Parents need ownership in the education process

A recent study says a majority of adults blame schools' woes on parents. At the same time, most respondents said their local public schools were providing "excellent" or "good" education.

More than half of those surveyed said their kids are getting a better education than they did.

The results seem a little disconnected.

If parents are to blame for poor education but "my" children are getting an excellent education, the problem must be all those "other" parents -- the bad ones.

Maybe none of the bad parents was available to take the survey.

No doubt students, even mediocre ones, are more likely to succeed when their parents are involved. And bright children without structure and guidance at home often don't reach their potential.

But too often, parents aren't sufficiently encouraged to become an active participant in their children's education.

After all, government has a lot of mandates regarding school. As a result, the role of educator has continued to move further from home and neighborhood and closer to government offices -- especially since implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act.

In Washington, our state school board is making headlines with its push for statewide changes in graduation requirements.

Reforms may be needed, but the shift in control away from local school boards will help make parents feel less connected to their children's education.

Other factors are at work, of course. A generation or two back, most families had one parent in the work force and one on the homefront.

Typically Mom was there when the kids got home from school and kept closer tabs on homework assignments.

Now, even if a kid lives with two parents, odds are both grownups will be working. Many kids come home from school and report their day on Facebook, instead of face-to-face.

Modern life, with all its demands, distractions and dangers, makes it tougher than ever to be good parent.

That being said, we don't know of any parent, even any bad ones, who don't want their children to be well educated and self-sufficient.

We also don't know of any school, at least in the Mid-Columbia, that isn't working like crazy to attract and involve parents in their parent-teacher organizations, booster clubs and conferences.

But somehow many parents still don't feel responsible for their children's education. After all, isn't that what schools are for?

We have noticed, though, that when responsibilities are clear most people will strive to meet them.

Some magnet and charter schools around the country require parents, children and school officials to sign a contract that specifies everyone's role.

Requiring a contract might not fly in Washington state, where every child has a constitutional guarantee to an education.

But the principle is sound, and whatever aspects might pass constitutional muster in Washington state ought to be adopted.

Until there is a shared obligation between government and family, parents won't be fully involved. That's a resource we can't afford to waste.