Parent involvement key to a good education

City schools CEO Sonja Santelises talks curriculum changes at Baltimore City Public Schools. (Barbara Haddock Taylor/Baltimore Sun video)

Teachers in Baltimore City schools do what they can to teach. They do what they can to prepare their students to join the adult world. Notwithstanding the efforts of those teachers and administrators, test scores of those students are some of the worst in the state, and chronic absenteeism is a significant problem.

Clearly, teachers can’t do it alone. That’s where you come in, Baltimore parents.


As a “Parent Engagement Advocate,” I’ve been researching the topic for years and volunteering my time to encourage parents and family members to get actively engaged in the formal education of their children. Here are some thoughts on the subject.

First: Think about your children’s futures. What kind of job and level of income would you hope they get? A complete education will of course give your children more choices in work — and in life. “Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education,” Martin Luther King Jr. once said. Think about and talk about what your children would like to do, which college they would like to attend, and what kind of people they would like to be.

Second: Recognize that your child’s reluctance to attend school may be because he or she does not understand the work being taught and feels the urge to get away from that discomfort. In second grade, several times I said had to go the bathroom because I did not understand the arithmetic lesson. My teacher told my mother about my “problem” and the three of us solved the problem together without medical intervention. Talk with your children in a non-judgmental way to determine if they are struggling with any subject and how you might help.

Third: The government education branches from federal to state to city print materials that say, in essence, we really support the idea of parents getting engaged in their child’s education. Those remarks are personal invitations to you to get engaged. In many cases, the first step has to be taken by you.

  • Education

Fourth: Absences mean your kids miss material, and they may not catch up without a concerted effort. It is important for you to prohibit absences from school for all but legitimate sickness.

Fifth: A very old, still-in-use a book called “How to Win Friends and Influence People” recommends the following: Smile and request help from people like teachers, rather than scowl and demand help. You no doubt would agree that makes sense.

Sixth: You can, with confidence, ask your child’s teacher whether there is any way you can help your child overcome his or her obstacles to learning. Ask about books or flash-cards you might borrow. (For less than $20, you can buy various flash-cards on line.) If some tasks would be difficult because of your work schedule or any other reason, let the teacher know. I firmly believe he or she will take action to help you. (My parents were both Baltimore City school teachers and I know stuff like that.)

Seventh: You might also do what Sonya Carson (mother of Dr. Ben Carson and his brother, Curtis) did. She loved her sons very much. It happened that both her sons did very poorly in school in the early years. When Ben Carson was in fifth grade, she put her foot down: No play until homework was done. TV was limited to two pre-selected shows per week. Each son was to do two book reports a week for her (even though she herself was a poor reader). Later in life Dr. Carson performed neuro-surgery on my first grandchild, who was six months old at the time, at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

In short Mrs. Carson loved her children as you no doubt do too. She looked to their best future and ushered them toward it. Shouldn’t we all do the same for our kids?

Patrick G. Cullen is a Parent Engagement Advocate and founder of You Too Can, Inc. His email is