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Everyone should be involved in the business of education

November 15, 2004|by NANCY S. GRASMICK

Traditionally, the third week in November is set aside as American Education Week - a week for us to invite parents and members of the community into schools to witness firsthand the business of education.

I believe in American Education Week, but I also believe that we need to be involved in the business of education all year long. So for American Education Week 2004, which takes place from Nov. 15 to 19, I ask you to think about all the people involved in creating a nurturing learning environment.

It is often said that parents are a child's first teachers. The key role parents play as teachers does not stop simply because the child enters a formalized learning setting - the role simply changes.

Understanding and honoring family involvement is a critical piece of Maryland's decade-long school reform effort. One of the challenges facing Maryland's public schools is borne out in a statistic from the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Maryland ranks among the bottom 10 states in the nation for parent participation in parent-teacher conferences. This statistic is not a condemnation, but rather a catalyst for work that must be done.

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Parents have a critical role in educating children. We must address this collectively, creating environments in schools and in the workplace that are conducive to family involvement. We have a great advantage in Maryland because our business and education communities work together so closely. The Maryland Business Roundtable for Education (MBRT), a coalition of more than 100 Maryland businesses, partnered with hundreds of Maryland employers to launch an outreach effort targeting parents of school-age children - a winning proposition for employers, parents and students alike. Research indicates that employers who adopt family-friendly policies are much more likely to have employees with high morale, who stay in their jobs longer and who work harder. And, of course, because children in school today constitute our work force tomorrow, we should want them to be as successful as possible.

There is much truth to a favorite quote: "Education is everybody's business." Employers, is your workplace supportive of families? Encourage your employees to get involved by creating a work atmosphere that values education and the role that parents play as lifelong teachers. Your commitment can be big or small. Join MBRT's successful "Parents Count" campaign, or simply let employees know that they can take time to attend those vital parent-teacher conferences.

Educators, are your schools welcoming places where families feel comfortable visiting, asking questions and volunteering? At a recent gathering, families discussed an easily remedied, yet monumental barrier to involvement - how they were greeted upon entering a school building.

These ideas are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to creating meaningful family, school and community involvement in our schools. That's why I established Maryland's Parent Advisory Council (M-PAC) and tasked the group with providing recommendations on how we can improve family, school and community involvement at the school, system, and state levels. I encourage you to go to our Web site at www.marylandpublicschools.org and click on Maryland's Parent Advisory Council on the right side of the screen to learn more about this group, which has been meeting for a year. The group is already generating thoughtful recommendations. I can't wait to review the final list of proactive ideas and working with parents and school and community leaders to implement them.

The children of Maryland are our future, and we must do everything we can to ensure that they receive the quality education they deserve. We must let families know that we are all in this together. What can we do throughout the year to make quality education a reality for all students?

Nancy S. Grasmick is Maryland's state superintendent of schools.

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