Rosh Hashanah, a day to Reflect… on Parent Involvement in School

As observant families celebrate Rosh Hashanah, ushering in the Jewish New Year, and gentiles scramble to find childcare for students at closed Baltimore City and Baltimore County schools, Amanda Ripley’s article “Ban School Bake Sales” headlines the Family section of Slate.com.  Why ban bake sales like Success Academy, a public charter school in New York that has decided to prohibit parent fundraising?  Ripley doesn’t cite the evils of carb-overloading for children’s brains; she simply explains that, contrary to popular belief, American parents’ involvement in extracurricular activities at their children’s schools may paradoxically hurt their children’s performance in school.

Indeed she refers to a study in 2009 illustrating that, in 11 out of 13 countries, parents who volunteered for non-academic school activities had children that performed worse in reading than parents who perhaps guiltily avoided doing so.  Instead, she found that parents who stayed home and read for pleasure inspired their children to read more often as well.  As such, this point and the article as a whole seem to reinforce the common-sense common thread in her recent book, The Smartest Kids in the World: money and time are best spent on teaching and learning, not on all of the other social entrapments that Americans associate with middle school, high school, and college.

One underlying premise of Ripley’s article that she halfway touches on is the fact that most homes in America have two working parents, or just a single parent who has three jobs: mom, dad, and bread-winner.  These time commitments are a reality of modernity whether we like it or not; however, the same education system remains as a vestige of a bygone era when there often was a parent at home who knew a thing or two about reading, writing, math, and science and acted as the counterpoint to collective learning in school.  Today the individual academic attention students once received at home doesn’t happen to the same extent.  And teachers who have to instruct a classroom of students with different learning styles and personalities have passively shouldered the burden and blame of this ostensibly missing link.

Meanwhile, competition in school reaches new heights every year.  On a national scale, top colleges and universities have all-time low admissions rates, and internationally America is lagging behind over a dozen other countries in several metrics of academic success (as demonstrated by the chart to the right).  These factors create the pressure cooker that is American middle school and high school today.  Because of it and the import placed upon extracurricular excellence, worried parents often find themselves swimming in doubt about what really is going to help their students gain admission to the good college they deserve.

Granted the college admissions process has become quite opaque, there are two recommendations to increase your chances that remain valid: excel academically and follow your passions.  The uncertainty lies in what these recommendations mean for your child.  What classes should my student take, what extracurricular opportunities should she pursue to expand her passions, what score should she get on the SAT, and what about those SAT Subject Tests are the concrete questions that parents face.  The answers to these questions are crucial and truly require in-depth knowledge of admissions trends as well as an intimate understanding of your child’s strengths, weaknesses, and personality.

Fortunately, professionals in college counseling who also expertly give the 1-on-1 academic instruction that students need are cropping up, even in the Baltimore area, where acceptance rates to top colleges have fallen behind those of Baltimore’s New England counterparts.  Our company Streamline Tutors, for example, rests its identity on its ability to fulfill this pivotal, dual role for Baltimore students.  Through our efforts, we hope to encourage others to follow our lead and fill the need for both guidance and 1-on-1 support.  And gradually, excellent tutors and academic advisers on a national scale can play a role in putting America back on top.