There are few subjects that have drawn more finger-pointing than public education. In Idaho, we recognize that there are shortcomings that need to be addressed. But it's generally a lot easier to simply blame someone for those shortcomings than to do whatever is necessary of address them.
So who is to blame? Is it the State Board of Education? Teachers? State Superintendent Tom Luna? The Legislature? The governor? The Idaho Education Association? The U.S. Department of Education? The Idaho Department of Education? No Child Left Behind? Local school boards? Voters? The students themselves? Or (gasp) the rumor of a core curriculum?
It may be that in some way or another, each shares some of the blame. However, the party that actually deserves most of the blame is almost never mentioned.
Why is it that parents are rarely, if ever, made the targets of blame for shortcomings in our educational system? The truth is that parents, more than any of the other individuals or entities previously listed, are the root of the problem. It's not a matter of bad parenting. Rather, it's a matter of inattentive parenting and an assumption that schools, rather than parents, are responsible for educating our children.
The proof of this lies in the fact that students spend less than 15 percent of their time in school. For educational purposes, the time spent in schools is extremely important. But how about the remaining 85 percent of a child's time?
A study released last year by North Carolina State University, Brigham Young University and the University of California-Irvine found that parental involvement such as reading to your children, checking homework, attending school meetings and events, and simply talking to children about their school activities has a far greater impact on student's educational achievements than anything at the school they attend.
The truth is that the best educational tool for children that is available is simply to have parents spend time talking to their children. And that means having conversations that treat children as though they are intelligent adults. Unfortunately, in the computer age it is far easier to simply allow children to waste away their time in front of the TV or playing computer games.
Across the border in Oregon, the Oregon Community Foundation has taken the lead in forming the Oregon Parenting Education Collaborative. This project is a partnership with the Community Foundation, the Ford Family Foundation, the Meyer Memorial Trust, the Collins Foundation and Oregon State University. The collaborative believes that parents are their children's first and most important teachers and that it is imperative to invest in strong parenting in order to ensure that children are ready to learn.
The collaborative aims to have all Oregon parents provided with access to high-quality parenting-education programs by 2020. They are focusing their funding on creating a network of parenting programs so that parenting education will become a community norm.
In Idaho, such an effort would likely cause a storm of concern from a vocal minority concerned about government intervention into parenting. The truth is, problems such as low student test scores and a lack of high school graduates going on to post-secondary education can be remedied by parents - if they have the necessary skills to make a difference with their children.
I suspect there are a number of reasons why fingers of blame are never pointed at parents. But to not do that is a disservice to parents and children alike.
Perhaps, rather than using test scores to determine teacher pay, we might be better served by using test scores to determine whether parents are allowed a tax deduction for their child.
Marty Peterson is director of the James A. and Louise McClure Center for Public Policy Research and a community representative on the Statesman Editorial Board.