Parents Playing a Larger Role in K-12 Education
Who is educating kids in K through 12 in the US today?
If your answer is: the state, you are right…but only partially. Parents seem to be getting increasingly involved. And not just in the PTA, school fund-raiser and volunteering-for-field-trip kind of ways. In what seems like a throw back to centuries-old practices before state-sponsored universal public schooling became the norm, parents are taking charge. The evidence is all around us – homeschools, charter schools, and online (virtual) schools are trends that are growing on the strength of parents taking charge of K-12 education in ways not seen in the 20th century. “Pushy parents” are also fueling school reform in regular public schools as seen in this story of Houston’s Hogg Middle School. Whatever the nature and level of involvement, bottom line, most kids today are enjoying a greater deal of parental attention on all matters related to education than their parents did before them.
Homeschooling is clearly the most substantive example of parents taking ownership of their kids’ K-12 education. The number of homeschoolers has been rising steadily since the mid nineties. Until recently, homeschooling was considered untenable for many parents beyond the primary or middle school years as children progressed to higher grades and more specialized subject areas since many parents are unable to provide curriculum support to their children at those levels. However, that has changed in the last few years thanks to the growing number of online options available to K-12 students today.
Homeschoolers are not the only takers for cyber schools, however. Online learning at the K-12 level is seeing unprecedented growth levels among students who are enrolled in regular public schools but want to get that extra edge through enrollment in courses not offered by their schools. This practice now popularly goes by the moniker “blended learning.” eSchool News’ special report ‘Beyond Virtual Schools’ released this past week is telling. According to the report, one of the main attractions of virtual schools is that they cater to students whose guardians want to get more involved in day-to-day instruction but aren’t interested in homeschooling. “You cannot do schooling here if you don’t have a parent with a serious commitment to the education of the child. For families that want to be involved in their children’s education, we have structurally built that in. It’s like we’re getting back to the early 19th century, when families were more involved in the education of children,” says Bruce Law, the current head of the Chicago Virtual School. Given the rate at which virtual schooling is gaining popularity (in 75% of US school districts students are now taking online or blended courses), that’s a lot of parents willing to invest quality time in their kids’ learning.
The raison d’etre for the charter school movement and its tremendous growth in general are also testimony to parents taking back K-12 schooling – at least to an extent – from the state. Once founded (often with parent founders and parent support to varying degrees), most charters operate with higher levels of parental buy-in, and awareness, in core issues such as curriculum, pedagogy, assessment and day-to-day school functioning, than traditional schools. (Check out this research paper for more perspective on this).
The exact nature of this “partnership in learning” varies in all the above scenarios. Direct instruction, supplemental help on an as-needed basis, close supervision, time management, academic counseling (for higher grades), joint work on projects based on the child’s needs and interests, contact with teachers and online facilitators, troubleshooting, and connecting the child to experts and other resources in the community are just some ways in which parents are becoming partners in their children’s learning. Although there is mounds of research on parent involvement in traditional schools – and the attendant positive impact on student outcomes – there is little research yet on just how much time parents are devoting to their children’s K-12 success in these non-traditional learning environments and what the exact nature of this involvement is. That will hopefully change over time as these trends continue to see growth.
Meanwhile, watch this space for more stories on how children are negotiating their own learning – with strong guidance not from traditional schools but from their parents. And if you are a parent partnering in your children’s learning in non-traditional ways, we’d love to hear your story; you could add it as a comment below or write to us separately to feature it as a related article.