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Column: Not supporting your kids’ education is neglect

Doug Ross

We all agree that a parent that starves their child is guilty of child neglect. So too a parent that never takes their child to the dentist or doctor, or fails to make sure the child has the proper shots. All of these failings can seriously cripple a child’s future.

There are critical steps parents can take to ensure their child’s success.

I believe the same is true for a parent that does not support their child’s education. Without a good education that includes a post-secondary degree or certificate, a person’s prospects for a prosperous and successful life are seriously damaged.

A parent’s income and level of education are powerful predictors of how a child will perform in school. But those are not things we can easily control once we are parents. Parent neglect results from not doing those things we can control, whether we are wealthy or are just scraping by, or have a college degree or dropped out of high school.

Most research says that what a parent does with their child at home as well as with their child and his teachers at school matters. As a former teacher, principal, and Detroit charter superintendent, these are the parental actions I believe matter most:

1. Read a story to your child every night before he or she goes to bed starting at infancy. Virtually everyone believes this helps prepare a child to read as well as creates a strong parent-child bond. The Detroit Kiwanis Club gives out thousands of free children’s books each year to those who can’t afford them.

2. Constantly tell your child that education is very important, that you expect her to do well in school, and that doing well is about hard work. Unless she is developmentally disabled, your child has the intelligence to be a good student.

We found in our schools in Detroit that we could increase a child’s performance by repeatedly telling each student that we expected great things of them — including graduating from high school and going on to college. Being told regularly by your mother or father that you are smart and expected to do well is even more effective. Even if some of us had parents that called us “stupid,” it is a cardinal sin if you want your child to be a good student.

3. Unless your child has a severe learning disability, tell them you won’t settle for anything less than A’s and B’s on their report card. C students are simply those that don’t work hard, turn in homework, study for tests, and focus in class. Any student who makes getting good grades a priority should get As and B’s. What you expect from your child is what you’ll get. So set high expectations.

4. Stay in touch with your child’s teachers.If you are not in personal contact with your child’s teachers, there is no way to work with them to help your child succeed. Teachers are the ones who really know how your child is doing, and most care. Should you work hours that prevent you from attending parent-teacher meetings, arrange to talk to the teacher by phone or meet at school at a time that works for you. If the school won’t make such arrangements, look for a public school that will.

5. Organize time and space at home for your child to do their studying and homework. A lot of us can’t help our children with their homework, and certainly not their math. But we can try to clear out a table or desk in the quietest corner of the house away from the TV where your child can put in the one to three hours of work most schools require to do well.

I’ve had parents who work the afternoon shift that ask their oldest child to prepare dinner and put the younger children to bed, leaving the caretaking child little time for school work. There is often no easy solution, but depriving your child of the time to study robs them of the school success that life success requires. It’s not meant to harm the child, but it does.

If you are a single working parent who is raising a child with little financial resource, doing all of these things is harder. However, to do less is to neglect your child in a way that may rob him of his opportunities for a successful life. There is no way to sugarcoat this hard reality.

Doug Ross is a former U.S. assistant secretary of labor, founder of the University Prep Schools, former chief innovation officer of Detroit Public Schools and co-founder of American Promise Schools.