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Tomi Sawyers, left, drops her son, Anthony Sawyers, off at the Cass Technical High School in Detroit.

Why students need teacher home visits

Educational inequality can be reduced if more public schools help teachers better engage with the families of students. Congress must assist by funding its own educational mandate.

Parents often think highly of their school-age children, as they should. But how highly?

According to a new poll of more than 1,300 parents by the group Learning Heroes, about 90 percent say their kids in Grades K through 8 are performing at or above grade level in reading and math. Yet national tests say otherwise. Among fourth-graders, for example, at most only 40 percent are proficient in those two subjects.

Obviously parents need help from public schools to better engage in their child’s education. Those brief parent-teacher meetings once or twice a year just don’t cut it anymore, especially for disadvantaged children.

Since 2001, federal law has mandated most public schools to use a small portion of federal funds to reach out to parents – even in their homes – and train them in tutoring their children. Last year, Congress renewed this mandate, with bipartisan support, when it approved the Every Child Succeeds Act. (That law replaced the No Child Left Behind Act.)

Unfortunately, Congress has yet to provide the money for this critical piece of the new education law even though parental engagement in a child’s school is one of the best ways to reduce inequality in education. Research at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore shows that students who have regular home visits by a teacher are less likely to skip school.

Federal funding is needed to nudge local school districts toward helping overcome teacher concerns about going into the homes of their students. The MetLife Survey of the American Teacher in 2004-05 found educators say interacting with families is the most challenging part of their jobs.

Only a few states and cities have really mastered this important aspect of education. The most successful may be the District of Columbia. A 2013-14 study found D.C. students whose families received such home visits were more likely to read at or above grade level than students with no home visits.

What made the difference? According to a Boston Globe interview of Vincent Baxter, deputy chief of family engagement in the Washington public schools: “[W]e start with an assumption that parents love their children and want what’s best for their children.”

Congress must keep open the doors for parents to welcome teachers into their homes to provide educational guidance. Parents, after all, already think their children are above average. Home visits can help make that come true.

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