Originally posted at The Huffington Post.
In the midst of the worst recession in 70 years, everyone is worried about school quality. Schools across the nation are facing devastating cutbacks, threatening everything from teacher's aides to enrichment programs to classroom supplies.
Is there any good news? A new GreatSchools/Harris Interactive national study suggests that there can be — in the form of increased parent involvement. Nearly two in three parents, 64%, believe that, because of the recession, it is more important for them to volunteer at school now than before. The majority of parents, 53%, plan to volunteer at their children's school this year, up from 44% last year — a 20% increase. The trend is most pronounced among African American parents, 60% of whom plan to volunteer, a nearly threefold increase from the 23% who say they volunteered last year.
Six months ago when addressing a joint session of Congress President Obama encouraged Americans to volunteer in their communities and declared that "responsibility for our children's education must begin at home." Parents, it appears, want to answer the president's call to action.
But they face barriers. When asked about the main challenges they face to being more involved in their children's education, about half of parents, 49%, cited the lack of opportunities offered by schools or teachers.
Now, more than ever, both parents and schools need to reinvent parent involvement, removing barriers and creating opportunities to tap into the power of parents. Schools need to reach out in multiple ways, yes with traditional back-to-school nights and parent-teacher conferences — offered at times to accommodate working parents — but they also need to take advantage of new ways to connect. With Broadband adoption at ever-increasing levels, schools should offer long and varied parent involvement menus on their websites from which parents can choose volunteer opportunities both in-school and at-home (prepping for classroom projects, doing community outreach, etc.). Schools should survey parent skills and passions and create opportunities to tap into them. Easily-accessible and clear learning standards and assessment information are more vital than ever to empower parents as partners in their children's learning.
So much is in parents' hands: setting high expectations, building character traits for success, starting early with college and career planning. Instead of feeling bound by school-created opportunities, parents can do their part by recognizing their role as the drivers of their children's education. From specific actions such as reading at home and helping with homework to maintaining a general sense of accountability and expectations for achievement, parents hold the keys to their children's success.
The majority of parents want to share their time, expertise and resources to support their children's education. Now we need to work together to make it happen.