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Back to school

Published August 27, 2013 12:17 pm

Parents have a key role to play
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

For Utah, which has more kids as a percentage of its population than any other state, the end of August is much more like the beginning of a new year than is Jan. 1. It's the time when those kids, or most of them, head back to classrooms, starting a new school year in a new grade, with new teachers and courses and, for some, different physical surroundings.

Back-to-school is a bittersweet time for parents. It's fulfilling to see our children advance, but it's also frightening to understand that they will encounter new challenges and daunting to know what a huge part parents play in everything children do.

Utah parents and their children face unique challenges: the largest class sizes and smallest per-pupil expenditure of state funds in the nation. The continually growing number of children in the system, and the increasing percentage of children from minority groups, puts additional pressure on teachers and school administrators.

Those factors aren't going to change any time soon. Until the Legislature takes responsibility for providing educational resources that all children need, parents must diligently monitor their kids' progress, communicate consistently with teachers and — the hardest part — use time at home to make sure their children understand the basics and are getting the training they need for future jobs and higher education.

That's right. Education is not merely the duty of the public-school system. It is the duty of all parents, too.

As Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, has pointed out recently in a discussion about mandatory public education: The roles of schools and parents in educating children should not be exclusive, but intertwined. His suggestion that Utah should consider eliminating the mandate for school attendance is misguided, but his emphasis on the necessity of parental involvement is spot-on.

Utah, for decades, has been able to keep student achievement at a high level despite inadequate funding because parents were involved and committed to their children's education. But, somehow, the performance of Utah's kids is slipping. And, while crowded classrooms and strained resources deserve much of the blame, parents must shoulder some of it, too.

No matter a family's race, ethnicity, income or religion, parents must do more. Take away the video games, the iPads, even the smartphones. Turn off the television. Check homework. Discuss schoolwork in the car, at the dinner table, whenever you and your children are together. If school is important — obviously important — to their parents, it will be more important to children.