines.

It was a management challenge many principals would love to have. Even as research points to the close link between parent involvement and student success, teacher-parent meetings go unattended and PTAs attract the usual suspects in many neighborhoods.

So perhaps it's not surprising that this year, like many others, advocates are trying new tacks to help parents close the gap between themselves and schools. In Miami recently, national PTA representatives kicked off a Hispanic Outreach Initiative – also targeting San Diego and Brownsville, Texas – to boost the number of Hispanic parents in the organization. The Miami PTA also sponsored a conference to address, among other things, the special need for fathers to play a larger role in children's education.

Meanwhile, National Urban League president Hugh Price maps out his goal for African-American parents in his new book "Achievement Matters." Mr. Price wants an "achievement culture," and tells readers it's not dependent on parents' educational levels. What counts is the sheer force of involvement – of feeling that parental engagement can have an effect.

Schools with active parents are often schools that thrive. They may not be perfect – but open doors and engaged parents almost always create a winning combination.

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