Empowering Families to Set All Children on the Path to Success

In ensuring a young child will be ready from day one for success in school and in life, the value of parents and families cannot be understated.

But a recent New York Times opinion piece from Keith Robinson and Angel L. Harris, the authors of "The Broken Compass: Parental Involvement With Children's Education," argued that not only is parental involvement "overrated," but that in some cases it could "hinder" a child's academic success.

I respectfully disagree; this view fails to address the truly critical impact that parents and other caretakers have on tackling the underlying racial and structural inequities that are at the core of today's achievement and opportunity gaps, a circumstance which cannot be overlooked.

At the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, we believe that all parents want the best for their kids, and we understand that starts with a good education. The reality is that grandparents, mothers, fathers, cousins, caretakers and others can have a profound impact, not only on a single child's education and well-being, but on entire schools, neighborhoods and communities. The best way to do that is for families to be as deeply engaged in all levels of their child's education and development as they possibly can, with a distinct focus on a child's most formative years -- from birth to age 8.

To bolster this, we rely on researchers such as Iheoma Iruka at the University of North Carolina's Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute and Karen Mapp of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, who clearly find that a family's level of engagement has a positive affect on children's learning and development. Mapp cites more than five decades of research confirming that engaging families in their children's education early in their lives improves school readiness, produces higher gains in reading and math achievement and increases graduation rates.

This is especially true for low-income families and families of color, who are often excluded from key decisions and turning points in their children's education. As Robinson and Harris note, "many low-income parents across a wide spectrum want to be involved in their children's school lives, but they often receive little support from the school system."

Contrary to being overrated, this significant body of research further emphasizes the need for us all to see all families as powerful contributors to their children's education and for schools and communities to work more authentically to create opportunities for parents to be engaged.

All parents deserve a voice and a role at the table when it comes to issues affecting their children's education, and truly transformative family engagement must therefore mean that schools and communities work to ensure parents are empowered to be the advocates and leaders their children need. More importantly, families want meaningful opportunities to become more actively engaged and seen as respected partners.

Without a doubt, these families are the best advocates for their children, and it's important that we lift up their roles as leaders and change-agents capable of setting all children on a path to success.