A letter to parents

Dear Parent: EVERYTHING we know about educating children tells us that you are probably the most important teacher your child will have. And everything we know about running good schools tells us that the more you are involved in your child's school, the better it's likely to be. These considerations are especially important now, as your child begins the new school year. ``We have to let parents know the tremendous effect their involvement will have on their children in school,'' a principal said recently. ``It's a matter of a child's achievement. When a parent gets involved, the child's achievement goes up.''

Report cards prove his point. Parents with children who earn top grades are almost always involved in their children's success. One survey found that almost 9 out of 10 ``A'' students say their parents are closely involved in their activities. Eight out of 10 ``B'' students say the same. For ``C'' students, though, it's 7 out of 10, and ``D'' students only 6 out of 10. The better the student, the more likely it is parents are involved.

But that's something schools have always known. It isn't hard for a teacher working with a group of children every day to know whose parents try to make the classroom an extension of the home. It can show in the way a student takes a test, finishes homework, or treats classmates.

Being involved in your child's education doesn't require any particular ``expertise.'' It requires attention and common sense. Encouraging your child to read can make all the difference. American fifth graders spend their free time watching TV two hours a day and reading less than four minutes a day. Chances are good you can help your child be a better student by beating that record in your house.

Some schools can be intimidating places for parents. But they shouldn't be, and you shouldn't allow them to be. The important thing to remember is that your child's school is your school too; it can't do a good job without you. So as the school year begins, I offer a list of questions to ask yourself about helping your child and school:

How much time does my child devote to reading? If my child is very young, how much time do we spend reading together?

Do I personally know my child's teachers? How often do I talk to them?

Do I keep up with what my child is doing in class, what texts and lessons are being studied? How often do I talk to my child about his or her day at school? Have I ever sat in on any of my child's classes?

Do I keep up with my child's homework every day? Do I check it for spelling, neatness, and thoroughness? How much time does my child spend doing homework every day?

Do I belong to my school's PTA or other parents group? How often does my school bring teachers and parents together to talk with each other?

How often do I volunteer to help with special projects like chaperoning on field trips or improving the school grounds?

Have I ever asked my school's principal or teachers to describe their ideas of an educated child? What is my school's vision of an educated child? Can the principal and teachers articulate it to me, and am I satisfied with it?

As these questions clearly show, the best kind of education involves cooperation and communication between parents, teachers, and principals. Your child's education takes place inside the home as surely as it does inside the school. Your efforts are indispensable to that education. For you are the indispensable teacher. Sincerely, William J. Bennett Secretary of Education

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