By Rich Thompson
The greatest joy of my life is being the father of two beautiful daughters whom everyone will agree – look just like me! Like my father and grandfathers, I embrace the awesome responsibility to make sure their future is brighter than my own. In our family, there is no confusion about the meaning of the phrase, no child left behind.
But unfortunately, I have discovered the hard truth that there is one place where even the best of Dads doing what we believe are the right things and investing in the success of our children is simply not good enough. That place is school.
The public education crisis in America is a battle that no one Dad can fight alone. Policymakers and educators agree parental involvement in our childrens education is closely linked to their school success. Dads have a unique influence on the success of their children during the formative learning years. Regrettably, this is also true in those families where Dad is not very involved. Those results are also often predictable.
Ironically, during my tenure as the PTA president and local school council member of a traditional public school in southwest Atlanta I ran into institutional bureaucracy when I tried to advocate for more academic rigor, fiscal accountability and parental governance.
The school said that it wanted involved parents, especially Dads. But, once “We the Parents” began to make recommendations that rocked the status quo, school enthusiasm for “involved” parents began to wane. The school wanted parents to show up at teacher conferences, science fairs and awards day programs but under no circumstances should parents question operating procedures, expenditures and teacher effectiveness.
After two years of this frustration, and with little evidence it would change, we decided to enroll our oldest daughter in a public charter school. We found a school concerned about “raising the bar” in public education rather than just “closing the achievement gap.” Our daughter’s academic performance was invigorated by a dynamic public charter school.
Georgia’s low national rankings in several educational achievement categories are simply unacceptable for my family. As a committed father I believe a quality education is the gateway to freedom and opportunity. I believe every parent has the right to choose the best school option for their child to excel. In fact, I believe if parents had more options and more flexibility about where children can attend school, they’d be better parents!
Unfortunately, nearly all Georgia children attend a local school determined by the zip code where they live. That is no choice. And when that school is not a high-performing school, a child’s once potentially bright future begins to fade. This is not just an “inner city” problem. This problem affects all of Georgia and our nation. This leaves us with a question we should not have to answer: Who are we willing to leave behind?
Some Georgia traditional public schools meet high expectations. Unfortunately, many others are not achieving up to the high level of performance that parents should expect. Because we are all responsible for our public schools – parents, teachers, administrators and policymakers – the citizens of Georgia and the nation must become more engaged.
Notably, involved fathers play the most significant role in affecting the emotional and intellectual growth of children. I know this because of my father and my grandfathers. I know this today as a father who is doing everything possible to make certain that my two daughters will never become children left behind. This is why I believe in public school choice for my children, for all children, regardless of whom they are and where they live. We have no choice other than giving them their very best chance to succeed.
(Rich Thompson is founder and chairman of 100Dads, a parent advocacy organization that promotes responsible fatherhood through civic engagement in education reform policy issues. This article was written for the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.) (This article was republished by the Brighter Georgia Education Coalition.)